Calamity Jane Is Heard From (1896)
(From the San Francisco Call – November 18, 1896)
Ran Out Of Judge Gibson’s Courtroom Ten Years Ago
The Sympathetic Jurist Made an Order Depriving Her of Her Children
She Is Now Selling a Book in Montana of Which She Was the Author
The real Calamity Jane (Martha Jane Cannary)
For the first time since “Calamity Jane” ran out of Judge Gibson’s courtroom about ten years ago and disappeared she has been heard from. At the present time she is traveling in the Western States selling a book which relates her many daring experiences.
When Judge Gibson was on the bench, Calamity Jane, her children and their father were before him, and figured in one of the most striking cases ever tried in the Alameda County courts. The father wanted possession of the children and alleged that Jane was a dissipated character who was unfit to have their care or custody.
When the evidence of the father was all in, Calamity Jane rose and pleaded her own case. Her costume and demeanor, both that of a typical border woman of a generation ago, attracted the profoundest attention, and while she spoke and sobbed no other sound could be heard.
“Judge,” said Calamity Jane, “these children are mine, and I am able to work for them. I know I’m not a church-going woman, but I’m honest. I drink sometimes, but I was never so drunk that I could not protect my children, nor did any one of them ever want for anything. Now, look at this man who wants to take ‘em from me. Take a good look at him, Judge, and see if you think he is any more fit than me to take care of ‘em. Judge, ten years ago I saved that man’s life. He got into a shooting scrape and was shot full of holes. If I hadn’t cared for him he would be dead long ago. I nursed him and cared for him like a sister, and he’s the father of these children that he would take from me now.”
Judge Gibson was impressed with the woman’s story, and said that his inclination was to award the children to their mother. “But the law is very clear on this point,” he said, “and I cannot do otherwise than give the children to their father.”
“Take ‘em from me, Judge, and give ‘em to him?” cried Calamity Jane. As soon as the little ones were approached by their father they ran to their mother and she grasped them with an iron grip. The services of two or three deputies were necessary to take them from her.
Judge Gibson admired the woman’s bluntness and evident courage and said he would see that she was provided for. Calamity Jane listened to the kind words from the bench and shrieked as soon as the Judge finished. She heard her children crying as they were led off by their father and the officers and controlled herself long enough to say: “Judge, they don’t do things in this way in Arizona. There they would have given my children to me and not to that useless character.”
“Madam,” said Judge Gibson with a moist eye, “I’m sorry I’m not in Arizona because I believe you could be made good; I have no such opinion of that man. But law is law.”
While the Judge was writing to a charitable lady to attend to the broken-hearted mother, Calamity Jane rushed out of the courtroom, headed for the creek ferry route and disappeared. For a long time it was thought the unhappy woman had ended her life, but instead, she disappeared from Western life for some years, and has reappeared as an author.
A newspaper writer, who saw her in Montana a few days ago, thus describes her:
She is a masculine-looking woman, wearing a black sombrero and a dress of dark, rough material. She is long-boned and brown and old, yet active. For years after 1885 she disappeared from Western view, having married Clinton Burke at El Paso, but last January she reappeared at Deadwood, where a great part of her career had been passed, and re-entered public life by becoming a dancer on a variety stage. This was not to her liking. The life of the boards proved too exacting and hard for her in her advanced years, and she took the hint of a friend and became an author.
Calamity Jane belongs to a type once common enough all over the west, from Dakota to the western line of Montana, but now extinct.
For a few years she was a Government scout, and she participated in several Indian campaigns, notably Custer’s Nez Perce campaign in 1872-73, when she received the name by which she is now known.
She was a crack rifle and revolver shot and drifted between the mining camps and stage posts of South Dakota, Utah, Montana and Wyoming for years. For years before her departure for the South she was a pony express rider, thus having an occupation sufficiently exciting in those days, when Sioux were hostile and covered every trail. Her route was in the Black Hills, between Deadwood and Custer, and she covered it without fear. In 1882 she took up a ranch near Miles City, Montana, and began cattle raising. She also had an Inn, where the traveler might get food, drink or trouble, as seemed to him best.