Home > My Calamity Jane

My Calamity Jane
Author: Cynthia Hand


Listen up, y’all. We’re gonna tell you the story of Calamity Jane. You might have already heard of CJ—she’s one of the most famous names of the Old West. She was quite the character, if you believe the stuff that was written about her in the dime-store novels and newspapers of the day. They say she dressed up in britches like a man, shooting and swearing with the best of them; that she was a Pony Express rider, a stagecoach driver, a pioneer, a scout for the US Army, a spy, a showgirl, and the love interest of many a notorious gunslinger. “The Heroine of the Plains,” they liked to call her, and if all this wasn’t exactly true, well, it made a good story, so Jane never did try to set the record straight.

Historians, for their part, claim that in “reality” Calamity Jane was an illiterate, foul-mouthed alcoholic. They paint her as a lone wolf, a wanderer, a perpetual screwup who eventually drank herself to death and died alone and friendless, a tragic end after a lifetime of self-destruction. Not exactly a happily ever after.

We, your faithful narrators, think Jane had a good heart and deserves a better ending, so (as usual) we have a different tale to tell. Hold on to your hats, because we’re going to take you back to 1876.

Now, we want to warn you that the America of this tall tale doesn’t exactly resemble the history books. We’ve improved upon it, naturally. We changed people’s names when it suited us, combined a bunch of guys named Bill into one, and messed around with dates and ages. As we do. In our story, Calamity Jane’s been working in a theatrical production called Wild Bill’s Wild West (say that ten times fast). The show was one part demonstration—sharpshooting and rodeo-type tricks—and one part storytelling, in which Wild Bill Hickok, America’s first gunslinger and all-around stone-cold badass, thrilled audiences with accounts about his great adventures hunting garou.

If you’re not familiar with the term garou, we can hardly blame you. It’s an old word, derived from garolf, which had been, over centuries, modified from yet another, even older word: werwulf.

You see where we’re going with this.

The garou had always been around, but they were good at hiding in plain sight. A garou looked like a human, walked and talked like a human, and really was a human . . . most of the time. But in 1876, garou bites were on the rise. There were whispers of an evil garou gang known as (wait for it) the Pack, which was headed up by a mysterious figure called (you guessed it) the Alpha. Understandably, the US government was concerned about all these people getting turned into werewolves, so they hired Wild Bill Hickok and his posse of undercover garou hunters to bring the Alpha to justice, a job that would lead to one of the wildest adventures in the history of the Wild West.

That brings us to the three not-so-typical teenagers this story is really about: a dashing young feller trying to follow in the footsteps of his famous father, an ambitious-but-charming sharpshooter determined to prove herself, and a hotheaded but tenderhearted girl who’s fixin’ to get tangled up in a few dangerous plots of her own.

Get ready to meet the real Calamity Jane.





(In which things get a little hairy.)





As usual, they caused a ruckus when they came to town. Wild Bill liked to make an entrance. He led the group right down the center of Main Street, Bill riding way out front on his gleaming black horse, Jane and the rest following behind. Within minutes of their arrival the streets had flooded with onlookers, staring and pointing and exclaiming things like, “Wowee, that there’s the Wild Bill Hickok,” and “He’s the best sharpshooter in the West—no, the world,” and “A genuine hero, he is!”

Bill waved grandly to the bystanders, tipped his hat at the ladies, and swept back the edges of his billowy black coat to reveal the matching pair of engraved, ivory-hilted, silver-mounted .36 caliber revolvers strapped to his hips.

“That Wild Bill’s shot over a hundred men,” Jane overheard as they approached a gaggle of boys on the stoop of a barbershop.

Folks tended to exaggerate when it came to Bill.

“Well, I read in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine that he killed ten garou in a single fight,” said another boy. “With only six bullets in his gun!”

Jane heard an incredulous snort and glanced over her shoulder at the two men riding behind her: Charlie Utter, Bill’s business partner, and Frank Butler, Bill’s son. It was Frank who’d given the snort.

Jane crossed her eyes at him.

Frank responded by cupping his hand under his armpit and making fart noises.

Jane pantomimed vomiting.

Then Frank turned his head and pretended (at least we hope he was pretending) to slowly stick his finger up his nose.

Jane coughed to cover her laugh. Dang, he’d got her.

“Stop it, you two,” Charlie barked. “So help me I will turn these horses around.”

Jane sighed and swiveled to face forward again.

“Nellie, look!” cried a lady in a pink dress. “That’s Frank Butler, the Pistol Prince.”

“Oh! Isn’t he handsome?” breathed a second woman.

“So handsome,” agreed the first. “He’s even more handsome in real life, don’t you think?”

They must have missed the nose-picking. Jane peeked over her shoulder again at Frank, who weren’t so comely as all that, even if he did comb his hair regular and have all his teeth. Still, she’d never be able to think of Frank in any romantical way.

“You see the white dog riding on the special seat behind him?” continued the woman in the pink dress. “That’s George the Poodle. He’s part of their show.”

“I simply adore a man with a dog,” cooed the second girl.

From his perch, George gave a low growl. Jane agreed. This part was just so stupid, dandying up and promenading through town to get gawked at and fussed over.

“Hey!” a young man yelled out from the door of a bank. “Ain’t that Calamity Jane, the Heroine of the Plains?”

Well, maybe it wasn’t so stupid. That word did have a nice ring to it: hero-eene.

“Nah,” scoffed another fellow. “That can’t be Calamity Jane. She’s not pretty enough.”

Jane could instantly feel them looking her up and down. She knew she’d never be what a man would think beautiful; her shape was downright squarish, both body and jaw, her face burned and freckled from the sun, her hair dark and tangly as a stack of black cats. But a recent article in the Chicago Tribune had described Calamity Jane as “a lovely, spirited waif,” which had given folks certain erroneous expectations.

“That’s a girl wearing man’s breeches who’s riding with Wild Bill Hickok,” argued another man. “It’s got to be Calamity Jane.”

“I guess you’re right.” The first man laughed loudly. “Huh. She ain’t much to look at, is she? I can see why they call her ‘calamity.’”

Jane’s face burned. She should brush it off—she knew that—but instead she brought her horse to a stop alongside the bank and fixed the men with a stare. They fell silent.

What she wanted to do was spit. Jane was an excellent spitter, and it would be thoroughly satisfying to send a clean arc of spittle right onto the face of the rudest man.

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