This was my South Dakota pick for the Around the USA book challenge. It’s rather difficult to find a book set in this state, and after wracking my brain, I thought I’d seek out a biography of one of the personalities of old Deadwood. I didn’t know much about Calamity Jane, so this book seemed like a good choice.
Unfortunately, after much research, it seems the author didn’t know much about Calamity Jane, either. Orphaned at 15, young Martha Canary made her way from Missouri to places untamed in the north: Wyoming, Montana, and Dakota in the late 1800’s. She seemed to be a big personality, but a very unconventional one. She like to dress as a man, drink as a man, work like a man, and swear like man. People said she told great stories. I don’t think there was a single instance that propelled her into stardom. She simply was a curiosity, and a likable curiosity at that. She enjoyed her notoriety, and worked to embellish her own narrative. She wasn’t a showman like Buffalo Bill Cody or Annie Oakley, but she wasn’t above selling herself (sometimes prostitution, sometimes her story or photographs of herself) when she was short of cash. She had a big heart, and there are a few stories of Calamity going out of her way to help others. Like the time when she secured groceries (at gunpoint) from a grocer to give to locals who were too sick to work, or the time when she forced a local card dealer (also at gunpoint) to pay the prostitute whose services he’d taken advantage of in real gold dust, rather than the bag of dirt he fraudulently gave her.
The author admits that most stories about Calamity Jane are fiction and so it is difficult to find out the truth about this old west celebrity. Much of the book is padded with stories about the area and stories about other western notables. Jucovy often repeats information several times. With such limited data, the author should not have tried to write a whole book on such a narrow subject. I kept wishing she had written this as a combination biography/memoir, writing about her own experiences of traveling to all these places Calamity Jane had lived, researching information about her, and the author’s own thoughts and reflections about this elusive subject. That would have made for a more interesting and fuller book.
2 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2012