In the outlaw world of the Old West, men dominated the scene. Not many can name the few women who toted guns, robbed stagecoaches and were a general nuisance to the peaceful settlers, miners and shopkeepers who pioneered this country.
One such woman was Belle Starr, a gunslinging gal from nearby Carthage, Mo., who helped spread terror in this part of the country.
But there was another Missouri-born Woman of the West who made a name for herself farther to the West — Calamity Jane.
Noreen Barnes, a resident of Neosho, has taken a shine to Calamity Jane. In an appearance at the Fortnightly Study Club, she came dressed as this famous female outlaw and told the fascinating story of her subject.
Each year when Barnes has the program at the study club, she puts a lot of thought into it. This year, her neighbor Connie McClusky, suggested Calamity Jane. At first she didn’t take to the suggestion, but started reading and soon fell in love with the female outlaw.
“I spent four months preparing for this,” Barnes said. “And the more I read, the more sympathy I felt for her. Calamity led a poor, miserable life. But the more I learned, the more my heart went out to her.”
Part of Barnes’ program is dressing the part. She used or adapted some of her clothes and borrowed some. Her friend Marilyn Owens provided the lovely jacket she wore. Her husband, John, provided the pistol and the rifle she carried.
“I believe the costume helps the story. When people are listening, they don’t see me, they see Calamity,” Barnes said.
Although she was born in Missouri, Calamity achieved her glory on the frontier in many ways, even as a scout for the army. But she was enticed to go back east to perform in shows, including Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Exhibition. Barnes believes that Calamity Jane lost her glory in the East and never regained it.
But it was the little girl, who at age nine, became the head of her family and supported four younger siblings that won Barnes’s heart.
“I felt badly about the way she had to live, just to survive,” Barnes said. “I see some of her spirit in me.”
Noreen Barnes was born in San Francisco and raised in a small town in California. She came to Neosho several years ago when her husband wanted to return to his hometown.
Once a legal secretary, Noreen is a stay-at-home wife who enjoys playing bridge, doing needlework, crafts — and studying famous women for next year’s program at study club. She’s already thinking about next year’s program. She has been collecting all the news about the late Margaret Thatcher, first woman Prime Minister of England. And her willingness to perform for groups is one of the reasons that Noreen Barnes is this week’s good neighbor.