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Martha Jane Burke (Canary)

Nicknames: "Martha Jane Cannary-Burke", "Steers", "Hickok"
Birthdate:
Birthplace: Ravanna, Mercer, Missouri, United States
Death: Died in Deadwood, Lawrence, South Dakota, United States
Cause of death: Inflammation of the bowels
Place of Burial: Mount Moriah Cemetery, Deadwood, Lawrence, South Dakota, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Robert Wilson Cannary and Charlotte M. Cannary
Wife of William P Steers and Clinton Burke
Partner of James Butler Lorenzo Hickok
Sister of Lena Borner

Occupation: Army scout
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Martha Jane Burke (Canary)

Martha Jane Cannary-Burke, better known as Calamity Jane (May 1, 1852 – August 1, 1903), was a frontierswoman and professional scout best known for her claim of being a close friend of Wild Bill Hickok, but also for having gained fame fighting Native Americans.  

 Estelline wrote at her death in 1903:

"Her vices were the wide-open sins of a wide-open country—the sort that never carried a hurt.”

How she got her nickname

Buffalo Bill stated:

"Her old nickname was received in 1872 in a peculiar way. She was at that time at Goose Creek Camp, S.D., where Captain Egan and a small body of men were stationed. The Indians were giving a lot of trouble, and there was much fighting.

"One day Captain Egan was surrounded by a large band. They were fighting desperately for their lives, but were being steadily, but surely slaughtered. Captain Egan was wounded and had fallen off his horse.

"In the midst of the fighting, it is said, the woman rode into the very center of the trouble, dismounted, lifted the captain in front of her on her saddle, and dashed out. They got through untouched, but every other man in the gallant company was slaughtered.

"When he recovered, Captain Egan laughingly spoke of Miss Canary as 'Calamity Jane,' and the name has clung to her ever since; so that while thousands have heard of her, very few have ever heard her real name. It was from her that Bret Harte took his famous character of Cherokee Sal in 'The Luck of Roaring Camp.'...

Not everyone, even back then, accepts Jane's version of how her nickname began. One old-timer said, "If she sat on a fence rail, it would rare up and buck her off." The St. Paul Dispatch wrote: "She got her name from a faculty she has had of producing a ruction at any time and place and on short notice." 

Family

  • Oldest of the six children of Robert Wilson Cannary (1825-c 1867) and Charlotte M. Burge (-d. 1866).  They are  listed in the 1860 US Federal Census as living about 7 miles (11 km) further northeast of Princeton, Missouri in Ravanna. 

A small pamphlet, "Life and Adventures of Calamity Jane, By Herself," begins with the statement: “My maiden name was Marthy Cannary, was born in Princeton, Missourri, May 1st, 1852.”  She was virtually illiterate, so misspellings of Martha and the state in which she was born are hardly surprising.

Neither [South Dakota historian J. Leonard] Jennewein or any other serious historian has been able to unearth solid evidence to validate a marriage of Martha Cannary to Wild Bill Hickok or to any other man for that matter, despite her own statement in "Life and Adventures":

"While in El Paso, I met Mr. Clinton Burk, a native of Texas, who I married in August 1885 … on October 28th, 1887, I became the mother of a girl baby …"

It is unlikely she lived in Texas during that time. Newspaper reports show she was in Wyoming in 1885 and 1886 and eyewitness accounts place her in Rapid City in 1886, well liquored up and riding a big red bull through downtown streets.

Links

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Calamity Jane's Timeline

1852
May 1, 1852
Ravanna, Mercer, Missouri, United States
1885
1885
Age 32
1903
August 1, 1903
Age 51
Deadwood, Lawrence, South Dakota, United States
August 4, 1903
Age 51
Deadwood, Lawrence, South Dakota, United States
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