City Star Brewing

Calamity Jane

Berthoud, CO

(pdf version)

    Martha Jane Canary (1852-1903), better known as Calamity Jane, was a frontierswoman, a professional scout, a performer, an Indian fighter and, on occasion, also a prostitute.  She has become an endearing icon of the American Old West as well as a symbol of strength for women even though many of the adventurous claims that launched her to stardom were likely embellished.  Much of the information about her life comes from an autobiographical and tediously self-promoting booklet she wrote in 1896 titled The Life and Adventures of Calamity Jane by Herself.

    Born in Missouri in 1852, Jane’s father had a terrible gambling problem and her mother was a renowned prostitute.  During their move to the West, her mother died from pneumonia and her father passed away soon after leaving her in charge of five brothers and sisters at the young age of 14.  She relocated the family to Wyoming and took up whatever work she could find to support her siblings including as a waitress, cook, dishwasher, nurse, ox team driver and a short stint as a prostitute.  She was always drawn to the great outdoors and it wasn’t long until Jane moved on to a more rugged lifestyle which included taking on a more masculine look, trading her dresses for men’s attire and letting her hair go unwashed.  She would eventually become as well known for her unusual personal style as for her legendary exploits.

     Jane’s stories were many and they were often dubious.  She was known for fighting in many of America’s battles with Native Americans and claimed to get the nickname “Calamity Jane” after saving U.S. Army Captain James Egan during a battle in Sheridan, WY.  According to Jane, Captain Egan had been shot during the battle while sitting atop his horse and as he fell from the saddle, Jane quickly rode to his aid and caught him, just before he crashed to the ground.  She then lifted him onto her horse and rode to safety, saving his life. Captain Egan then allegedly proclaimed, “I name you Calamity Jane, the heroine of the plains”; however, military officials from that area denied that she ever took part in such a battle. 

     Jane was also known as an extremely caring and compassionate person.  She is credited with saving many lives and in some very impressive ways, like helping a stagecoach under attack from Indians or nursing the victims of a local smallpox epidemic.  Her generosity was said to win over the hearts of nearly everyone who met her and her reputation spread across the country. In fact, in 1875 Jane joined a wagon train headed towards Deadwood, SD during which she met legendary Wild West gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok, and upon her arrival the Black Hills Pioneer ran a headline proclaiming “Calamity Jane has arrived”.  Although definitive details are fleeting, it seems that Jane and Hickok likely had a daughter together.    

     Jane bought a ranch in Montana in 1881 where she maintained an inn.  She gave birth to another daughter, Jesse, in 1887 but gave her up for adoption.  She found an occasional part in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show starting in 1893 and the Pan-American Exposition starting in 1901 where her marksmanship skills and stories of great adventures delighted the crowds.  During the same time, she also fought through many major health issues including alcoholism and depression.  Alcohol addiction was a lifelong struggle for Jane and at the age of 51 her body couldn’t take it anymore. She was buried at the Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood, right next to Wild Bill Hickok.  The church that held her funeral and the procession that followed overflowed with fans and friends.

Calamity Jane is remembered as one of the most adventurous and pioneering women in American history, and especially at City Star Brewing, a brewery that celebrates its local and national heritage in every pint.  Their Calamity Jane Pale Ale is not only a tribute to one of the most enigmatic women of the American Wild West but to all women everywhere, as it is released every April in coordination with International Women’s Day.

 From the Brewer:  City Star ladies collaboration for International Women’s Day.  The recipe varies each year.
John and Whitney Way - Owners


Calamity Jane, circa 1880

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