Calamity Jane: How the West Began by Bryan Ney

Calamity Jane: How the West Began by Bryan Ney

A direct request to the blog brings this historic fiction to you today, written by author Bryan Ney, he’s mixed historic fact, some biographical fictions and used a legendary name to present this story. Please read on for my review and excerpt from

Calamity Jane: How the West Began

Starting in 1860, the then fifteen year old Martha Jane Canary arrived in Montana with her younger siblings in tow. Their life is a rough and tumble one, full of threats from the native populations disturbed by the western encroachment, the army’s expansion, the often questionable element that arrives to search for gold, and various characters who have left from east of the Mississippi after the outbreak of war. Starting a bit slowly, we see the angry young Martha take on every challenge, unbowed and will full will, and gains a reputation as well as friends from this fearlessness.

With roving bandits terrorizing the community, when a friend is killed, Martha jumps into search mode, rallying friends and community together to find and stop the culprits, even resorting to vigilante style tactics until the culprits are brought to justice. Quickly the story grows feet and runs off in a wonderful portrayal of the ‘possible’ background of the woman who would travel with Wild Bill Hickock, fight against the Indian threats, and gain a place in Western American folklore.

The writing was solid, and once the pacing issues were resolved, the story started to take flight. Intriguing and well-placed moments of history added to the story, as descriptions did make the story feel of its time. However, a quick search of Martha Jane Canary will reveal that it would be another 15 years or so before the nickname Calamity became her moniker, her parents were long dead before she moved herself and her siblings to Montana in 1868, and those years were spent working various jobs to maintain her household. Little moments, but things that when using an actual historical figure are easy enough to get right. Ignore the factual errors and you get a clever historic fiction that doesn’t rely on the persona of Calamity Jane, but on the development and story about the young Martha.

Calamity Jane: How the West Began by Bryan Ney

Title: Calamity Jane: How the West Began
Author: Bryan Ney
Genre: Historical Fiction, Setting: American, Western
Published by: Dragon Tree Press
ISBN: 0997747803
Published on: 9 August, 2016
Source: Author
Pages: 186
Rated: three-stars
Get Your Copy: Amazon Barnes&Noble
See this Title on Goodreads

Fifteen-year-old Martha Canary's family arrives in the goldfields of 1860's Montana in impoverished circumstances and despised for uncertain reasons. Soon though, Martha makes a name for herself as Calamity Jane through her exploits, wins friends and becomes the toast of the town. Murder and robbery stalk all who travel the surrounding trails, and Jane thinks she knows who is responsible. Can she and her new friends rally forces to clean the place up?

A copy of this title was provided via Author for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.


Read an Excerpt

Late one November day, Jane sidled into Kustar’s bakery after work. She loved the smell of fresh

bread in the bakery, and better yet, the pies! As she fingered her day’s pay, she imagined Lana’s eyes lighting up at the sight of such a treat, and the two of them sharing these sugar coated delights.

The proprietor of this bakery was aware, as Lo had been, that the best way to make money in a mining town was to sell whiskey. Kustar’s bakery for this reason had a bar staffed by a burly bartender, and there were tables where a man could wile away the tedium with a game of cards. As Jane waited her turn at the counter, she took note of an argument that had broken out in a game of euchre. Insults were being tossed at the dealer regarding his honesty, his intelligence, and the marital status of his mother at the time of his birth. This fellow was a reasonable sort, and did not particularly take offence at the picture thus painted of his honesty or his mental capacity, but he did draw the line at being called a bastard. Jane’s ear was attuned to such exchanges by her experience at the Faro tables, and she felt that this would likely settle down. She ordered her items from Mr. Kustar, and noted that Greaseball was slinking in a corner, looking haggard and hungry, and casting furtive looks at the baked goods so close at hand. Greaseball had fallen on hard times, it seemed, and become one of the “bummers” who hung around waiting for a handout.

Suddenly, the dealer of the euchre game took the verbal offensive against one of his detractors, and rose to his feet to make his point more explicit. Jane surmised that it was now in her best interest to put some distance between herself and this scene, but unfortunately, the game table was between her and the door. Euchre is a game of partners against partners, so naturally the argument divided two against two across the table. The players soon fell on each other with fists. The dealer came to the conclusion, however, that fisticuffs would not sufficiently redress the insults he had endured. He drew a Bowie knife, as did his partner, but in an escalation that they had not anticipated, pistols were drawn by their opponents. Jane ducked under the counter, and watched with dreadful fascination, conscious that Greaseball crouched just behind her. She figured that this coward just intended to use her as a shield, but she misapprehended his intention. Mr. Kustar and his bartender raced behind the gun-wielding combatants in order to restrain them, but in doing so, they only managed to shift the advantage to the men with knives, who attacked with vigor. The restrained men still managed to get off several thunderous gunshots that lit the room with flashes of light, and filled it with the acrid smell of spent gunpowder.

The gunshots hit the log walls harmlessly, though one knocked a big dough paddle off its hook. Jane would have paid this no mind and kept her eyes on the action, but the paddle struck her and came to rest awkwardly on her legs. She turned to push it away so it would not trip her in case the opportunity arose to make her exit. As she did, she saw Greaseball place a berry pie on the floor. This puzzled her, but more shots called her attention forward again. The dealer lunged at the gunman who had earlier shown such disrespect

for his mother, and dealt a Bowie knife to his thigh. The injured man dropped his gun and fell to his knees,

cursing loudly, his thigh bleeding onto the dirt floor. Kustar and his bartender had by this time managed to disarm the other gunman, so now they were able to tackle the dealer and put an end to the melee. The exhausted gladiators yielded to Mr. Kustar’s loud epithets, and put their weapons away. The wounded man’s friends offered to help him to Dr. Glick’s, which he refused. He did allow them instead to each take him by a shoulder and help him hobble away from the scene, leaving a trail of blood behind.

Jane scowled at Greaseball for his cowardice and he sneered back. The bartender and baker started to clean up the mess from the melee.

“You boys done yourself proud,” Greaseball said to them. Indicating Jane, he said, “Coulda been someone hurt.”

Jane knew Greaseball wouldn’t have shed a tear if she had been shot dead, but Kustar acknowledged this observation with an appreciative grunt.

“Here, let me help y’all clean up,” said Greaseball, as he tipped chairs upright and tidied up. He picked up the dough paddle and hung it back on its hook, then pointed to the pie Jane had seen him place on the floor and another just like it, their tops smashed. “Oh, ain’t it a shame,” he said.

The baker leaned over to see. “Oh, well,” he said. “If that’s the worst of it, we got off light.” He bent over to pick them up, saying, “I’ll throw them out.”

“No need for that,” said Greaseball. “I’d pay a quarter apiece.” The undamaged price was a dollar apiece.

The baker was about to agree to the bargain, but Jane spoke before he could. “Damn shame, those ruined pies,” she said. “Strange, though, how they didn’t bust apart when they fell on the floor. And that dent in the crust—looks like a knuckle print to me.” The baker looked at Greaseball suspiciously, and then at his hand, which Greaseball furtively moved out of sight.

“It’s a fair offer,” he hissed.

“Could be,” said the baker. “Calamity is such a good customer, though, I think I’ll make a present of these to her.” He scowled at Greaseball as he gave the pies to Jane. Jane took the pies carefully, one in each hand, and proceeded towards the door. Greaseball growled like a beaten dog, and lunged toward her, his face in hers, close enough so only she could hear him whisper, “Too bad about your friend.”

“I got lots of friends,” Jane said, shrugging. She was not afraid of Greaseball, but he was so close now that she could feel his hot breath, and it turned her stomach sour with its mix of rotten teeth and wasted whiskey.

“The yeller one what taught you Faro, missy, that one. Too bad,” he said.

Jane glared at him.

“Such a tragedy.” Greaseball eyed her intently and made a strangling motion to his neck, then

repeated it with a gurgling sound, his eyes half-closed.

Jane heaved a pie at the vile little man’s face while he still had his eyes half-closed. “Take your pie then, jerk-off. You’re talking about my friend.”

The others turned from their clean-up. Greaseball pulled a fragment of the pie off his cheek, and ate it with a vengeful scowl. “Waste of good pie,” he said to the room. “Well anyhow, I tried to help, no matter what y’all think. Guess I’ll be on my way.” With a smirk, he brushed the rest of the pie onto the floor and sauntered out of the bakery.

Jane followed him to the door and shouted after him. “You’re just lucky I been learnt to act like a lady, asshole!”

About Bryan Ney

Bryan Ney has had a harmless obsession with 1860's Montana since he found a copy of Vigilante Days and Ways at a Hollywood used bookstore in the 1990's. Probably he was drawn to the story by the same interest in justice that made him a member of his hospital's bioethics committee for two decades and more. Seeing an opportunity to rectify what seemed to be universal ignorance of this episode, Dr. Ney did what anyone in Malibu would do in this situation-he spent twenty years off and on writing a spec screenplay, naturally with the doctor as the protagonist. That never quite worked, so finally he hit upon the idea of writing Calamity Jane in as the main character, though she had come to the area a few months after the vigilante episode in historical fact. He also changed from screenplay to a novel, as no one ever reads spec screenplays anyway. Dr. Ney now dreams of retiring so that he may enjoy a second career banging out sequels in his local Starbucks.

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