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May 8, 2023

Rare Vintage Photographs of Calamity Jane in a Dress

When one thinks about the Wild West, cowboys and frontiersmen come to mind, along with shoot-outs and old saloons. Many characters and icons have come out of the Wild West Era in America. One specific woman from that time became an icon and early example of gender fluidity: Calamity Jane.

Calamity Jane was born Martha Jane Cannary on May 1, 1852 in Princeton, Missouri. When Jane and her family moved to Montana in 1865, she began to fall in love with the act of hunting animals on the journey to Montana. Her mother died in 1866 and the family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, but tragedy struck again: her father died the same year. Jane was only twelve and had to provide for her and her siblings. As she grew up, she grew into a tall woman with a masculine build. She took on a male persona to make a living for her and her siblings since most places would not hire women.

Calamity Jane knew how to shoot, she liked to dress as a man (or perhaps more accurately, she refused to dress like women of the era), and, like men, she chewed tobacco and drank a lot of alcohol. “The first place that attracted her attention,” according to one train captain who saw her there when she was 20 years old, “was a saloon, where she was soon made blind as a bat from looking through the bottom of a glass.”

Calamity Jane died in a hotel room. Some say she was kicked off a freight train for her drunkenness, and was helped into a hotel in the town of Terry, South Dakota, where locals called a doctor. She died there, most likely of pneumonia, on August 1, 1903.


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