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May 18, 2021

Calamity Jane Mugging at Wild Bill Hickok’s Grave, 1903

A historic photo of Martha Jane Cannary, better known as Calamity Jane, mugging at the grave of James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok in Mt. Moriah Cemetery, Deadwood, South Dakota, ca. 1903.

This photo by J. A. Kumpf, is believed to be from 1903 which would have been shortly before her death. (Library of Congress)

Hickok was shot and killed by Jack McCall on August 2, 1876 while playing poker in a saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota. The hand of cards which he supposedly held at the time of his death has become known as the dead man’s hand: two pairs; black aces and eights.

Cannary claimed to have been married to Hickok and that he was the father of her child. Though Wild Bill and Calamity Jane were certainly acquainted, there is little evidence that would substantiate the claim that they were married.

In 1891 Mount Moriah Cemetery became an official attraction when J.H. Riordan carved a red sandstone bust of Wild Bill and placed it on atop a pedestal on his grave. Souvenir hunters soon began chipping away, removing Bill’s hair and nose. By 1903, when Calamity Jane returned to Deadwood to visit the grave, Wild Bill’s head was completely gone. She died soon afterward, and was buried next to Wild Bill. Some say that this was her dying wish, while others suspect it was a posthumous prank played on Bill by his friends, as some people say that Wild Bill “had no use for her when he was alive.”

Also buried in Mount Moriah are a townful of lesser Deadwood personalities with equally colorful names, such as Potato Creek Johnny, Preacher Smith, and Madam Dora DuFran.


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