Calamity Jane

The Woman and Her Legend

Martha Jane Cannary started life on a farm in Princeton, Missouri in 1852. Her family traveled the overland trail to Montana in search of gold and a better way of life. Orphaned at the age of fourteen, she went to work. Jane dressed as a man and helped build the transcontinental railroads, drove supply wagons as a bullwhacker, nursed miners and was dubbed the "Florence Nightingale" of her day.

Some say she became a scout for General Custer during the Sioux Indian wars. She claimed to have been the bride of Wild Bill Hickock and the loving mother of Jane, their lost child.

Anne Pasquale brings the legend to life through the stories Calamity Jane told in barrooms and social halls across the plains. She sings her songs and shows us her world.

So catch the pioneer spirit. Visit with Calamity Jane and see the Old West through new eyes!

Curriculum/Program Objectives

  1. To have children learn about the history of the United States, specifically the old West during the 1800s, by recreating the major events in the life of one of our most famous pioneers.
  2. To make children aware that there were cowgirls as well as cowboys.
  3. To highlight the role of women in society.
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The following are words, terminology, important persons, and places that are defined and/or discussed within the presentation.
A person who drove supply wagons during the 1800s. These wagons were filled with food, clothing, and other necessary supplies for the new settlers of the West. The title "bullwhacker" was given because these drivers had to be acutely accurate with a bullwhip in order to drive the oxen pulling the wagon. This was one of Calamity's first jobs.
Calamity Jane
A female who is present whenever disaster or trouble is about.
Cannary, Martha Jane
The name at birth given to Calamity Jane. Born in Princeton, Missouri on May 1, 1852, died at the age of fifty-one on August 1, 1903. Laid to rest in Deadwood's Mt. Moriah Cemetary, next to the body of Wild Bill Hickok.
Any one of a number of contagious diseases such as black diptheria (a disease that causes one's throat to become so inflamed that the victim dies of suffocation), smallpox, or typhoid. Calamity bravely nursed many victims of these, risking contagion and earning herself the title of a "Florence Nightingale."
Deadwood, South Dakota
The small mining town, nestled in the Black Hills, that became the adopted home of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok.
A daily record of a writer's own experience and/or observations.
An unverifiable story handed down by tradition from earlier times and popularly accepted as historical; a myth or fairytale.
An early western police officer. He was an administrative officer who, performing duties similar to those of a sheriff, maintained the law and order of a U.S. District.
A habitual criminal.
Overland Trail
One of the popular routes taken by the pioneers during the 1800s when traveling from the eastern portion of the United States to the West in search of a better way of life. This was the trail traveled by Calamity's family en route from Princeton, Missouri to Salt Lake City, Utah.
We point out the many functions of such a meeting place during the 1800s. Other than its immediate association, a saloon has many uses: as a schoolhouse, a church, a funeral home, a livery stable, and an ice cream parlor.
A person who rode with the army as a guide. He had to know the territory and its people intimately. He would direct generals to the most direct route through canyons and other rugged terrain. He was a good rider who could ford heavy streams and ride through rough country, often bearing important dispatches. An excellent communicator, he was versed in several languages as well as sign talk. Although historians refute it, Calamity claimed to be such a scout for General Custer.
Sign Talk
A version of sign language employed by Indians, settlers, and soldiers as a common form of communication.
Transcontinental Railroad
The railroad that spanned the North American continent and was completed in 1869. Calamity is said to have dressed as a man and, at the age of sixteen, to have helped build this famous railroad.
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Questions for Discussion and Classroom Activities

  1. There were a variety of routes the early pioneers took to travel westward. The Overland Trail was one of the popular routes taken by the pioneers during the 1800s. Others included, for example, the California Trail, the Mormon Trail, and the Santa Fe Trail. Calamity is said to have helped build the famous Transcontinental Railroad. Have students trace the above trails/routes on a U.S. map. How long was each trail/route? How long did it take pioneers to travel each one in the 1800s? What kind of landscapes did the pioneers pass through along the way?
  2. During Calamity's day, women were asked to play conventional roles and marry, raise children, and become their husband's obedient and silent partner. Calamity refused to live this way of life and became one of our first liberated women. What other women of the 1800s chose unconventional roles? What do you think people of this time period thought of Calamity and these other women?
  3. Calamity had a varied career. Legend has it that she was a laundress, cook, bullwhacker, nurse, railroad worker, and scout for General Custer. Ask students to discuss the many professions that women are accepted in today that previously were considered "man's work."
  4. Ask children to discuss their own ideas and experience. Do they consider certain work "boy's work" versus "girl's work" in class? In school? At home? In the community?
  5. There were basic cultural differences between Indians and settlers. Indians didn't believe that anyone owned the land and felt free to take what animals the settlers claimed as their private property. Besides cultural differences, these groups did not speak the same language, and had to rely on sign talk to help resolve differences. Such lack of communication and differences led to fear and violence between the two groups. To show students how difficult this might be, have students divide into pairs. Have partners take turns choosing an everyday classroom/school problem and attempt to resolve it with their partners using no words, only their own version of sign talk.
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Aikmann, Duncan. Calamity Jane and the Lady Wildcats, New York: Henry Holt, 1927.

Brown, Dee. Wondrous Times on the Frontier, New York: Harper Collins, 1992.

Cannary, Martha Jane. Calamity Jane's Letters to Her Daughter, San Lorenzo, CA: Shameless Hussy Press, 1976.

_______. Life and Adventures of Calamity Jane by Herself, Fairfield, WA: Galleon Press, 1969.

Cohn, Amy L. From Sea To Shining Sea, New York: Scholastic Inc., 1993.

Faber, Doris. Calamity Jane: Her Life and Her Legend, Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992.

Fletcher, Alice C. and La Flesche, Francis. The Omaha Tribe, Vol. 2, Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.

Hawk, Richard Red. ABC's The American Indian Way, Sacramento, CA: Sierra Oaks Publishing Co., 1988.

McLaughlin, Marie L. Myths and Legends of the Sioux, University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

Sandoz, Mari. The Battle of Little Bighorn, USA: University of Nebraska Press, 1978.

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What they say about...Calamity Jane

"The students were very much engaged. This performance brought to light a moment in American history that many of the children were unfamiliar with." - Katherine Flack, Director of Junior Education Program, Boys Harbor

"One lone actress, armed with a minimum of props and a maximum dose of talent, steered Calamity Jane. This is a theatrical escapade at its best -- raw talent, passion, and great storytelling!" - Jeffrey Rosenstock, Director of Queens Theatre in the Park

"What a wonderful experience our students had. All our teachers commented that they would like you to come to Vassar Road next year!" - Trudy Briggs, Vassar Road Principal

"This was a great experience for the children. You truly captivated their full attention. I know many of them will want to learn more about the Old West and the history of our country." - Mindee Berham, Project Coordinator for the Chelsea/Elliott "I Have A Dream" program

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Artists' Information

Anne PasqualeAnne Pasquale (actress & playwright) is presently a member of The Actors Studio. She trained at LAMDA and the New York School of the Arts. She has appeared on TV in: As The World Turns and Search for Tomorrow. In Great Britain she performed a range of roles from Viola in Twelfth Night to Sarah Goddard, a turn of the century Rhode Island feminist. Some of her New York stage credits include: The New Dramatist's Three Sisters, Lincoln Center’s A View from the Bridge, Theatre of the Open Eye’s Birdbath, The 78th Street Theatre Lab’s Ruffian on the Stair, and Paradise Lost at The Actors Studio. In addition, Ms. Pasquale creates and tours her repertoire of Living History Programs for audiences of all ages in venues along the East Coast. Recent appearances include: Nellie at The NHHC Chautauqua, Liberty Belles at The Yale University Museum and Deborah Sampson at The John Jay Homestead.
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