Black Hills Knowledge Netowork

Calamity Jane at her friend Wild Bill Hickok's grave site.
Calamity Jane at her friend Wild Bill Hickok's grave site.
Author unknown via Wikimedia Commons
August 4, 2017

IN HISTORY: The Death of Calamity Jane

While few Americans would recognize the name Martha Cannary, the name Calamity Jane brings images of the Wild West into the minds of many. Calamity was a woman of the west with a wild imagination. As a result, the accounts she left in her autobiography have been discovered to be false—leaving many historians to determine fact from fiction in her life.

One truth remains across the numerous tales about Calamity: her perpetual desire to drink. According to Deadwood Magazine, barkeepers in Deadwood considered keeping her glass filled was  an operating cost—”Calamity was Calamity.”

While Calamity may have been infamous for her drinking, she also had a softer, kinder side. When a smallpox epidemic hit Deadwood, Calamity cared for miners who were quarantined. She also cared for children and adults afflicted with diphtheria and other diseases.

By 1903, Calamity’s Wild West lifestyle had taken its toll on her body. She had recently decided to return to the Black Hills via train, and became ill. Folks on the train helped her into a  hotel in the town of Terry (located near present day Terry Peak) and called for a doctor. On August 1, 1903, Calamity Jane died of pneumonia, before the doctor was able to visit her.

To read more about the history of Deadwood, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s community profile.

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