Calamity Jane portrayal planned at library Aug. 13
“Calamity Jane” will arrive in Old Colorado City Aug. 13 for Founder's Day. There's no clear evidence the legendary Western
woman ever visited this area, but “I feel that she must have,” according to Glenda Bell.
If anyone should have a sense for the matter, Bell should. Around the country, over the past 18 years, she's portrayed Calamity Jane (Martha Jane Cannary) hundreds of times, and she will do so again in the Old Colorado City Library at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13.
The free presentation will be part of the library's contribution to Founders' Day, which is organized annually by the Old Colorado City Historical Society (OCCHS) to celebrate the start of Colorado City in 1859.
Bell's thinking is that Jane traveled a lot, with Colorado one of the 23 states in which she is known to have spent time. “We've found her with the railroad construction in Cheyenne Wells and La Junta, and she owned property in downtown Denver before she went to the Black Hills (where she was best known),” Bell said in a phone interview this week.
Like Doug Mischler's portrayal of Andrew Carnegie for Founders' Day last year, Bell will arrive dressed for the part. “I wear old-timey trousers and a faded Western shirt, and I had a hat created from photographs,” she said. In addition, she will carry a whip, representative of Jane's occasional work as a “bull-whacker” moving oxen through towns.
Bell used to also bring along a rifle and a gun, because Calamity Jane was known as a crack shot. “But after Columbine (the high school shooting massacre in 1999), Colorado audiences couldn't handle that,” Bell said.
A retired schoolteacher, Bell decided in 1988 to try a second career as a public speaker. While attending a national speakers convention, “I met all kinds of people who did characters,” she said. “I spent a lot of time talking to Ben Franklin and had lunch with Dolly Madison, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Ghandi.”
She decided to come up with her own character. A couple on her “short list” were Annie Oakley and Jeannette Rankin. But Oakley was the wrong size (5-foot-1 to Bell's 5-7), while Rankin, an early women's right leader, is also unfortunately known for being the only vote in the U.S. House of Representatives against American entry into World War II. “So I could never have done a presentation before a veterans' group,” Bell pointed out.
Calamity Jane, who lived from 1852-1903, turned out to be the ideal character choice. In her travels, Jane was known for heavy drinking, being rowdy and having multiple husbands, but she also had a reputation for being a good cook and helping people out in times of need. In fact, it was from aiding the wounded in a battle that she received her nickname, Bell said.
“She was a naughty girl, but she had a heart of gold,” she said. “The stereotype of the cigar-smoking, tobacco-chewing, sure- shooting, tough old broad is based on Calamity.”
Jane became notorious through the dime novels of the day, whose writers were intrigued by her rare personna (but told her stories inaccurately), Bell said.
Nowadays, “Nobody knows why she's famous; they just know the name,” she said. “So I can adapt her to different markets, from G- to R-rated.”
Bell stressed, however, that the Calamity Jane show for the library will be “family-friendly.”
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