The Farm Chronicles: Calamity Patty

You may or may not remember the name Martha Jane Cannary. Now Martha Cannary was quite a colorful character. She was known in her time as a tobacco-spitting, foul-mouthed, hard drinking woman who held jobs as a dishwasher, cook, waitress, dance hall girl, prostitute, nurse, ox team driver and even a scout. Her wild ways are noted as part of the legend of the old West with tales of stagecoach rescues from marauding Indians to liaisons with Wild Bill Hickock and appearances in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. She became known to America through dime store novels and a curious reputation as Calamity Jane. But in Northeastern Ohio, we had our own version. Calamity Patty.

Calamity Patty lived on a worn farmette in rural Portage County. Not in poverty. But a little rough around the edges. Patty was loud and you knew where you stood with her. While the rest of us had a disciplined approach to training our horses, Patty was more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-her-jeans kind of girl. She had a black thoroughbred horse that was about as wild as her. Undisciplined. Running here, running there. Little concern for safety. I can remember seeing Patty on top of that horse, yanking on its mouth, head popping in the air as she spurred him around. Her hat looked as if it had been smacked by a tree limb and she had kind of a wild look in her eyes as she challenged any and all to try to beat her in any event. Sadly, I don’t recall her ever winning much at all.

One day, Dad and I were at a horse show. It just so happened that Patty was there, and she found me. She wanted me to ride with her in the pick up race. The pick up race is a timed event where one person stands at the end of the arena. The other person rides their horse as fast as they can and picks up the one standing, and they ride double across the finish line. I didn’t want to do it. She bugged me all day, saying she knew we could win. So, finally, I asked if her horse rode double. She paused for a second and said, “he sure does!” Against my better judgment, I agreed. It was time for the event. I walked down to the end of the arena. It was a big indoor arena, maybe 50 yards, and waited behind the barrel. Out comes Patty, horse rearing, coming at me full speed. She didn’t even slow down in the turn.

Somehow, I grabbed the saddle horn and the momentum of her turn slung me onto the horse. Then I learned what I feared all along–the horse did not ride double. He bucked at a full gallop all the way across the arena. Just as we crossed the finish line, I flew about 10 feet in the air, landing on my head, lights out. The next thing I remember is Dad holding me up asking me if I was all right. Wobbly, my eyes trying to focus and my ears vibrating, I could hear Patty in the background, shouting “We won! We Won!” That’s all she really cared about. Calamity Jane got her nickname by preventing a wounded soldier from falling off his horse during battle. Calamity Patty found fame when a foolish boy fell hard on his head. Proverbs 13:20 says “the companion of fools will suffer harm.” I know from experience it’s true.

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Bill Wilson