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Monday, July 16, 2012

Recollections of Calamity Jane

Photograph of Calamity Jane,with imprint of Locke and Peterson, Deadwood, S.D. and titled in the negative Calamity Jane, Gen Crook's Scout from

The following is an excerpt from an interview [SDOHP0159] by Leonard Jennewein [JA] interviewing Pers Russell [PR] and George Leeman [GL], separately, in Deadwood, South Dakota, July 14, 1956. This interview clip centers their recollections of Martha Jane Cannary, more famously known as Calamity Jane. Other subjects covered in this recording, but not found in the clip or transcript below, are: travelling and living in the region of the Black Hills, Calamity Jane’s pallbearers, and important people of the area.

JA: You told me once about Calamity Jane. Where was it that you first remember seeing Calamity?
PR: Well, I don’t remember. She lived here, was around all the saloons at different times and after I got into the Bodega Bar there she used to come in and buy drinks; she’d lay a handful of silver on the bar and give us all a drink and if she’d get short of money, she’d look out the door and see some old timer go by. She’d run and hail him and get money from him ‘cause nobody would ever refuse her any money. She’d get a five or a ten from ‘em and buy more drinks. She was quite a woman to drink.
JA: Did you tell me once that that gun that she has in that picture that she came up to where you were working and got a rifle or was that somebody else when she had her picture taken down here?
PR: Oh, Yes.
JA: What was that story?
PR: Well it was right where the Penney Store is now just this side.  It was a butcher shop. It was Will Sasse’s 3030.
JA: Will Sasse. He run the butcher shop?
PR: His father did and he worked there.
JA: And then did she ask you where she could get a gun?
PR: Yes. I said well, I’ll get you a gun and I borrowed that gun of Sasse’s.
JA: Well, that’s the picture that … What’s the name of the photographer, Perterson?
PR: Yea. Charlie Peterson took the picture. He had a photograph gallery upstairs where the Black Hills CafĂ© is at the present time. […]


JA: Well, I tell you George, we’ll start in. […] You were down … you came down to the Methodist Church to…
GL: I came from Lead … I’d been working … Just got off shift. […]
JA: And came down to the church here where the funeral was going to be.
GL: Came down here and was going up to see my grandmother, remember? […] She lived right across from the Methodist Church. […] I just stopped there at the corner. Didn’t go up to see my grandmother. I waited to see the funeral. It was going on inside … it was supposed to. […] George Hopkins asked me to be pallbearer.
JA: Yea, were you just standing there along the sidewalk?
GL: Yea, right by the church.
JA: It was Hopkins that called you over?
GL: Yea, George Hopkins. He was … the rest of them … the other four were all standing there talking. […] Then they asked me if I’d take and be pallbearer for them. I said, “Why sure.” […] It was Hopkins and Lardner and George Hoosher and Curly Simmons […] and myself and Lee Baxter. […]
JA: Did you a … Calamity used to stop in at the place where you worked up in Lead?
GL: Oh, she’d come in you know but very seldom. Once in awhile. Course I was down in Deadwood living there all the time. […] she’d come in once in awhile. […] she used to come into Bodega when I was down here at Bodega.
JA: Yea, when do you think you first saw her?
GL: Oh goodness. I saw Calamity when I was ten years old. […] I remembered her awful well. And she used to say, “How’s my curly-headed kid?” She wasn’t drinking so much then. She drank, but I meant she didn’t get like the last time you know, when she got to drinking awful heavy.
JA: She kind of took a fancy to you as a young fellow?
GL: Why she did with all the boys and girls … with everybody. She knew all of us… a lot of the boys knew her at that time.
JA: She called you “Kid” or something like that?
GL: Yea, Kid. She was awfully goodhearted you know when she was halfway sober. But the latter part, she wasn’t sober no time. I never did see her sober, the last year or two.


- Jennifer McIntyre, SDOHC Digitizer/Curator 

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