Calamity: The Many Lives of Calamity Jane

Yale Univ. Feb. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9780300212808. $28. BIOG
Jones (environmental & cultural history, Univ. of Kent) offers a fascinating account of the life of Martha Jane Canary (1852–1903), aka Calamity Jane. Like her contemporaries Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody and many others who lived on the 19th-century American frontier, Canary led an adventurous life, and the factual details of her experience are difficult to separate from the myths. Jones traces Canary’s early life and her family’s migration across the Trans-Mississippi frontier. Canary would later become a fixture in the area around Deadwood, SD, participating in stagecoach robberies, army-led explorations into the Black Hills, and a supposed love affair with Hickok. With reporters and writers embellishing her exploits and turning them into fascinating stories, Canary transformed into something of a legend. Jones seeks to unravel how a poor, uneducated woman who dressed in men’s clothes and made questionable life choices came to symbolize traits of courage, freedom, and feminism.
VERDICT Well researched and well supported by primary sources, such as stories from local newspapers, this should prove a provocative read appealing to scholars of the period and general readers alike.


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