Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version



Great Plains Quarterly 30:1 (Winter 2010)


Copyright 2013 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln


For decades after the Civil War, people trekked west across the United States to find new homes, make quick fortunes in gold or silver mining, or as soldiers of the Indianfighting army. No area attracted more attention during this era than the northern Great Plains. When gold was discovered near Deadwood, South Dakota, in the middle 1870s, the region drew characters of dubious reputation. Among these were Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, two vagabonds from the Midwest whose alleged exploits made them famous in the Northern Plains and across the country.

James McLaird peers into the lives of these characters to prove that screen and print have distorted their popular image. It is necessary, he suggests, to understand how the myths about Hickok and Calamity Jane originated before separating fact from fiction. In 1867, George Ward Nichols began the Hickok fraud in a Harper's article that extracted Hickok from obscurity to become one of the West's most popular figures. Journalist Horatio McGuire did likewise for Calamity Jane. Dime novelist Edward L. Wheeler also focused upon Calamity in his Deadwood Dick series, further spreading her fame. Subsequent writers accepted and expanded these myths.