Throughout history, bold women have been casting off the shackles of conventional life. Women who fought courageously and tirelessly to assert themselves as individuals and experts in their field, something most men have had the luxury of taking for granted.
In the female sect of explorers, there are heiresses, socialites, and rebels. But the one thing they share beyond their sex is an intrepid spirit that thirsts for adventure.
These woman and others like them did not just prevail, they excelled when personal, economic, political, and racial obstacles threatened. The cards were stacked against these women, but they bet the farm and won. Their stories are full of adventure, romance, loss, and triumph. Everyone can relate to that—and to their stories.
Here are 8 women who traveled and led adventurous lives, because they wanted to expand their horizons, earn money, or simply because boredom was not their style.
At the turn of the century, this young woman wrote her way to fame in the man’s world of journalism. Nellie Bly was born Elizabeth Cochran in a small Pennsylvania town in the 1860s. One day an upset Bly decided to pen an open letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch. Her short but important piece pointed out the paper’s negative representation of women.
She then landed her first job with the Pittsburgh paper after she wrote that stern reply to the story that had attacked workingwomen. Bly had been writing op-eds and “women’s interest” columns for a while at this point, but found its editorial limits stifling. She didn’t want to write about just china patterns anymore.
At just 23 years old, Nellie Bly pioneered a new style of investigative journalism, the thrilling tale of perhaps the most daring undercover feat in the history of journalism. She is best known for her world-changing exposé for which she went undercover to reveal the abuse going on at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island.
In 1887, Bly accepted the challenge to feign mental illness to gain admission and expose how patients were treated. With this courageous and bold act Bly cemented her legacy as one of the foremost female journalists in history. She was determined to succeed, and she did so with remarkable ease. In large part because it didn’t take much for doctors to deem a woman “hysterical” in the Victorian era. Had one of Bly’s male contemporaries attempted to use insanity as a means to get into the nitty-gritty inner workings of an insane asylum, for instance, it’s unlikely that he would have gotten far.
General wisdom at the time held that men were sane until proven otherwise. As for women, the male-dominated medical profession considered them more likely to be hysterical than not, and thus women had to “prove” their sanity in ways that men would not.
In 1895, Bly married millionaire industrialist Robert Seaman. She helped manage his manufacturing company. When he died in 1904, she took over as president. Then in 1914, to escape the drudgery of finances and lawyers, Bly returned to journalism. She signed on as a reporter covering World War I in Europe (1914–1918) Bly went to the front lines — the first female reporter to ever do so.
A different kind of story, though, made Bly’s name a household word. In 1873, French author Jules Verne published a novel called Around the World in 80 Days. In it, a fictional hero named Phileas Fogg circles the globe on a bet. But no real person had attempted the feat. In 1889, bored and seeking adventure, Bly proposed that she attempt a trip around the World, based on the adventures in the famous Jules Verne novel. She wanted to use her journey as a publicity stunt for The World. The paper’s business manager commented that it would be better to send a man, because he would not need a chaperone (escort) or as much luggage.
Bly shot back: “Very well. Start the man and I’ll start the same day for some other newspaper and beat him.”
She set out alone with a single satchel and a coat that became her trademark. Her goal was to beat the fictional globetrotting record. Traveling in ships, trains, and rickshaws, on horseback and on mules, Bly made her way from England to France, Singapore to Japan, and California back to the East Coast. Newspaper sales skyrocketed as New Yorkers, then the rest of the country, bought copies of The World to keep track of Bly’s whereabouts.
After a couple of near-disasters in catching departing steamships, she arrived back in New York, and she did all this in 72 days. Well, 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds to be precise — beating Phileas Fogg’s time by more than a week.
Bly has gone down in history for her work inside Blackwell, and the truth is that no one else would have been able to pull it off.
Anne Bonny was a spirited character, and refused to accept the repression of other women of her time, who were kept mostly indoors. Thus she was seen as an inspiration and role model for many women who came after her. She went against the grain of what women of that time were supposed to be.
From 1718 to 1720, Anne was a fierce and brutal pirate. She didn’t allow her gender to hinder her – she was as intimidating as any pirate that sailed the high seas. Even though her career as a pirate was short, her name has gone down in history books.
Bonny was born in Ireland, most likely near Cork, around 1700. Her father was a lawyer and her mother was his maid. The affair was sensational and, to escape the gossip, her father was forced to relocate with them to America.
Her father chose a plantation along the Ashley River in Charleston as the place to begin their new life. Anne was very short-tempered and didn’t turn out as her father had expected. She was violent and ferocious at times, causing her to lead and choose her own way of life.
Instead of attracting a rich suitor she settled for a poor sailor named James Bonny, much to her father’s disapproval. He disowned her when she married Bonny.
After moving to the Bahamas, Anne’s husband found work as a sell-out, turning over pirates for small amounts of money. This made Anne resent her husband and led to the dissolution of their marriage. It’s suggested around 1718 or 1719 she met Edward England, better known as “Calico Jack” Rackham.
The life of a pirate suited Anne Bonny just fine, so much so that she drank, swore, and fought like one too.
In the late 1720s Captain Jonathan Barnet cornered them. After a night of drinking the male pirates hid away under the deck while Anne put up the last stand. Anne lived up to her name as she fought to the end, cursing her male counterparts.
The trial of the crew was rapid, and they were found guilty. Their executions were set for November 18 at Gallows Point at Port Royal. Before Rackham met his death, Anne went to see him. She told him that had he fought, he would not have needed to hang. But he was soon executed alongside four of his men.
As for Anne her death was postponed due to the claim that she was pregnant. This news was declared on November 28 towards the end of her trial and she was spared the gallows.
After her trial she faded into obscurity. It’s said she did not die in prison and she was not executed. After giving birth, her sentence was changed repeatedly. Some say she fixed the relationship with her father, who then used his riches to bail her out. Others say she lived and died in Louisiana. No one will ever know what really happened to the fierce Anne Bonny.
What we do know is Bonny led a life which was out of the ordinary, and she seized an opportunity that many wouldn’t dream of taking. She rewrote the role played by women and is one of the most notable female pirates in history.
Ida Pfeiffer was born in Vienna, Austria, as Ida Reyer. Her father treated her as one of the boys. As a young girl, she wore boys’ clothes and received the same education as her brothers. She was also encouraged to participate in strenuous outdoor activities to help develop physical strength and independence.
Pfeiffer’s dad probably didn’t intend for his despotic parentage to lead his daughter to hang out with Indonesian cannibals. But it did. It just took a while.
Though barred from the Royal Geographical Society of London because of her gender, this Austrian globe-trekker is now celebrated as one of the world’s first female explorers. Her leading motive was a thirst for knowledge.
This quiet, silent remarkable woman is described as of short stature, thin, and slightly bent. She was well-knit and of considerable physical energy, and her career proves her to have been possessed of no ordinary powers of endurance. She had undoubtedly a clear, strong intellect, a cool judgment, and a resolute purpose.
She frequently journeyed alone. Knowing the risk, she penned up her will before heading off on her first trip to the Holy Land. The first problem she ran into was that she had no money. Her late husband’s financial woes had sunk her funds to where she could just barely make ends meet at home – let alone travel.
But here Ida’s lifetime of disappointment training kicked in: she could sleep on a bed of nails, on fire, with a snake biting her all night, and she’d be fine. This gave her options. Not great options, but options.
She trekked to Istanbul, Jerusalem, and Giza, visiting the pyramids on camelback. On her return trip, she detoured through Italy. The adventurous lady returned home by way of Sicily, visiting Naples, Rome, and Florence, and arriving in Vienna in December 1842.
In the following year she published the record of her experiences under the title of “Journey of a Viennese Lady to the Holy Land.” Its success funded her next exploration to Iceland and Scandinavia, which in turn became the subject of her next book. More trips were made to Brazil, China, India, Iraq, Borneo, and Indonesia.
It is certain that no woman ever accomplished a more daring exploit! The mental as well as physical energy required was enormous; and only a strong mind and a strong frame could have endured the many hardships consequent on her undertaking—the burning heat by day, the inconveniences of every kind at night, the perils incidental to her sex, meager fare, a filthy couch, and constant apprehension of attack by robber bands. The English consul at Tabreez, when she introduced herself to him, found it hard to believe that a woman could have accomplished such an enterprise.
The most astonishing thing about Ida Pfeiffer was her open-mindedness. She only got more open minded as years went on. Her stop to Sumatra in Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) she set out to meet the cannibalistic Batak, whom she’d been repeatedly warned would try to kill and eat her. She was so firm in her belief that they couldn’t be as bad as people say, that she became the first European to meet them. And she was right!
She was frightened when they first wanted to kill and eat her, but made a joke, saying in broken Batak that she was too old and tough to make good eating. This amused them and they let her go for the time being. She eventually made her escape unharmed. She found that they had a good legal system (usually eating only the most depraved criminals), were trustworthy and literate — and yes, cannibals. She went on to describe, at length, the dishes they’d cook people into, as if she was writing for Jeffrey Dahmer’s Lonely Planet. She was a curious one. She was the first person to report on the Batak way of life.
The brave adventurer at first, on her return home, spoke of her travelling days as over, and, at the age of fifty-four, as desirous of peace and rest. But this tranquil frame of mind was of very brief duration. Her love of action and thirst of novelty could not long be repressed; and as she felt herself still strong and healthy, with energies as quick and lively as ever, she resolved on her last voyage to Madagascar. This was a mistake.
The cruel ruler of the time: Ranavalona I, was a Rejected Princess. Although Pfeiffer had no axe to grind, she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was caught in Ranavalona’s web. She marched the 61-year-old-woman through malaria-infested swamps for months, which soon thereafter (possibly in conjunction with cancer) proved the death of Ida.
In the end, she had traveled over 150,000 miles of sea and 20,000 of land, in an era before airplanes or comfortable trains. She brought a huge amount of geographic, botanic, and ethnographic knowledge to Europe. She travelled the world several times over, travelling perhaps further than any other female writer of the 19th century. She visited regions which no European had previously penetrated, or where the bravest men had found it difficult to make their way; undergoing a variety of severe experiences; opening up numerous novel and surprising scenes; and doing all this with the scantiest means, and unassisted by powerful protection or royal patronage.
It was a small ship with 300 men who knew her as “Jean.” But she wasn’t Jean. She was Jeanne. Then one day, they found her out.
Not only a glass-ceiling-shattering explorer, but also a groundbreaking botanist to circumnavigate the globe – she had to do it disguised as a man. She joined the world expedition of Admiral Louis-Antoine de Bougainville from 1766 to 1769.
The French Navy prohibited women on its ships, but that didn’t stop Jeanne. She bound her breasts with linen bandages and became Jean Baret.
Her family taught her to identify plants to treat wounds and diseases and so she became “an herb woman,” a peasant schooled in botanical medicine.
It turns out, in her neighborhood, there was a young man, a nobleman, whose young wife had died in childbirth, and one day, maybe while roaming the fields collecting plants — also his obsession — he met Jeanne. They began to collect together.
Two years later, they hatched a plan. The French government announced it would send two ships around the world to discover new territories for the glory of France, and they needed a plant hunter-botanist on board. Philibert de Commerson got the job. He, in turn, needed an assistant, and though the French Navy expressly prohibited women on its ships, Philibert agreed to dress Jeanne like a man. It was a bizarre, dangerous, crazy idea, but that’s what they did, and it worked.
The sailors began to notice that “Jean” never relieved himself with the rest of the crew, always carried a loaded pistol, and never, ever undressed with the others. When pressed, Jean suggested that Ottoman Turks had captured “him”, that he’d been castrated, and that he was embarrassed to be seen publicly. So, for a while, he passed as a man.
It happened in the South Pacific. How it happened is in dispute. Is that by the time the ship left Tahiti, a number of officers and probably many in the crew were pretty sure that Jean was really a Jeanne, and when they arrived at the next port of call, they waited till “Jean” was alone and unprotected by officers, grabbed her pistols, undressed her and then gang-raped her. True or not (and there is no hard evidence of such a crime, no suggestion of a rape in any of the diaries), she did go into seclusion after re-boarding the ship, and nine months later, she did have a baby.
When she stepped back onto the French docks in or around 1775, Baret was a different woman than the girl dressed as a boy who’d departed nearly a decade before. She had seen the world. She had broken boundaries, made discoveries, lost a lover, and found a husband. Though Baret was met with no fanfare, the French government most surprisingly, unbidden, bestowed a pension of 200 livres per year for her work gathering plants specimens, even remarking on record that she was an “extraordinary woman.”
But the last word should go to the Prince of Nassau-Siegen, the young gentleman in velvet and heels who hiked with her. In his memoirs, he says of Jeanne Baret:
“I want to give her all the credit for her bravery, a far cry from the gentle pastimes afforded her sex. She dared confront the stress, the dangers, and everything that happened that one could realistically expect on such a voyage. Her adventure, should, I think, be included in a history of famous women. And one day, I think, she will be famous.”
Born in 1831 in Boroughbridge, Yorkshire, to the affluent family of an Anglican vicar, Isabella Bird was a small sickly child. She was as sickly as a character from a Dickens novel. She had what Victorians called “a sensitive and nervous temperament.” She suffered headaches, insomnia, and a spinal problem; yet she became a world traveler and writer.
Despite her illness, she had a hankering to see the world. When she was 22-years-old, her doctor suggested that to help her insomnia and depression, she should take an ocean voyage. Travel seemed to be just the tonic she needed. Isabella really did seem to flourish during her travels. It’s interesting to note that many girls of the time were “a might puny.” I have often wondered if this is because they were just plain bored out of their minds. It’s not that needlepoint and writing correspondence weren’t fine pastimes, but some girls needed more.
As a slightly stout, middle-aged woman from England, who suffered from chronic ill health, Bird hardly conformed to the stereotypical image of an intrepid adventurer.
So that while it’s easy to equate her relief from illness with her escape from the oppressive Victorian restrictions on middle-class women, assuming psychosomatic sources for her symptoms may be a somewhat simplistic view. Whatever the facts of the matter, it is clear that in her writing, like many female travel writers before her, Bird intends to escape the restraints of illness and propriety, which controlled middle-class Victorian women’s behavior.
Isabella was a fiercely independent woman from a middle-class family who defied society’s norms to become a successful writer, and one of the first female fellows of the RGS. And all this in an era when European women did not engage in overseas travel, unless it was to accompany their husband on a colonial career posting. Her work was often unfairly dismissed by male contemporaries as frivolous coffee-table entertainment: in reality, she ventured into the remotest of locations, often unaccompanied; took note of the local climate, fauna, flora and economy; and produced compelling accounts containing a humanitarian sensitivity and lightness of touch that were unique for the time.
Bird liked to write, but she would also become an accomplished travel photographer, encouraged by her friend and secretary of the Royal Geographical Society, John Scott Keltie, and instructed by pioneering photojournalist John Thomson.
Her books were about the places around the world to which she traveled. She survived some tough situations like bad weather and other harsh conditions, which was unusual for women back in those days. Bird set the tone for contemporary travel writers by demonstrating that the journey itself was the adventure and that ordinary people often make more engaging subjects than burnished copper sunsets and snow-capped mountains.
On her trip home from Australia in 1873, dreading the prospect of a cold and dreary winter in Scotland (her mother, Dora, had moved to Edinburgh) with little money, Bird decided to take a seven-month sojourn in Hawaii. It was an extraordinary risk for a Victorian spinster in ill health and, explains Ireland, it marks a major watershed in her life. It’s funny to think that the woman who was traveling for her health managed to climb an active volcano, in Hawaii.
She then traveled to California and took a trip on the Transcontinental Railroad. She stopped off in Truckee because she wanted to see Lake Tahoe. She rented a horse and set off in the general direction of Lake Tahoe, but enroute, a bear spooked her horse. The horse didn’t stick around to check on her, so Isabella had to walk back to Truckee.
Things like that didn’t get a woman like Isabella down. Although she didn’t make it to Lake Tahoe, she did what my GPS would suggest . . . she began “recalculating!” She took the train to Cheyenne, Wyoming, and then took another train to Greeley, Colorado. It was in Colorado where she really crossed over from traveler to explorer.
While in Colorado, she met up with a mountain man named Jim Nugent, otherwise known as Rocky Mountain Jim. Anytime a 19th century woman selected a companion with a name like Rocky Mountain Jim, it was a safe bet that she was in for an adventure!
With Nugent’s help, the little Bird climbed all the way to the top of Long’s Peak. You can read her personal letters about this journey, which was later published as, “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains.”
She spent much of her life as a world traveler. She also wrote other books such as The Englishwoman in America (1856) and Aspects of Religion in the United States (1859). Bird became one of the greatest travel writers of all time.
She was a determined adventurer and photojournalist who captivated Victorian Britain and tirelessly advocated the empowerment of women.
She made her last trip to Morocco in 1901. On her return she became ill and died in Edinburgh on October 7, 1904.
Big Nose Kate
She was known as Big Nose Kate, Nosey Kate, Mrs. John H. “Doc” Holliday, Kate Melvin, and Kate Cummings, among other names, but was born Mary Katherine Haroney in Hungary on November 7, 1850. Kate was the daughter of a wealthy physician who had been appointed as the personal surgeon of Mexico’s Emperor, Maximillian, in 1862.
Katie Elder was a real person, whose background was perhaps more plaid than checkered. For one thing, there were all those names. Some historians of the Old West believe she was Mrs. Doc Holliday, and some don’t. Either way, she was quite a bit more than the “plainswoman” that revisionist history books call her. Katie herself never denied that she was a rip-roaring’, hard-drinking,’ gun slinging’ prostitute.
On March 26, 1865, when Kate was just fourteen years old, her mother died and just two months later, her father passed away too. Kate was put in the care of a man named Otto Smith, who reportedly tried to rape her. She decided that the best thing to do was run away, so she stowed away on a steamship headed for St. Louis, Missouri. Though the ships captain, a man named Fisher, found her, he did not put her off the ship, but rather, allowed her to stay on to St. Louis. Once there, she assumed Fisher’s name and enrolled in a convent school from where she later graduated in 1869.
It was rumored Kate married a dentist by the name of Silas Melvin and the couple had a child. However, both husband and child passed away in the same year. This information has yet to be proved true.
She went to Wichita, Kansas, under the name Kate Elder where she worked as a prostitute in a sporting house for Nellie Bessie Earp, Wyatt Earp’s sister-in-law. At the time it was rumored that Kate and Wyatt had a short relationship, but she denied this later in life.
There are many fascinating stories about Big Nose Kate and Doc Holliday. The story that shines the most is when she lit a fire, threatening to engulf an entire town unless the law released Holliday.
In 1875 she was listed as being in Dodge City, Kansas working as a dance hall girl. A couple of years later she moved south to Fort Griffin, Texas, where she met gunslinger Doc Holliday at John Shanssey’s Saloon, where Holliday was dealing cards. By this time, Kate had earned the nickname “Big Nose” Kate.
Kate was tough, stubborn, and with a temper that matched Doc’s. She said she worked the business because she liked it, belonging to no man, nor to any house, but in Doc, she met the love of her life.
She traveled with Holliday to Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota and New Mexico, often still working as a prostitute. She claimed that they were married at Holliday’s home in Georgia, but it is believed that the marriage was a common-law one.
In 1877, Doc was dealing cards to a local bully by the name of Ed Bailey, who was accustomed to having his own way without question. Though Holliday warned Bailey twice, the bully ignored him and picked up the discards again. This time, Doc raked in the pot without showing his hand, nor saying a word. Bailey immediately brought out his pistol from under the table, but before the man could pull the trigger, Doc’s lethal knife slashed the man across the stomach. With blood spilled everywhere, Bailey lay sprawled across the table.
Doc did not run. However, he was still arrested and incarcerated in a local hotel room, there being no jail in the town. Bully or no, a vigilante group formed to seek revenge on Holliday. Knowing that the mob would quickly overtake the local lawmen, “Big Nose” Kate devised a plan to free Holliday from his confines. Setting a fire to an old shed, it began to burn rapidly, threatening to engulf the entire town. As everyone else was involved in fighting the fire, she confronted the officer guarding Holliday with a pistol in each hand, disarmed the guard and the two escaped.
Shortly afterwards, Kate was running a boarding house in Globe, Arizona, some 175 miles away from Tombstone. However, she was known to often stay with Doc when she visited. Doc managed to convince Kate to move to Tombstone, but in the fall of 1881, after the Gunfight at the OK Corral, the couple split up again since he was worried for her safety and asked her to return to Globe.
Many times when Kate visited Holliday, they were known to have frequent arguments, most of which were not serious until Kate got drunk. Often, her drunkenness would escalate to abuse, and in early 1881, Doc had finally had enough and threw her out.
On March 15, 1881 a sheriff who was investigating the hold-up, found Kate on one of her drunken binges. The sheriff persuaded her to sign an affidavit that Doc had been one of the masked highwaymen and had killed the stage driver.
The Earp’s were rounding up witnesses who could verify Doc’s whereabouts on the night in question. When Kate finally sobered up and realized what she had done, she repudiated her statement and the charges were thrown out. But, for Doc, this was the “last straw” for Kate, and giving her some money, he put her on a stage out of town.
From 1882 until the time of Doc’s death in 1887 Kate was apparently also in Colorado, at least part of the time, as her brother owned property in Glenwood Springs. Her brother’s home was very near to the Sulfur Springs that Holliday visited to try to help his tuberculosis. Kate stayed in Colorado until after Holliday’s death.
In 1888, Kate married a blacksmith by the name of George M. Cummings, and the two moved to Bisbee, Arizona, only a few miles from Tombstone. In 1889, Kate left her husband and moved to the tiny railroad town of Cochise, Arizona at the junction of the Arizona Eastern and Southern Pacific railroads. John J. Rath hired Kate to work in his Cochise Hotel in 1899, although the customers never knew her true identity.
Kate was a larger-than-life character who lived to see stories of her own life and death (in that alleged gunfight in Bisbee) told as a legend of the Old West. In real life, she lived to be nearly 90, and died in bed, having survived a world that was hard on both women and horses.
Kate said of life: “Part is funny and part is sad, but such is life any way you take it.”
The “Bandit Queen,” started her life in 1848 as the charming Southern girl Myra Maybelle Shirley, but grew into a rebellious spirit who guarded her fierce independence at a time when few women could. She mingled with notorious outlaws. Now her name is swept up with such a whirlwind of legends that it’s hard to tell whom exactly this tough woman was. Or who murdered her.
A real woman that was reckless while still presenting herself as a genteel lady. She drank whiskey and would gallop her horse Venus (named for the goddess of love and victory) at breakneck speeds, but always while riding sidesaddle and sporting a tight black jacket.
Two pistols strapped on a black velvet skirt flowing over a riding saddle down to boots polished to a gleam, Belle Starr cut a dramatic figure as she rode through the Old West towns and Great Plains. Men, who didn’t treat her with respect, were threatened with the barrel of her six-shooter.
Her roughness with the law started when she was still a young girl in her home state of Missouri. Born to John and Elizabeth Shirley (whose maiden name was Hatfield, a member of the family that feuded with the McCoy’s.)
The Shirley family was wrecked after the Civil War, so they left for Texas, Belle driving one of their wagons all the way to Scyene southeast of Dallas. It was there in 1866 that Belle met the outlaw Cole Younger, who arrived with the James-Younger Gang, which included Jesse and Frank James, as well as Bob and John Younger.
Belle spent much of her time in Dallas, a boomtown in the 1870s as a railroad center and portal for cattle herds, and she still got into some trouble, being accused of horse stealing in 1878. Her home again became a hideout for such guests as Jesse James. She would even sit in on their planning meetings, and she also committed some horse stealing herself, but she mostly stuck to organizing the thieving and bootlegging from behind-the-scenes. After too many complaints were filed against her she was told by Collin County to leave the state. She sold the ranch and rode up to the Oklahoma panhandle with a group of outlaws.
Belle is said to have taken up with the outlaw Jack Spaniard, but he shot and killed a US Marshal in 1886 and was then wanted for murder. Bill July (also known as Jim), an adopted son of Tom Starr, then moved in with Belle.
She turned 40 in 1888, and perhaps weary of trouble, said that outlaws were no longer able to hide out on her farm. Instead she and Bill rented acreage to farmers. One of these renters, Edgar A.Watson, was discovered by Belle to be wanted for murder in Florida. When she tried to get him to leave, he refused. She said she would turn him in to the Florida authorities if he didn’t get out, which he finally did.
On January 22, 1889, Belle and Bill July had gone to Fort Smith, she for shopping and he for a hearing on yet another horse stealing charge. It was when she returned to Younger’s Bend on February 3, that she was thrown from her horse by a shotgun blast to the back. “The Petticoat Terror of the Plains” was shot again while on the ground, with wounds discovered on her back, neck, shoulder, and face. Her horse galloped home riderless, and Belle was found bloody and dead on the wintry road.
She was buried near Eufair Lake, southeast of Porum, Oklahoma, at Younger’s Bend. Her grave was robbed and vandalized shortly after her burial, but the current landowner has recently restored it in 2010. Visitors are welcome to walk up to the burial site and ponder the passionate life lived of the woman who was anointed the “Bandit Queen,” and now rests beneath a quiet brick tomb.
Martha Jane Canary was a tobacco-spitting, beer-guzzling, foul-mouthed woman who preferred men’s clothing to dresses. No woman in the annals of Western gold camp history so captured the imagination as Martha “Calamity Jane” Canary.
She grew up in a wild unnatural manner, which we wonder did not quench out every spark of womanhood in her, and it is to her credit that she did retain a kind and generous heart even while following in the footsteps of her dissolute father and careless mother.
Calamity, arguably the most famous female character of the Wild West, had arrived from Cody, Wyoming. The woman who wore masculine attire, worked, drank and swore like a man, frequented saloons and sporadically worked as a teamster or bullwhacker, laundress or a cook. She was a frontierswoman and professional scout, but also gained fame fighting American Indians.
Despite Hollywood’s later attempts to pretty her up. Calamity was tall for a woman, just under six-foot when wearing her high-heeled boots. Big boned and muscular, with rough, weather beaten skin and dark, stringy, seldom-washed hair, she was masculine in appearance even when wearing a dress.
After leaving Wyoming, she resided in Deadwood and did so illegally, because the government had given this land to the Lakota’s in the Fort Laramie Treaty. That didn’t stop excited fortune seeker “Calamity Jane”.
She followed prospectors from one gold camp to another; most wayward women of the old West shrouded their shady occupations with phony names and fantasy pasts. Not the flamboyant Calamity Jane. She gloried in the notoriety that pursued her, as she wandered in and out of settlements from Montana to Kansas.
The love of her life was Wild Bill Hickok. They allegedly were secretly married in 1870 and he supposedly took off after the birth of their daughter three years later.
Calamity Jane is one of those historical figures whose reputation has in many ways eclipsed the real story. But she was, without a doubt, a unique character who in many ways lived outside the social norms of her time.
Only the old days could have produced her. She belongs to a time and a class that are fast disappearing. Calamity had nearly all the rough virtues of the old West, as well as many of the vices . . . She was one of the frontier types and she has all the merits and most of their faults.
Jane died from complications of pneumonia in 1903. In accordance with what was said to be her dying wish, she was buried next to Wild Bill Hickok in Mount Moriah Cemetery, overlooking the city of Deadwood.
After a lifetime of wandering the west her restless spirit was finally at peace. She was home to stay.