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Pearl Hart - Lady Bandit of Arizona
Born as Pearl Taylor of French descent in Lindsay, Ontario, Canada, the
petite and attractive young girl would grow up to become one of the only
female stagecoach robbers in the
West. One of several children, Pearl was brought up in a respectable middle-class family and received
a good education. Though she couldn’t have known it, her life would
take a turn for the worse when, at the age of seventeen, she fell for
swaggering and seductive gambler named Frederick Hart.
Pearl soon eloped with Hart, who sometimes worked as a bartender, but
more often, lost whatever money he had at the gaming tables. In
addition to being a poor provider, he was also said to have been a heavy
drinker and often abusive to his young wife. Whatever dreams Pearl might have had with Fred, she was soon disappointed, as her life
with him proved to be one hardship after another.
In 1893, the couple traveled to the
Columbian Exposition in
where Fred worked as a sideshow barker and Pearl found a number of odd jobs.
became famous after robbing a stagecoach near Globe,
Arizona. This image is available for photo prints &
While she was there, she became enthralled
West shows and was especially enamored by
Annie Oakley, who she saw performing. She also attended the
World’s Fair Women’s Pavilion where she listened to a number of
women’s speeches, including
Julia Ward Howe, a prominent women’s activist and poet.
Inspired by seeing
strong women and enamored by the heroes and legends of the
West, she soon mustered the courage to leave her shiftless husband
and boarded a train to Trinidad,
There, she became a popular
singer. However, she soon found that she was pregnant with Frederick’s
child and returned to her family in Canada. After giving birth to a
son, she left him with her mother and traveled west again, this time
landing in Phoenix,
was disappointed in the "West” not finding the glamour and heroes she
had been so enamored with, instead working as a cook in a café and
taking in laundry to supplement her income.
However, she stayed
and in 1895, her estranged husband Frederick caught up with her. After
begging Pearl to come back to him and promising to get a regular job, the
couple reunited. True to his word, Fred got a job working as a
manager and bartender at a local hotel. While their life seemed to be
happier during this time, the pair also began to live a little wildly,
and gambling parlors on Washington Street, where Pearl learned to smoke and drink, and allegedly use other harsher
drugs, including marijuana and morphine.
couple’s marital problems started up again and after Pearl gave birth to a second child, a girl, Fred said he was bored
with domestic life and tired of supporting a family. After a violent
argument between the two in 1898, Fred knocked Pearl unconscious and
left her to ride off with Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in Cuba.
once again returned to her parents but had gotten a taste of life in
the west and didn’t stay long, leaving her second child there as well.
She was soon back in
working at odd jobs in many of the mining camps. But a woman alone
during these times found it difficult to survive and she became very
depressed. She tried to kill herself several times but was saved
Pearl Hart often wore men's clothing. This image is available for photo prints &
By 1899; however, she had hooked up with a
Joe Boot. When she received a letter from her brother that her
mother was ill and needed money for medical bills, she turned to
Boot for advice. Joe, who had long been planning to rob a train,
had several ideas for Pearl to make some quick cash.
Their first scam was for
Pearl to lure men into their room, allowing them to think that there
was an opportunity for romance. Instead, Joe knocked them out and they
took the unsuspecting men’s money. However, this was not lucrative enough,
so the pair soon conceived of the idea of robbing a stagecoach.
After careful planning, the couple decided to
rob the stagecoach that ran between Florence and Globe,
Arizona. To get ready for the heist,
Pearl cut off her hair and dressed in Joe’s clothing. On May 30,
1899, they carried out their plan, jumping in front of the stage with
their guns drawn and ordering the driver to stop. As Joe kept his gun
pointed at the driver, Pearl ushered the passengers out of the coach and emptied their
pockets and wallets. After taking about $450 and a revolver, the pair
ordered the passengers back in the coach and Joe fired his gun in the air
and told the driver to take off.
But, for all their
planning, the couple hadn’t prepared for the fact that they were not all
that familiar with the surrounding desert hills. Riding off on their
horses, they soon got lost. After a couple of days, the couple made camp
in a grove of trees and after building a campfire, they fell asleep. Some
time later, when they awoke, they were surrounded by the sheriff and his
Taken to the Globe jail,
played up her part as a lady bandit, giving autographs and entertaining
those who just wanted to get a glimpse of the "Bandit Queen.” A few weeks
after her capture, Pearl escaped from the jail on October 12, 1899, with another prisoner
by the name of Ed Hogan. As the posse quickly pursued the pair, Pearl's legend began to grow throughout the west. But her
freedom would be short as the law soon found her and returned her to the
trial took place in Florence in November, 1899 where she insisted that the
court had no right to place her on trial, saying: "I shall not consent to
be tried under a law in which my sex had no voice in making.” Though she
admitted her guilt, she was still acquitted by the jury, most likely
because of her story of robbing the stage only to send her mother money.
Her lawyer had also plead with the jury that it was her first offense and
that she had always obeyed the law in the past.
The trail magistrate,
Judge Fletcher Doan, was furious at the verdict, claiming that Pearl
"...flirted with the jury, bending them to her will." He soon
replaced the jury and had Pearl
re-tried for unlawfully carrying a gun. This time, the jury was not
swayed by her charms and she was convicted and sentenced to five years in
the Yuma Territorial Prison. Tried in a separate trial, her partner in
Joe Boot, was not so lucky, as he received 30 years for his part in
the stage robbery.
Boot, who was also sent to the Yuma prison, was able to escape in 1901
and was never recaptured or heard of again. He was thought to have fled to
Mexico and stayed there.
In the meantime, Pearl
became even more of a celebrity while she was in prison and the warden,
who liked the attention, accommodated her with a larger than usual cell as
well as a few other perks. While there her legend grew as she
"entertained” visitors and reporters, often posing for pictures. After
just 18 months in prison, she was paroled on December 19, 1902 and moved
to Kansas City. There, she planned to profit from her fame as the "Lady
Bandit” in a production that her sister wrote about her western
adventures. However, her fame faded quickly and she disappeared from
public view for a couple of years until she was arrested in Kansas City
under the name of Mrs. L.P. Keele for buying stolen canned goods.
Afterwards, she disappeared again until in 1924, when she visited the old
courthouse in Florence where she was tried. While there she said to an
attendant with a smile, "nothing has changed.” When the he asked who she
was, she turned in the doorway and dramatically exclaimed: "Pearl
Hart, the lady bandit.
As to what happened to Pearl
in the end, it remains unknown. Some reports say that she died in Kansas City
where she operated a cigar store in 1925. Others say that she was living
in San Francisco,
when she died in 1952. Most often, however; she is credited with having
married a rancher in Dripping Springs,
where she lived out the last days of her life going by the name of Pearl
Bywater and died in 1956.
Though she is often
credited with being the last person to ever rob a stagecoach, this is
untrue as the last actual stage robbery took place on December 5, 1916
During the hold-up, the bandit,
Ben Kuhl, killed the driver and made off with more than $3,000 in gold
also frequently credited as being the only woman to ever hold up a
stagecoach. This is also untrue, as Jane Kirkham was killed when robbing a
stagecoach along the road between
and Buena Vista,
March 7, 1879.
of America, updated May 2013.
A stage coach robbery. This image available for photographic prints
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