If it were entirely up to you there would be time for coffee every morning on the porch, the dog would be welcome in the Board Room and your children’s laughter would be the loudest noise you heard all day. If it were your choice people would always be treated with respect and the longest part of the day would be the ride you take over the range as the sun is just beginning to go down. Not everyone is asking your opinion but in the areas you control, you respond first with kindness, you give a little more than is expected, you make it a point to sit with the old man on the board walk to hear his stories about a long ago war. You’ve never seen anything quite as beautiful as the darks eyes of your mare peeking out from under her mane, and you make a point of letting the people you love know that you do, and you’ve no plans of quitting. You’re a cowgirl and it’s the little things that matter to you, because in the grand scheme of things they are all that you can count on.
The great thing about the days before video cameras and fast assimilation of information is that you could make your personal history be anything you wanted it to be, which was exactly what Calamity Jane, Wild West legend, did. Much of Jane Canary’s life as she tells it is unfounded or uncorroborated, including her romance with Wild Bill Hickok. Jane had a tremendous crush on Wild Bill and after his death made claims that he was the father of her daughter Jane, whom she had given for adoption to Mr. and Mrs. Jim O’Neill with only a couple problems. There was never any record of a baby or of an adoption, or of the O’Neills. She was a true frontier woman, however, able to shoot and hunt, and basically care for her five siblings when they were left orphaned at the death of their parents. She did everything she could to put food in their mouths, working as a dish washer, dance hall girl, a cook, a waitress, an ox team driver, a nurse and a prostitute. She claimed her nickname, Calamity Jane, came from her single handedly saving Captain Egan during a cavalry battle after which he gave her the name. There was never a record of his rescue, or the battle she claimed to be fighting in, or any record of Jane ever fighting in a battle alongside the cavalry at all. It was believed by most that her warning to men that they would come up against “calamity” if they messed with her is what actually gave her the title. Despite her penchant for exaggeration, or even outright lying, Jane was popular in western culture. Though illiterate and “imaginative” she was pretty, warm hearted and generous to a fault, and one of the west’s most industrious, hard-working characters on record.
If there is a question about the ability of one person to make a difference, Clara Barton is all the proof needed that it can be done. In 1861, just weeks after the outbreak of the Civil War, Barton made it her mission to treat the wounded, not after they had made their way to make shift hospitals, when in most cases it was too late, but to meet them at their point of need, on the battlefield. In 1862 Barton was granted passage to the front lines via horse drawn ambulance, and there she became known as the “Angel of the Battlefield”, as she organized the distribution of medical supplies and field help for the wounded and dying at many of the major battles of the war. She later turned this effort into the American Red Cross, spearheading the unprecedented American effort to help those in need in war and disaster around the world. Clara Barton was a formidable woman, intelligent and determined and almost singlehandedly responsible for getting medical assistance to frontline wounded in the Civil War and those that followed. She once lost a patient she was attending when a bullet tore through the sleeve of her dress and hit the soldier. She respectfully said a prayer over the dead man and moved on to bring medical mercy to the next man in line.
Audie Murphy, a boy from a poor family, who quit school in the fifth grade, attempted to join the marines and the navy after the bombing of Pearl Harbor but was underage and too small. In 1942 his sister “modified” his birth record so that he could enlist and the army took him, which resulted in his becoming the most decorated American in World War II. Known for his baby face and his “light up the world” smile Murphy fought like a warrior in the European Theatre and was awarded every American service medal available at the time, including three Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Legion of Merit plus five medals from France and one from Belgium. After the war, his fame sent him to Hollywood where he made a movie that was adapted from his autobiography, To Hell and Back that was the largest grossing film in Hollywood history until 1975 when Steven Spielberg’s Jaws came out. He was largely thought of as a cowboy actor, for his 33 westerns, where the clean faced Murphy won the west with his grin more that his guns. Above all else, Audie Murphy was an against all odds hero, whose bravery overrode his size, his youth, and his lack of education. After a battle where he singlehandedly took out a German platoon, saving the lives of the nineteen men under his command he was asked what made him risk it all and fight until he was wounded beyond mobility. His answer – “they were shooting at my friends”.
In 1860 three men started a business that eventually led them to bankruptcy, but during their nineteen months of operation, they literally tied the country together across an otherwise desolate wilderness. Threat of the Civil War was on the horizon and there was need to speed communication across the western states bringing the west coast into the picture of the impending war. William Waddell, William Russell, and Alexander Major put together 80 riders, close to 500 horses and 100 stations over a 2,000 mile route to form the Pony Express, a legend of the American West. Pony riders covered an average of 250 miles per day, their goal, to safely deliver the mail in a timely manner. Though the route was hazardous, for the terrain and the weather, as well as threat of attack from criminal elements, only one mail delivery was ever lost. In 1861the Pacific Telegraph line was completed, making coast to coast communication effortless and fast, and ending the need for the Pony Express, but during those nineteen months, when the word had to get through, it was just the riders and their ponies getting it done in the west.