History Wednesday: The Unpronounceable Country

In the minds of many Utah is almost synonymous with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While it’s true the Mormon Church did more to establish and build present-day Utah than any other single entity, it’s also important to keep in mind they were never the only game in town.

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Just by far the largest.

Yes, even the relatively homogenous history of Utah isn’t without its bumps.

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History Wednesday: Calamity and Conceit

When I was in Riverton, Wyoming, this past weekend I had a chance encounter with a descendant of Martha “Calamity Jane” Canarie, an iconic figure of the Old West. His wife even does portrayals of her. Now there’s a History Wednesday topic if there ever was one!

It should be an easy blog entry too, right? Well, the historical Calamity Jane is so intertwined with legend, tall tales and flat out bullshit there’s not much to go on. People can’t even agree on how her real name was spelled.

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And we can’t even blame sloppy Arabic translations for that.
Image credit: Jim Gordon

According to Calamity Jane’s autobiography – which itself is called into question as most historians believe Jane was illiterate – she was born in 1852. Or was it 1850? Or 1847? Or earlier? In any event, in the mid 1860s Jane and her family moved in quick succession from Missouri to Montana to Salt Lake City. Along the way both of her parents died, leaving the (apparently) teenage Jane in charge of her younger brothers and sisters. After several more years of bouncing from place to place, by 1874 Jane settled more or less in the Fort Laramie, Wyoming, area.

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I’ll go out on a limb and say she wasn’t involved with the cold fusion hoax while in Salt Lake City.

Calamity Jane earned her nickname after ostensibly fighting in the Indian Wars alongside Generals George Custer and George Crook. This is disputed in contemporary sources. After moving to Deadwood, South Dakota, Jane then met and claimed to have married Wild Bill Hickok. While it’s accepted she and Hickok were acquainted, there’s no evidence to suggest the two were ever an item, much less married.

Note the pattern here.

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“Tell me about it. Hey, two pair!”

Despite all that’s written about her, there’s not much we can say for sure about Calamity Jane. Sources agree that she was a woman who lived in the late 19th Century American West who dressed as a man, told stories and drank too much. That’s about it. The historical provenance of just about everything else is dubious at best.

Much like this fine period piece.

Yes, Jane was clearly a master storyteller. In her later years she appeared as herself in shows throughout the country, notably Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Despite often being destitute herself, Jane was also universally recognized for her generosity. While in Deadwood, at great risk to her own health Jane often cared for seriously ill adults and children.

Jane died in 1903 after years of whiskey and hard living finally caught up to her. She was buried next to Wild Bill Hickok per her request. Yet even in death Calamity Jane’s penchant for embellishment continued to make the rounds. In 1941 and again in 1996, people publicly claimed to be Calamity Jane’s long-lost daughter or granddaughter. However, to date no evidence has surfaced that Jane ever had children.

As for my acquaintance in Riverton, he claimed descent from one of Jane’s siblings. That’s much more plausible.

In Concert With Indifference

I understand the Oscars were last night. Yippee skip. Did Gilbert Gottfried win anything this year? How about Penn and Teller?

Behold, unheralded geniuses.

Yes, I don’t give a rat’s ass about movies. Hell, I only recently bought a DVD player because my daughter wouldn’t quit bugging me about it. I don’t watch a lot of TV either. If I didn’t like my cable modem so much I probably would have dumped that bill a long time ago.

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Too much “ghost hunting” crap. Not enough Rik Mayall.

That leaves music. I have a large collection of 20-year-old scratched CDs I’ve been slowly converting to corrupted MP3 files. I hosted a live music show on public access in Pocatello in the mid 90s. Recently I picked up an electric bass. Left-handed, of course. More on my bass skills (or lack thereof) in a later post.

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Need an on-air bathroom break? Look no further than “The Gates of Delirium.”

Despite that, I haven’t made it to very many concerts. Let’s see, I saw fIREHOSE at the Crazy Horse in Boise in 1993. Um, there were a some opening acts I checked out: Cooler Kids (meh), Elkland (decent) and Mr. Big (no comment). As a matter of fact, there’s only one band I’ve seen in concert more than once.

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I may very well be Erasure’s straightest fan.
Image credit: Andrew Hurley

The best concert I ever went to was way the hell back in May 1992. I turned south, journeying into the dark, forbidding lands of Salt Lake City to see Rush on their Roll the Bones tour. Ever since then I’ve vowed to see them at least one more time before they retire. Given that all three of them are around 60 now, the clock is ticking.

As I write this I’m waiting for tickets to go on sale for a late July show at the unfortunately-named Sleep Country Amphitheater in the Vancouver, Washington, area. I chose that venue over Salt Lake City because (1) my sister, brother-in-law and twin nieces live in Portland and (2) screw Salt Lake City. I’m hoping my daughter wants to come. She likes Rush, but I’ve been accused of overplaying Clockwork Angels in her presence.

But it’s so good, y’all.

I’ve been told I need to get out more, preferably without knocking myself out in the process. I quite agree. So I’ve been checking out other events as a result. Another one of my longtime favorites, They Might Be Giants, is playing at the Egyptian Theatre in June. I’ve been following these guys since high school. Unfortunately the show is not all all ages. Despite the fact TMBG has made several children’s albums, no one under 14 is admitted (a rather arbitrary cutoff in my humble opinion), which means I can’t take my daughter to see them. I’m not sure I want to go alone either.

Does this mean I should re-open my dating site profiles? Feh. I’m not ready to pull the trigger on something that drastic.