Usually a back issue of True West magazine would not interest me, but this one found at the Goodwill Treasure Center caught my eye with the word “Duds”. And then there was a photo of some interesting looking clothing along with Ms. Calamity herself.
Note the publication date of 1990. This was pretty much pre-internet, and so the nature of research was very different than a search of this nature would be today. in 1989 Elizabeth A. Brink, researcher at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming was given the task of determining whether three garments thought to have belonged to Calamity Jane were, in fact, hers.
The items had come to the Cody Center from the collection of artist Frederic Remington. According to an 1897 inventory of Remington’s studio, there were no items belonging to Calamity Jane. But a 1916 catalog of the contents listed her vest, coat, and trousers.
Brink turned to photographs to see if any of the objects at the Cody Center matched up with garments Calamity Jane wore in publicity shots. Brink was able to locate around two dozen shots of Jane, most of which are easily accessed today on the internet. In 1989 Brink had to rely on the Center’s library, which fortunately, was up to the task.
In three of the photos Calamity Jane is wearing the outfit above, a coat, vest, and trousers. That certainly sounded promising. In fact, enough of the decorated vest was showing so that Brink was able to positively identify it as being the vest in the Bill Cody Historical Center’s collection.
To add to the evidence, both in the photo and on the garment, the third button down is missing.
Brink then turned her attention to the coat. A garment in the collection, a pullover shirt with beaded American flag decorations was labeled as being the coat. But there was no such garment evident in the known Calamity Jane photos. Encouraged by the presence of the vest, Brink decided to closely examine the other garments in the Remington collection.
She found a coat that was very similar to the one Calamity Jane wore over the vest in the three photos. In the old photos, there was fur at the cuffs, but no fur was present on the existing coat. However, a close examination of the sleeves revealed needle holes and threads where fur could have one time been attached. She was also able to match up the tear on the lower front seen in the photo with a repair in the garment. The final clue that this was Calamity Jane’s coat was found in the buttonholes, which had a distinctive pattern, with some being vertical, but others being horizontal.
The pants were also mislabeled, but another search found a different pair that matched those being worn in the photographs. They were identified by the matching brass buttons and a patch on the left leg.
I went on a search for an online version of this story, and was unable to locate it. The article by researcher Brink is referred to in much of the literature on Calamity Jane, but I felt that this great story needed a presence on the WWW.