Jane From 'Jane Got A Gun' Isn't A Real Person, But These Bold Women Might've Inspired Her Creation
In her strongest role in years, Natalie Portman plays Jane Hammond in the Western action film, Jane Got a Gun . Jane is a woman of the Wild West who has just managed to build a new life for herself, her child, and her husband Bill, after a mysterious and painful past. In the film's trailer, viewers are treated to shots of Portman refusing to play the damsel in distress when it comes to dealing with an ex-fiance (“My life's not your concern — hasn't been for years”) as well as scenes of her pointing a rifle and growling, “You so much as flinch and I will blow your head off.” Clearly, Jane is a woman of true grit, and her story, about vengeance and determination, is an exciting premise of revenge and heroism. But what really peaks my curiosity and interest is whether Jane Got a Gun 's Jan e was a real person — could there have been a real Jane in the Wild West as badass as Portman's character?
While it doesn't seem that Jane Hammond is based on a single character from history, I would argue that she still embodies an amalgam of actual women of the Wild West who were tough as nails and not afraid to sling a gun, if need be. While I'm sure you've heard of a few famous frontier women like Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane, there are several other lesser-known women of Western folklore that also shone in an often terrifyingly violent, unstable, and male-dominated wilderness where true justice was something you often had to take into your own hands.
Here are a few to know:
Also handy with a gun was literally larger-than life Mary Fields, also known as Stagecoach Mary and Black Mary, who stood six feet tall, weighed over 200 pounds, and was the first black woman to work as a mail carrier in the U.S., as well as the second woman to work for the United States Postal Service, according to Ebony. Apparently, as Legends of America reports, Fields also tended to not only keep a pistol handy underneath her apron, but also plenty of cigars and whiskey where she could access it.
Deputy United States Marshall F. M. Miller
Not unlike Jane, the apparently rarely-photographed Miller brought peace and order to the West. According to Geocaching.com, Miller was known to be the only female deputy that worked in Indian territory, and was legendary for being a bold and successful leader who imprisoned many offenders. As OKGemWeb reports, the Fort Smith Elevator described Miller as a "young woman... who wears a cowboy hat and is always adorned with a pistol belt full of cartridges, and a dangerous looking Colt pistol which she knows how to use."
If you were a woman of the era shown in Jane Got a Gun, even if you didn't have to worry about bandits and outlaws or being massacred by Native Americans, your personal security — and that of your husbands, sons, and fathers — were always at risk. Untold numbers of mothers, like Jane, were forced to fend for themselves and their families. A figure from history who thrived under these strained conditions, and who, I theorize, also possibly inspired Jane's story, is Margaret Borland. Borland, whose father was killed during the Texas revolution and whose two previous husbands both unexpectedly expired (from a duel and cholera, respectively), became one of the limited number of frontier women who had ranches and their own herds, according to the University of Texas. At one point, she was responsible for driving 1000 cattle through the Chisholm Trail from Texas to Kansas — and also managed to take her four children with her.
Jane's character doesn't just represent one woman of the Wild West, but many. Regardless of the harshness of climate and circumstance, the wild frontier seems to have brought out the best in these extraordinary women. The historical fact and folklore of figures like F.M. Miller, Mary Fields, and Margaret Borland not only reflected the pioneer values of the mythic Golden West — incredible resilience and willpower, self-reliance, a savvy entrepreneurial knack, and a tough, nonconformist streak — but continue to shape our vision of the modern feminist heroine in Hollywood and popular culture today.
Images: The Weinstein Company; Wikicommons (2); Giphy