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Calamity Jane
(May 1st, 1848 - August 1, 1903) U.S.A.

Calamity JaneCalamity Jane

Gender rebel, frontier figure and Wild West show performer


Born in Princeton, Missouri, as Martha Jane Cannary, Calamity Jane was a bullwhackeress, who seemed equally at home in buckskins and ostrich plumes. In 1862, the family moved to Virginia City, Nevada, which was then in the early days of the boom. An Indian uprising separated her from her father and brothers, and at the age of 14 she was thrown on the world to make her own way alone. In 1891 she married a cab driver named Clinton Burke.

She allegedly moved westward on a wagon train when still quite young. During the following several years she wandered about the West, working as cook, dance-hall girl, camp follower, and bawd [prostitute] and doing whatever necessary to earn a living. She served as a scout with the U.S. Cavalry and carried mail between Custer, Montana and Deadwood, South Dakota. In the spring of 1876 she ended up in Deadwood, South Dakota, site of new gold strikes, and became a bullwhacker, hauling goods and machinery to the outlying camps.

Beginning in 1895 she toured with Wild West shows throughout the Midwest. In 1901 she appeared at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, but was fired for her erratic behavior and alcoholism. Her last years were marked by poverty, and she died in Terry, near Deadwood. The facts of her life are confused by her own inventions and by the successive stories and legends that accumulated in later years.

She was also bisexual and a cross-dresser:

"Calamity Jane both worked in brothels (as a woman) and patronized them (as a man). 'One of Calamity's claims', wrote Cy Martin, 'was that in male garb and with the aid of a dildo, she could deceive any prostitute she wanted'...Her cross-dressing allowed her to explore and learn what was then excluisvely male activities - shooting and railway work for example - and to make money from sex work no matter which gender she chose."


Source: Women in American History by Encyclopaedia Britannica - and alii
Quote: Friedman, M. Strapped for Cash: A History of American Hustler Culture. Alyson Books, 2003 p. 18

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