Frontier Montana was a most difficult place to practice medicine. “Medicine” at this time entailed a lot of surgery, and a surgeon, often finding both hands in a wound, has need of an assistant. A girl by the name of Sarah Waddams had this role for Dr. Glick. For the sake of story, Martha Canary/Calamity Jane is given that role in my novel, “Calamity Jane- How the West Began”. Here is the real back story.
Henry Plummer, prior to becoming Sheriff himself, goaded then-Sheriff Hank Crawford into a gunfight, and was wounded in the arm. Plummer was brought to Dr. Glick’s cabin for treatment. Langford, in “Vigilante Days and Ways” gives the best account of this episode (pp. 157-159):
“Plummer’s wound was very severe. The ball entered at the elbow. Passing down the arm, it broke each bone in two places. Dr. Glick, the surgeon in attendance upon him, after careful examination of the wound, was of the opinion that amputation of the member alone could save his life. The ball could not be found, the arm swelled to thrice its natural size, and the passage made by the ball was filled for its entire length with bony spiculae.
“Plummer had in a previous affray lost the ready use of his other hand, and knowing that the loss of this arm would necessarily deprive him of his position of chief among the roughs, and that his life depended upon his skill in drawing his revolver,- as he had numerous enemies, who would endeavor to kill him but for the advantage which his skill gave him,- declared that he might as well die as lose his arm. He peremptorily refused to consent to the operation, but insisted that the ball be found and removed.
“Dr. Glick, who was highly accomplished in surgery, explained to him the danger of such an operation, but Plummer said he would rather die in the effort to cure the arm than live without it. With great reluctance, and little faith in his ability to save the arm, the doctor undertook the thankless task, and made preparations to operate accordingly. When the arm was bared, and the doctor was about to commence, Old Tex and Bill Hunter entered the room, the latter armed with a double-barrelled shotgun.
“’I just thought,’ he said to the doctor, ‘that I’d tell you that if you cut an artery, or Plummer dies from the operation you are going to perform, I’m going to shoot the top of your head off.’
“The operation was successfully performed, and a large amount of spiculae and disorganized tissue removed,- but the bullet could not be found. For several days the result was uncertain. Dr. Glick gave to the wound, which was terribly inflamed, his unremitting attention. He had incurred the hatred of Plummer’s friends because of his active support of law and order. They pretended to believe that he did not wish for Plummer’s recovery, and told him that they would hold him responsible with his life, for the safety of his patient. What was to be done? Escape from the country in the midst of inclement season seemed impossible. In order to effect it, he must follow Crawford over unknown trail to Fort Benton or go to Bitter Root Valley, or run the gauntlet of the hostile Indians at Bear River over a route of four hundred miles to Salt Lake. Plummer’s wound was daily getting worse. The doctor, well knowing that the ruffians would put their threat into execution, prepared for his escape. Suspecting his intention, the friends of Plummer kept a close watch on him. Despite their vigilance, however, a trusty friend secured his horse, saddled and bridled, in the bushes behind his cabin on the night that the crisis in the inflammation arrived. The doctor instructed Plummer’s attendants to awaken him, in order that he might make his escape, if the swelling did not begin to abate by midnight, and lay down, booted and spurred, to get a little rest. But the favorable change which took place, while it saved to Montana one of her best citizens in Dr. Glick, lengthened out for a darker fate that that which had threatened it, the guilty life of Henry Plummer.”
Now, back to Sarah Waddams. Mable Ovitt in “Golden Treasure” (pp 72-74) recounts that Sarah was fifteen when the above events occurred.
“Sarah’s love of adventure and excitement caused her to dislike housework with a deadly fervor. In that generation a girl who shirked her duties as a housekeeper and boldly spent her days out of doors could expect no generosity of sentiment from the other women. As their opinions were made known to her it only strengthened her resolve to not allow herself to be forced into doing it. These differences of opinion being aggravated she found it much more comfortable to seek the friendship of men who were not so severe in their opinions. To be told that her acts were unladylike was too much for her fiery nature. Men came and went as they pleased and no remarks were made.
“She finally decided that she would be a nurse as this seemed to be the easiest passport to scenes of exciting happenings. Dr. Leavitt found her handy in the work and not inclined to faint at the sight of blood as so many of the other women did. Besides that, she was always available because she had no other necessary tasks….
“Dr. Glick was called to attend Plummer and was instructed that if he failed to save his life that his own life would be forfeited. Sarah was called to assist in probing for the bullet. Dr. Glick wanted to amputate the arm, but Plummer refused….
“As soon as he was able to ride again he started practicing shooting with his left hand. He never attained the deadly speed and accuracy which had been his with the right hand but was superior to most gunmen even then.”
Adding Sarah’s exploits to the character of Calamity in my story is not such a stretch. There is a wild streak in Sarah as described above that makes them relatively similar. More of Sarah’s wild streak comes out in another vignette from the aftermath of Plummer’s execution, as told again in “Golden Treasure” (p.232).
“The fifteen-year-old Sarah Waddams had slipped out in the night and found a hiding place where she could watch the proceedings, the night when Plummer, Stinson and Ray were hung. Madam Hall [Stinson’s girlfriend] was much concerned over Ned Ray’s hanging, but not so much that she could not remember that he wore a very valuable ring. In studying how she might gain possession of it she recalled that she had been roughly hustled home and told to stay there. She felt that it would not do to antagonize those men too much…
“Remembering the undaunted spirit of the youthful Sarah Waddams she decided to appeal to her for assistance. The element of danger and the sense of adventure appealed strongly to Sarah and she agreed to help the older woman. Watching their opportunity they crept around to a window of the building where the bodies were kept. It was a carpenter shop and was ordinarily kept locked to prevent the equipment from being stolen.
“They had brought a bar with which to force the window, and were soon inside. The frozen condition of the bodies made it impossible for them to remove the ring, but dauntless Sarah was not to be defeated so easily. It soon became apparent that the finger would have to be cut off in order to obtain it. This also Saran did and with the coveted ring in their possession they left the shop.”
That was Dr. Glick’s nurse; a rebellious fifteen year old girl who was the sometime associate of a bandit’s girlfriend, willing enough to break into a carpenter shop to cut the finger off a frozen corpse. Sarah Waddams was a natural to combine with Calamity’s character for this story.