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Billings residents learn more about Calamity Jane through historical auto tour

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Posted at 12:53 PM, Oct 17, 2022

BILLINGS — The life of Calamity Jane is mysterious but folks in Billings had a chance to learn more about her and the impact she had on the city in four stop auto tour filled with historical impersonators.

“Another little shot wouldn’t do any harm,” said Calamity Jane impersonator, Scotty Bettise on Saturday.

Bettise was just one of several Calamity Jane impersonators offering the public insight into the notorious life of the American frontierswoman.

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“The reality of it was that she came from a very poor family in Missouri, and they came to Virginia City, Montana,” Bettise said.

Organized by the Yellowstone Historical Society as part of their Histories Mysteries program, the first stop on the tour was at the Yellowstone County Museum.

Locals got a taste of one of Calamity Jane’s favorite hobbies, the card game Faro, and were able to see some of the actual gaming pieces she used in the past.

“We have gaming pieces right here by Calamity Jane. They were donated to the county museum,” said director of the Yellowstone County Museum, Terry Steiner.

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Billings natives like Sue Agnew and John Mueller were surprised at what they found out about the notorious homesteader.

“Well actually, I didn’t know her real name, Martha, Martha Canary,” Agnew said.

The name Calamity Jane became her moniker after it was made popular through dime novels and newspaper articles.

“It was fun to find out that she did frequent Billings on a regular basis,” Mueller said.

Many don’t realize that Calamity Jane lived in Billings for a period of time. Another destination on the tour was 17th St. West and Poly Dr. A house has since replaced the old cabin Calamity Jane used to spend time in.

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Another stop on the tour was behind the L&L building downtown, in what used to be Chinatown. Calamity Jane also resided in that building and according to historians, had attempted to sue the owner of the building, Yee Sam Lee, and lost.

The last stop on the auto tour was at Mountview Cemetery, where Calamity Jane’s daughter, Jane McCormick is buried.

For Virginia and Britton Wick, the tour gave them insights they never would have learned otherwise.

“These are kind of interesting because it gives you more of a background. Didn’t really know she was a drunk,” said Virginia Wick.

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Even though Calamity Jane’s life is shrouded in mystery, the Yellowstone Historical Society has kept her memory alive and has allowed the residents of Billings a peek into the past.

If you’d like to learn more about Histories Mysteries or the Yellowstone Historical Society, visit The Yellowstone County Museum (ycmhistory.org).