The Woman and Her Legend
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!
- To have children learn about the history of the United
specifically the old West during the 1800s, by recreating the major
events in the life of one of our most famous pioneers.
- To make children aware that there were cowgirls as well as
- To highlight the role of women in society.
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
- 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.
- 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
- Transcontinental Railroad
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.
Questions for Discussion and Classroom Activities
- 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
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?
- 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."
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?
- 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
Aikmann, Duncan. Calamity Jane and the Lady Wildcats, New
York: Henry Holt, 1927.
Brown, Dee. Wondrous Times on the Frontier, New York: Harper
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
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.
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
"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
(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
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
for audiences of all ages in venues along
the East Coast. Recent appearances include: Nellie
at The NHHC Chautauqua, Liberty Belles
Yale University Museum and Deborah Sampson
John Jay Homestead.