Return to the real-life days of the wild, wild West where the living wasn’t so easy… especially for women. Martha Jane Cannary was a bona fide frontierswoman, a professional scout, a drunk, and sometime whore, doing whatever it took to stay alive in the hardscrabble days of American expansion.
Written by Christian Perrissin. Art by Matthieu Blanchin.
The harsh, unforgiving frontier of the Wild West made legends out of cowboys and roughriders, bandits and bank robbers–but how many of these tall tales can be trusted? Calamity Jane from Christian Perrissin and Mathieu Blanchin lays bare the truth about one of the Wild West’s greatest heroines–Calamity Jane Cannary–as she attempts to tell her own story through the letters she wrote to her estranged daughter, Janey.
Martha Jane Cannary was born the eldest of six children. Her parents, failed Missouri farmers, started west in hopes of finding a place to settle down and make a living–but their luck was poor, and after much travel and several attempts at building a homestead, her mother died on the trail. Her father followed a year later–leaving Martha Jane with five children to care for on her own in Salt Lake City.
When a well-to-do Mormon man asks her to be his wife, Martha Jane dresses in a shirt and trousers and takes to the hills on her horse Pilgrim, leaving her siblings to be cared for by the Mormon community. At only 15 years old, she’s not ready to settle down to life as a wife and mother–or to be responsible for all of her siblings. And after months on a wagon trail, she feels a call to the prairie where she can use the skills she’s learned as a horsewoman to eke out a living.
Her disguise as a man brings her almost as much harm as help in the years to come. When an Irish trapper rescues her from the wolves and the cold of the mountains, he learns that she is a woman and forces himself on her–giving her her first taste of how cruel and unjust the world can be for women who are out on their own. She escapes after striking the man over the head with a heavy board and leaving him for dead, stealing his horse to ride away to a nearby fort. At the fort, using the pseudonym of Bobby, she joins a military convoy. After becoming overly friendly with an officer’s wife, her womanhood is again discovered–and she’s stripped down and forcibly bathed by the men, who seek solely to humiliate her for tricking them. Later, she’s thrown in jail for drunk and disorderly conduct after being outed as a woman by a merchant’s wife, aghast at the fact that she has the nerve to dress as a man.
Calamity Jane lives a life characterized by misfortune, alcohol, and men who can’t handle her wild spirit. The one great love of her life, Wild Bill Hickock, abandons her to wed another–and leaves her with a child she can barely care for. Janey, a daughter she adores, becomes an anchor for this woman who has never lived long in one place–and when an opportunity comes to give her a better life, with a wealthy couple from Richmond who desperately want a child, Jane gives her away–and becomes the wild Prairie Queen of rumor once more.
A cowboy and roughrider, a spinner of tales and natural entertainer, Calamity drinks, curses, and fights with the best of them. But her real life, full of heartbreak and poverty, is one that even she has trouble living as a witness to–and only in her letters to Janey does she admit to the many regrets she has always carried on the wild trails that led her to adventure and to hearbreak.