The infamous frontier woman Calamity Jane stumbles into the role of surrogate mother for two orphaned youngsters.
There’s a smallpox epidemic around Deadwood, South Dakota. From a canvas-sided cabin "in the gulch near the creek," 12-year-old Jimmy Glass loads his pox-stricken father into a ramshackle wagon and pulls him into town, bringing his little sister, Flower, along. There, the youngsters meet Calamity Jane, who has them carry their father to the “pest tent.” Jane then installs the children in her own room at Dora DuFran’s bar, restaurant, and house of ill repute. As much as this is historical fiction (several characters are real persons reimagined) and a coming-of-age story, it’s primarily an attempt to humanize the outsize legend of Calamity Jane, a woman who's pugnacious, vulgar, and a touch feminist. That summer, the year of Jane’s lover Wild Bill Hickok’s death, Jane can be found at “at the pest tent, passed out drunk by the outhouse, or drinking at Dora’s saloon.” Jimmy sees the real Jane and knows she shares his worry over the fragile Flower, his half Lakota sister, whom he calls “mine to care for, mine to watch over.” Flower seems to have autism: "She talks to me, but normally doesn't with other people," Jimmy tells Jane. "She don't much like lookin' at people, either." Amid the Deadwood dangers, Jimmy, already capable, grows in emotional maturity as well, finding love among Diddlin’ Dora’s ladies in the wise soul of teenage Missy, who always smelled of cinnamon. Set against the background of rough-and-tumble Deadwood, probing the legend of Calamity Jane to discover the true heroic frontier woman, Rene's (I Once Knew Vincent, 2014) focused narrative never strays from its themes.
Compassionate and insightful, authentic and poignant.