Calamity Jane

Born Martha Jane Cannary, Calamity Jane became a legendary figure of the Wild West, famous as a frontierswoman and for fighting in bloody battles against Native Americans.

Photo: Calamity Jane, ca. 1895, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Print This Page


Born in Missouri, Calamity Jane spent several years of her youth traveling further west with her family, first to Montana and then to Salt Lake City. Along the way, Calamity Jane could often be found with the men, hunting and learning how to use a gun. While in Montana, Calamity Jane’s mother died, and within a few years of arriving in Salt Lake City, her father died. Following his death in 1867, Calamity Jane took over as head of the household and moved with her siblings to Piedmont, Wyoming.

Calamity Jane had to take on several miscellaneous jobs to support the family in Wyoming, including working in a brothel. Most famously, in 1874, she took a job as a scout at the Fort Laramie Three-Mile Hog Ranch. Through her job as a scout, Calamity Jane earned her nickname (there are several legends relating to the nickname, and no one is sure which one is true). She also began engaging in conflicts with Native Americans.

In 1876, Calamity Jane moved to Black Hills, South Dakota, and continued her scouting work. It was here that she met Wild Bill Hickok, with whom she became obsessed. After he was killed that same year during a poker game, Calamity Jane claimed that she had been married to Wild Bill Hickok and that he was the father of her alleged daughter, born in 1873 and given up for adoption.

Calamity Jane, besides being known for her skills as a scout, was also known for her kindness. She saved many American lives by diverting attacks from Native Americans and also served as a nurse during a smallpox epidemic.

Calamity Jane moved around, remarried, and gave birth to a daughter named Jane (who was given to foster parents) before joining Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in 1893. She was a horse rider and trick shooter in the show, but her addiction to alcohol, which was evident from an early age, became more and more consuming. In 1903, Calamity Jane returned to Black Hills, South Dakota and died at the age of 51 from an alcohol-related illness.

Letters found upon her death, written to her daughter Jane, have been set to music in Libby Larsen‘s song cycle Songs From Letters.

–Christie Finn

Related Information



Sheet Music

Songs From Letters

Composer(s): Libby Larsen

Song(s): 1. So Like Your Father's
2. He Never Misses
3. A Man Can Love Two Women
4. All I Have
5. A Working Woman

Buy via Good Music Publishing

Support us and help us grow

Dear friends, Thank you for helping us build a comprehensive online archive of American song. Your gift is greatly appreciated.