I think I first became aware of the legend of Calamity Jane when I watched the 1953 movie starring Doris Day and Howard Keel as a kid, but what I remember best is the Lucky Luke comic about Luke's encounter with her. Both are, of course, purely fictional. I'm not sure I even realised she wasn't a fictional character at that point.
I have a mild interest in all things Old West, and when I came across this book, which was, at the time of original publication, touted as the most accurate and exhaustively researched biography of Calamity Jane, I decided to shell out the money to buy it - which wasn't a whole lot as I got it second-hand.
It was just as well it was cheap, because although thoroughly researched, the author can't hide her disapproval of Jane. I find this bias not at all scholarly and really rather unfair, considering that Jane appears to have been very much the product of an irregular and poverty-stricken childhood, as well as being an alcoholic, perhaps from an early age. It's not that I think her behaviour was exemplary or admirable, but anyone purporting to be writing a scholarly study should at lest try to keep a neutral tone.
Fortunately, this bias is most obvious in the preface and only pops up occasionally in the main text.
What I took away from this book most of all is that remarkably little is known about long periods of this woman's life. Sometimes she is mentioned in passing in letters or memoirs, and sometimes newspaper articles are the only source of information available, and those are often biased and clearly exaggerated, often recounting her drunken antics or announcing her arrival in town, seemingly to warn the citizenry of her presence. And it's not just periods of her life that are obscure - her chroniclers can't even seem to agree on simple things like her real name or her date of birth. While her given name is generally held to have been Martha Jane Cannary (or Canary), her middle name may not have been Jane at all - Jane might simply have been appended to her along with the Calamity moniker because it was a common woman's name. But back to the book:
This book is really more of a biographical sketch of Calamity Jane's life, and long passages are really more about debunking the legend while not replacing the hype with much of anything, because the author was unable to find any reliable sources for the truth, and often-times the author is working with scant information and drawing conclusions rather than having solid evidence for anything. One really has to applaud the effort, but the outcome is less than satisfactory.