Calamity Jane was a celebrity of the 19th century American West, yet the woman portrayed in the newspapers and dime novels was one very...

Calamity Jane was a celebrity of the 19th century American West, yet the woman portrayed in the newspapers and dime novels was one very different from the actual person. In The Life and Legends of Calamity Jane (University of Oklahoma Press, 2014), Richard Etulain sorts through over a century of fiction and half-truths to uncover who Calamity Jane was in real life. Born Martha Canary, she was orphaned at a young age and left to provide for her siblings. Working a variety of jobs, she came to Deadwood in 1876, where she soon received national press attention both for her unusual persona and her brief association with “Wild Bill” Hickok. Yet these accounts were usually more fabrication than fact, and often did not reflect the difficult circumstances of her life. Suffering from alcoholism, she lived an itinerant and unstable existence, one in which her drinking impeded her efforts to provide for herself and her daughter and led to her early death. Etulain’s biography gets to the truth of Calamity Jane’s life, as well as the development of her posthumous reputation in print, in movies, and on television.

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