Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Legends of the West: Calamity Jane

Legends of the West: Calamity Jane

Aaron Frisch
Nonfiction
For ages 12 and up
The Creative Company, 2005   ISBN: 978-1583413388

Martha Jane Cannary was born in Princeton. She had little education and loved to be outdoors as much as possible, riding horses and going hunting. When her family moved out West to Montana when she was thirteen, Martha used to ride with the men, scouting out ahead of the wagon train and hunting for the pot. Martha had lots of adventures and when there was a difficult route to take, she was sure to choose it. She was fearless, reckless, and could not imagine settling down to do ‘women’s work.’

By the time she was fifteen, both of Martha’s parents were dead and the remaining family members split up and went their own way. Martha went West finding work where she could. At times she did laundry, cooked or cleaned but she preferred to do men’s work and found jobs on the railroad and as a military scout. It was during her stint as a scout that Martha got her nickname. She loved the name and did her best to live up to it, becoming a hard drinking foul mouthed woman who wore buckskin pants and who took jobs most women would not have even considered doing.

By 1876 Calamity Jane had joined forces with Wild Bill Hickok and they went to live in Deadwood, South Dakota. Calamity got work as a Pony Express rider and while she was on one of her trips Wild Bill was shot and killed. Soon after Calamity moved on again. She was briefly married and she did have a daughter but the settled life did not suit her and she went back to living the semi-nomadic life which she had once enjoyed so much. Now in her forties and drinking heavily, Calamity tried acting in Wild West shows and she even tried promoting a book she wrote. Both adventures were failures and Calamity often took refuge in the bottom of a bottle.

In spite of her rough ways, when she died in Deadwood in 1903, the people of the town gave her a grand funeral and buried her next to Wild Bill, as per her wishes. Her legend, thanks to her writings and the books if others, lived on. It is hard to determine what is fact and what is fiction but there can be no doubt that Calamity Jane did have many adventures and that she was a spirited and courageous woman who went her own way.

Fans of the Wild West will find this account to be fascinating and they will soon be caught up in the descriptions of Calamity Jane’s exploits. Readers will also get to ‘meet’ some of the other colorful characters whom Calamity encountered on her travels.  In addition to the text readers will find plenty of period photographs and illustrations throughout the book.

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