Juliette Douglas mentioned 3 favourites of her own books to me. She tells me COPPERHEAD, the first of her ‘Freckled Venom trilogy,’ is dear to her heart because it was her first book. And it did win the Laramie Award for best debut western. Juliette’s heroine in COPPERHEAD is Lacy Watson, a female bounty hunter pursuing outlaws who is also pursued by demons in her own past. She joins up with Wyoming Marshal Rawley Lovett to bring three psychopathic brothers to justice.
I’ve blogged about bounty hunters before, a staple of western fiction although hard to find in the real history of the Old West – male or female. One gun-toting western woman who was real was CALAMITY JANE – real name MARTHA JANE CANARY (or CANNARY.)
Much of Jane’s life – like the origin of her nickname - is shrouded in legends of her own making. She was born in Missouri, although her given birth year of 1852 has been questioned. She claimed to have been a muleskinner working for the U.S. Cavalry. Captain John G. Bourke, who was on General Crook’s campaign against the Sioux in 1876, wrote: ‘It was whispered that one of our teamsters was a woman, and no other than ‘Calamity Jane’ a character famed in border story.’ Jane claimed also to have been an army scout who fought Indians, but another cavalry officer, Captain Jack Crawford, stated: ‘Jane… never was in an Indian fight. She was simply a notorious character, dissolute and devilish, but possessed a generous streak which made her popular.’ As a sign of her generosity, she once gave a destitute woman her shoes.
There doesn’t seem to be any hard evidence that she worked as a guard on a stage coach. She was acquainted with Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood shortly before his murder there in August 1876, but as to whether she secretly married him or gave birth to his child… who knows? The story that she confronted Hickok’s murderer, Jack McCall with a meat cleaver also can’t be verified.
Jane did appear in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in 1893 as a story-teller. It would appear that she lived in various locations in Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota and did work as a laundress and a prostitute, drink heavily, carouse loudly and sometimes wear men’s clothes. She also married several times and had two daughters. She died of pneumonia in 1903.
Jane has been widely portrayed in romanticised form by actresses from Doris Day, in the musical named after her,
to Stefanie Powers in an episode of ‘Bonanza’ (where she has an unhistorical relationship with Doc Holliday!)
Stefanie Powers (as Calamity Jane) with Michael Landon in 'Bonanza'
Anjelica Huston’s portrayal in ‘Buffalo Girls’ (1995) was undoubtedly nearer the truth.
Sharon Stone in the movie ‘The Quick & the Dead’ isn’t exactly a bounty-hunter, but she’s the nearest to one I could find!
The last time I looked all reviews for COPPERHEAD are 4 and 5 star.
‘A gripping and compelling western with an engaging heroine’
’The dialogue was wonderful’
‘I’d like to see it made into a film’