Martha Jane Canary (May 1, 1852 – August 1, 1903 age 51), better known as Calamity Jane, was an American frontierswoman, and professional scout known for her claim of being an acquaintance of Wild Bill Hickok, but also for having gained fame fighting Indians. She is said to have also exhibited kindness and compassion, especially to the sick and needy. This contrast helped to make her a famous frontier figure.
“We are burnin’ daylight!” He is always ready for a new adventure!
Maddie stands at the end of the long narrow street stretched. Along either side, tumble down shanties stand shoulder to shoulder, ravaged soldiers at attention in this dreary coal town, other buildings perch precariously along the wide hills of the valley this mine camp is built into. Thick dust coats all, homes, clothing hung wearily on clotheslines, yards, and the grimy, barefoot children scattered along the street. Children, some sit listlessly on battered front stoops, others play stickball, run in the street, their voices echo under the dark ceiling of dirt and clouds that cover her town.
Maddie is born to this town, daughter, fourth child to George, a Virginia coal miner and Louisa, of little import to anyone, but bearer of children; 4 boys, 2 girls. Perhaps, Louisa has some bit of merit after all, but the weariness and aching of her body and mind, create for her a thick cloud of her own, one that is only thickened by her daily infusions of laudamen.
Maddie’s life is work, laundry, cooking, caring for the younger sister, and running noses, scabs, lice, dirt. Dreariness is its own reward in her life. No rewards other than patched clothing, shoes with paper stuffed into the holes, socks in the winter, sores, and lungs that are starting to cough up black soot.
So it follows natural, that as a child of 14 she agrees to marry Tom Ligget, and go away with him west to farm a homestead in the wide clean space of her future.
She leaves with him, her few items packed onto his wagon, takes along with her, her youngest sister, with hopes for a life better than the one they are leaving. She leaves behind her older brothers, already on their way to fulfilling their fathers destiny, and her mother, who barely rouses to say well by. Her mother shows no emotion, but her hand takes Maddie’s, and slips into it a small golden locket, the locket with the picture of her finely clothed English grandmother. A woman Maddie has never met, who still lives somewhere in England, mourning the fate of her own daughter, Maddie’s mother, disappeared into the wildness of America.
No shed tears, no promises to write.
They travel solo, the three of them, and, goat, and 2 hens in a cage.
The wagon is sturdy, a hoop frame over the top to hold up a canvas covering, giving them a place to sleep in the rain, and rest from the heat of the day. The wheels are sturdy, maneuvering through the rutted roads they travel, with persevering strength.
She revels in this new rough and tumble life, the dirt she encounters is different, road dirt: dirt that still sticks under her nails and in the creases of her skin, but seems somehow cleaner than that soot they have left behind.
Her sister enjoys the trip as well, moves from her listless state in mining camp, to a more active, vibrant one, eyes begin to sparkle, mouth occasionally smiles. They stop at rivers, creeks, and for the first time enjoy the life altering aspect of immersing their entire bodies in abundant, clean water, going under the cool surface with some trepidation, and then all three sputter back up, laughing at the pure joy of cleanliness.
They learn to know one another Tom and Maddie, in a way that would not have been possible under the miasma of the mining town. Under the bright skies, while the youngest sleeps safe in the wagon, they lay, cradled to one another, talking of the home they would build, the crops, the children, the future holding nothing but bounty in the west. They travel this way for one month, learn to laugh, and to hope.
They occasionally join with other wagons during the trip, but most often travel on their own. It was while on their own, they meet up with four dangerous cowboys, who begin to ride along beside them causing some great consternation in Maddie, for the men look at her and her sister with a shabby regard. She keeps her sister and herself inside the wagon, away from their eyes and jeers. Tom keeps driving, his jaw set, having no way to truly protect them. While on the edge of a desert slope, they strike; hollering, chasing the wagon. Tom drives off at top speed, the men begin to use fire power, shouting and yelling with disregard of the oxen, chasing behind and along the wagon. The noise and commotion cause the oxen to veer off the edge, and tumble with the wagon down the side of the arroyo,
Irvin stops, pulls the roan up short at the sound of the child’s wail. Heart stops as well, for just a mite, no sound worse to him than a kid or a critter hurt.
He slides off the horse, and starts forward, quietly, with deliberate steps. Looking for what cover he can find. Stops at a rocky outcrop and listens for more sound. Rustling, like the sound of horses shuffling about, and the noise of laughter, male laughter. His hackles rise, but no more sound of a child or woman in danger.
Waiting under his covering rock, he reckons he can wait a little longer, give himself some cover of darkness before he moves forward even more. He finds no use in the concept of going hell bent forward, to only be captured, or shot himself. No use in that at all.
He waits pretty good, does a lot of it he is thinking. Trying to understand what is happening at the camp. He hears four distinct male voices, boisterous, like maybe they are drinking; loud, wild voices. He hopes that he does not have to rush in and rescue someone before he is ready to make his move.
Twigh-light comes on, and as he moves away from his shelter, he can tell the gang is settling down for the night. They are a short way from him, and he sees that he can climb a bit up to a rock top, that overlooks the camp some. He walks slow, watching his every step, feeling for any tumbling rocks under his feet. Making his way to the rock top, he thinks he has been doing a little too much stretching out and watching the last few days.
Below him he sees the camp, fire unlit, men laying about in a slovenly fashion against saddles and packs, unaware of his presence. “Lazy and stupid” he thinks. Away to the side, nothing to prop them, huddle the woman and child, she holding her baby carefully, lovingly. Yet her head is up, a look of determination on her face. He wastes no time admiring her, but seeing that none of the men are on guard, sights, and shoots down into the mass, his bullet landing into the foot of one of the bandits, startling them into whelps of pain, anger and confusion. They are going for their guns, and he shoots again, this time catching another in the arm.
He yells down, “Stay away from the guns you no count varmints!” Still they are milling about; one does pick up his gun and fires it wildly toward Irvin’s voice. Irvin shoots again, this time wounding the wild shooter in his side. And the other just sits. Trembling. Too drunk to move forward, or too scared to try.
The woman and child are standing, and Irvin slides down the slope towards the gang, Holding his gun on the group, ready to shoot if he needs to, he kicks out the guns from the camp, and motions for the woman to come pick them up. She does, hurried like. No need to explain to this, one she knows what to do. With the guns in her arms, and the child holding on to her skirt, she stands and watches, a steely eye, wary. She does not know this savior from the rocks, does not know if she is in better times or worse.
After his late start, Irvin has not traveled far before the trail disappears into the gathering night. With a muttered oath, he swings off his horse, and prepares a meager camp for the night. No use with a fire, it wasn’t cold, and he would be leaving at first light. Unsaddling his horse he lays down under the big sky, watching the stars above him, wondering what the next day will bring, and mentally kicks himself for heading on this journey to find the kidnapped woman and child. Hell, he does not even know if they are alive or dead, or what he will find if he doe catch up with the gang. As far as he knows, he can get killed himself. Groaning, he rolls over to sleep.
With the lighting sky he is already on his horse, and follows the rocky, hard to read path. Occasionally he stops at a swatch of hair, or cloth snagged on a sharp rock or branch. “Smart” he says to himself. ‘Ya know that she must be leaving those behind.” His heart aches some for the brave woman, he wonders if she knows that her man lay dead in the wagon behind them.
So he follows, slow behind, until around noon, he comes to a burned out fire pit, empty cans left behind. These yahoos are not bothering to hide any trails, most likely figure that no one will follow far. Stopping, he kneels by the pit, stirring it a bit with a stick, the ashes feel warm and small embers flare up with his motion. So they are not far ahead.
He stands thinking. If he hurries too fast after them, he will not have any surprise, or possible cover, so it is best that he take some time, travel slow, look for cover to hide his approach. Not easy in this terrain, and the horses need water soon, so does he, the canvas panniers on his pack horse are running low, evaporating some in the day’s heat. The longer he waits though, the more pain can be happening to the captives.
So he continues through the afternoon, picks his slow way over the rocks, leaving behind. his string of packs, cobbled under an overhang in the shade side of the canyon, knows he will be coming back for them later, after this was all done. He travels lighter this way, quiet. The trail markings continue, and seem fresh when he sees them, no blurring of edges. The silence is around him, not broken by much of any sound, just quiet. “Quiet is good” he thinks, “I can hear more.” But he adds the worry he feels for the left behind horses to the worry he has for the lost pair ahead.
Nearly thinking he has misjudged the distance to find the gang, he considers heading back for his horses, and starting over again in the morning. But, then, in the near distance he hears a child scream.