By Alana Snyder
You recognize her as Deadwood legend Calamity Jane, but Martha Cannary has lived one heck of a life. For our Halloween issue, we pulled up a chair at Saloon Number 10 and chatted with the ghost of Calamity, whose life is so full of myths and fabrications it’s hard to know what the truth is, and frankly, it’s all interesting anyway.
How did you get to Deadwood?
I rode up to Fort Laramie. That’s where I ran into…okay, I had a little bit – a couple of bottles. I ended up in the guard shack and that’s when Colorado Charlie and Wild Bill [Hickok] come through. I ended up getting on that wagon train and, well, that’s how ended up in Deadwood City. Hell, I had already been there in ’75 with the Jenny Expedition. Not a soul here. Come back…10,000 of ‘em. That’s what gold will do.
You’re known to be pretty rowdy.
Well, no, not me. Not any more than what’s called for. Hell, I don’t really remember. I’d come out here and howl at the moon. It echoes down one side of the canyon off the other. You can do whatever you want, it’s Deadwood. Then that Bullock come along…to hell with ‘em.
What do you say about rumors that you exaggerate?
Oh hell, my momma always said that. Well I wouldn’t say I exaggerate. I think they’re jealous because they don’t know how to tell a good story. If you have an adventure, tell ‘em about it! Hell, I scouted for Custer! Not really, but…
Did you have a crush on Wild Bill?
Well, he was alright. He was pretty good on the wagon train because he had a barrel of whiskey. He treated me with respect, where some of them others fell short of that. They had a question in their mind about a gal who wanted to ride a horse and do something besides stay in the kitchen and make the damn biscuits for the boys all the time. They got questions about it. Well I got the answer, I told them they can get glad in the same pants they get mad in ‘cause I already got ‘em on, and I ain’t changin’ for nobody. Hadn’t a poor woman got the same right to make the same livin’ as a man? So that answers a lot of questions, I suppose. But Wild Bill, he had a good respect and he deserved respect. The best one of all, is what he was. Prettiest corpse I ever seen.
Were you sad after he was murdered?
They put that damn Jack McCall on trial. I didn’t go, I had already picked up a bottle at that point. I couldn’t believe Bill was gone. Well, me and Colorado Charlie buried him while the trial went on, I figured someone better do it that knew him. I put blue flowers on his grave.
What do you think about current Deadwood?
I think it’s the best city in the world ‘cause, well, it’s a city now. I come back because it was always home. I was always on the go. Had a brothel, had a lumber business, but nothing was home. There’s good people here, and that’s what I like. We take care of each other – the Black Hills Society of Pioneers paid for new boots for me when I needed ‘em.
Read the full article in the October issue of 605 Magazine or click here.