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Calamity Joe


You’ve heard of Calamity Jane, but have you ever heard of Calamity Joe ?

Calamity Joe got his start as Joseph Meyer, the son of Joseph and Wilhelmina Meyer. He was born in Illinois in 1862, and completed eight years of school before he took off for the West at the age of 16 to “live the pioneer life in general.” For Joe, this included hunting buffalo, ranching, horse dealing, trapping, hunting, and Indian scouting.

It may have also included a little Cain-raising. For a while, he had a price on his head; he had a tendency to “borrow” horses from the Indians. One biographer wrote of him, “Joe usually hid out in the hills, but when he came to town there was usually plenty of excitement—as a rule, though, he was riding through the country with a string of ponies, followed by a pack of mad Indians.”

Eventually, he was captured by the Sheriff in Glen Ullin. This was reported even in New York, where The New York Times wrote: “the capture of Joseph Meyers, the notorious horse thief known as ‘Calamity Joe,’ is cause for rejoicing among the owners of stock throughout Western Dakota and Montana. Meyers was secured at Glen Ullin by Sheriff Sebastian after a lively fight, during which the outlaw was shot in the hip and shoulder. Meyers was one of the most feared of the desperadoes in the West. His wounds are not dangerous.” (sic)

However, this certainly didn’t end his involvement as a character of the old West. According to the mythos of the man, Calamity Joe rubbed elbows with some other prominent fellows of the Wild West, and in the 1880s, he served as hunting guide for the Marquis de Mores and his wife Medora, and for Teddy Roosevelt. He also rode into Reservation lands during the 1890s to “scout” for any possibilities of Indian war parties.

Certainly he “was familiar with the raw west of those days,” as was later reported; but it was also claimed that his behavior was offset by good attributes, painting him as a bandit with a heart of gold.

Listen tomorrow to hear more about the illustrious Calamity Joe.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker

The Hebron Herald, June 10, 1943, p1
The Bismarck Tribune, Tuesday, August 26, 1930, p6
April 15, 1937, The Golden Valley News, p6 1885-1985 Hebron, ND
Young Glen Ullin, by Jack Curtis