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Calamity Jane

Calamity Jane at the age of 33. Photo by H.R. Locke.

Martha Jane Cannary-Burke, better known as Calamity Jane (May 1, 1852 (?) - August 1, 1903) was a American Indian fighter and frontierswoman who came to the public eye via her association with Wild Bill Hickok.

She was born Martha Jane Cannary (or Canary) in Princeton, Missouri. Her mother died in 1866 and her father died in 1867 (in Utah). In 1870, she signed on as a scout with George Armstrong Custer, and adopted the uniform of a soldier. It is unclear whether she was actually enlisted in the U.S. Army at the time. She was involved with a number of campaigns in the long-running military conflicts involving Native Americans. In 1872, she acquired the nickname "Calamity Jane," by rescuing her superior Captain Egan from an ambush near Sheridan, Wyoming.

In 1876, Jane served briefly as a rider with the Pony Express and settled in the area of Deadwood, South Dakota, in the Black Hills region. She claimed to have been married to Wild Bill Hickok at some time prior to Hickok's death in 1876, and that Hickok was the father of her child, born September 25, 1873, who was placed for adoption. In 1878 Jane nursed the victims of a smallpox epidemic in the Dakota territories. She married Clinton Burke in 1891 after the couple had been living together several years.

In 1896, Jane began touring with Wild West shows, which she continued for the rest of her years. Her venturesome habits, hard drinking, and rough lifestyle made her a memorable, if secret, role model to independent minded women of her time and after.

Several films have been made about the life of Calamity Jane, the most famous being based on the musical of the same name starring Doris Day.

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