Calamitous Calamity Jane

Day 86 of Colourisation Project – August 1

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Martha Jane Canary better known as Calamity Jane, died this day, August 1 in 1903 in Terry, South Dakota, at the age of 51.

A far cry from Doris Day’s portrayal of Calamity Jane in the 1953 Warner’s Brothers’ film of the same name, the real Calamity Jane was a tough-as-nails, hard core American frontierswoman, respected for her sharp shooting skills and her expert horsemanship.

She lived fast and hard, dressed like a man, cursed like a man, and drank like a man.  She enjoyed gambling with men and could hold her own among the toughest characters of the Wild West.

Calamity Jane

Photographer Unknown – Calamity Jane circa 1898 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Few hard facts are known about her life but what is known for certain is that she was born in 1852 in Princeton, Missouri. Both of her parents had died by the time she was 12 years old and the responsibility of raising her 5 younger siblings fell on her shoulders. She moved the family to Wyoming and did whatever she could to support her brothers and sisters. At various times Calamity Jane worked as a cook, a nurse, a prostitute, a miner, an ox-team driver, army scout, a dance-hall girl and a waitress. How she acquired the nickname Calamity Jane is not certain, however one popular belief is that men were said to be ‘courting calamity’ if they offended her.

Whilst she was known for her kindness and compassion, especially to the sick and needy, she was also notorious for being loud and obnoxious when she’d had a few too many drinks. Calamity Jane had a propensity to drink most men under the table and sadly she became an alcoholic. (Doris only ever drank sarsaparilla.)

Throughout her time she lived with several men she called her husbands. Though this marriage is not documented, she ‘married’ Clinton Burke in 1885 with whom she had a little girl two years later. This may or may not be true. There are claims that after that marriage ended her daughter was left at a convent and Calamity Jane returned to the road. Renowned for her shooting and horse-riding skills, she was by 1895 appearing in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show as a trick shooter and horse rider.

The following year she published her autobiography in a 7-page souvenir booklet, tainted with a dash of braggadocio and titled, Life and Adventures of Calamity Jane by Herself, to cash in on her own fame.  No doubt she lived a very colorful and eventful life. However many of the stories she recounts about her life are riddled with half truths and prone to hyperbole and embellishment, all of which contributed to the creation of her own legend. With little or no documentary evidence to support her claims, such as her relatioship with Wild Bill Hickok which produced a child, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction.

So, Whip, crack away! Whip, crack away!


“As many of the riders before me had been held up and robbed of their packages, mail and money that they carried, for that was the only means of getting mail and money between these points. It was considered the most dangerous route in the Hills, but as my reputation as a rider and quick shot was well known, I was molested very little, for the toll gatherers looked on me as being a good fellow, and they knew that I never missed my mark. I made the round trip every two days which was considered pretty good riding in that country.” Calamity Jane – Life and Adventures of Calamity Jane by Herself

This entry was posted in Black & White, Colorization, Colourisation, Film, History, Photography, USA, Women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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