One of the most enduring myths of the American Old West is that of Calamity Jane. The word “myth” is used because, even though Jane was a real person, very few details of her life can be discerned with certainty. Much of what is known about her early life comes from an autobiography she dictated to a friend, to be sold at Old West museums as an added attraction to them, and Jane was well known for embellishing tales about her life and adventures. She did it on stage during her brief time as a performer before alcoholism forced her out of the entertainment circuit (her only job as an entertainer was to tell tales of life in the Old West), and she did it with those who knew her. Fiction about her was even being written by others during her lifetime. Here is what is known and probably true about the life of the woman known as Calamity Jane.
Calamity Jane was born as Martha Jane Cannary on May 1, 1852, in the town of Princeton, Mercer County, Missouri. The daughter of Robert W. Canary and Charlotte Burch, she was the eldest of six siblings, with two younger brothers and three younger sisters. In 1865, her father moved the family via wagon train to Virginia City, Montana. Her mother died along the way. The remaining family only spent a short amount of time in Virginia City before moving to Salt Lake City, Utah. Her father started farming, but died in 1867, leaving the 14-year-old Martha Jane to raise her younger siblings. She was known for her kindness and compassion and took this duty seriously. She did whatever she needed to do to support her siblings. This meant taking them all to Piedmont, Wyoming to start anew.