Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Female Outlaw Pearl Hart By: Julie Lence

Pearl Hart was born in 1871 in Canada, with the birth name of Pearl Taylor. One of several children, and her parents of French descent, she was raised in a middle class home and sent to boarding school when she was 16. While at school, she met smooth talker Frank Hart, who filled her head with romantic tales of an exciting life in the wild west. In reality, he was nothing more than an abusive drunk, but Pearl fell in love with him and married him. The two left Canada and eventually landed in Chicago.
Women's Bldg at the Fair, Pinterest
Chicago was a changing point for Pearl. She attended the 1893 World’s Fair, featuring a Women’s Pavilion. A large array of females spoke on the Women’s Suffrage topic and Pearl took to heart that she could be more than just a wife, as her upbringing taught her. She also attended a Wild West show featuring Annie Oakley. Pearl was in awe of Annie’s shooting skills, and accompanied with the what she learned at the fair, she got up the gumption and left her abusive, unable-to-hold-a-job husband. She landed in Trinidad, Colorado, but soon found out she was pregnant and went back to Canada. After giving birth, she realized the lure of the west still beckoned and lit out for the states, leaving her son with her parents.
Pearl met up with her husband again and took him back on his promise that he was a changed man and capable of holding a job. For a while he held a maintained the positions of bartender and manager at a hotel, but all too soon, he and Pearl began partying, with Pearl learning to drink and smoke and use drugs. Problems arose between them again, and Frank left shortly after she gave birth to their daughter and joined Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, stating home life wasn’t for him. Pearl traveled back to Canada again and left her second child with her parents.
Courtesy of American Cowboy 
She found her way to Arizona and worked the mining camps as a cook, taking up drinking and opium use and not finding the romance and excitement of the west she longed for. Rumors suggested she tried to commit suicide several times, but was always saved by the miners, one of whom she formed a partnership with. Joe Boot was from German descent and he and Pearl began working their own claim when Pearl received a letter that her mother was gravely ill and needed money for the doctor’s bills. To acquire the money, Pearl and Joe thought to rob a train but decided to rob a stagecoach instead. Pearl cut her hair, dressed in Joe’s clothes, and together, they held up a stage. They came away with over $400 and the guard’s revolver and took off on their horses. But not knowing the land, they rode for two days then made camp and fell asleep, and woke to a posse surrounding them.
Courtesy of Pinterest
In Jail, Pearl became an instant celebrity. A lady bandit was rare. Remembering everything she learned from the Women’s Suffragette talks in Chicago, she began spouting she wouldn’t be tried in a court of law under rules men made and not women. Signing autographs and posing for pictures from her cell, the press loved her, and so did civilians. Ed Hogan was so smitten with her, he helped break her out of jail. She was found and brought back, and eventually went to trail. The jury found her innocent, especially after her defense lawyer brought into play she’d never been in trouble in the past and the only reason she robbed the stage was because of her mother’s health. The judge was furious with the decision and tried her on charges of stealing the guard’s gun and unlawfully carrying of a weapon. She was found guilty and sentenced to 5 years in Yuma. Joe received a 30 year sentence to Yuma.
Pearl became an even bigger celebrity and legend while in Yuma, earning the nickname Lady Bandit. The warden liked her and gave her a larger cell, and she again posed for pictures and signed autographs. She was released after serving 18 months and moved to Kansas City. Her sister wrote a production based on Pearl’s ‘Lady Bandit’ persona of which Pearl was to star in, but it never really caught on and Pearl disappeared from the public eye. A few years later, she was arrested for purchasing a stolen can of food. After that, she disappeared again and surfaced in 1924 at the Arizona courthouse she was tried in. She remarked to the attendant that nothing had changed since her last visit. He asked who she was and she replied, Pearl Hart, the lady bandit.
Rumors have abounded as to what happened to Pearl after this. Some say she died in Kansas City after operating a cigar shop. Others hint she lived in San Francisco until her death in 1952. A third suggests she married a rancher in Arizona and died under the name Pearl Bywater in 1956. She is wrongly credited with being the last person to rob a stage. The last stagecoach robbery was in 1916 in Jarbridge, Nevada. She is also not the only woman to ever rob a stage. Jane Kirkham was killed robbing a stage between Leadville and Buena Vista, Colorado in March 1879.
Such and interesting woman, and such a hard life Pearl led. 


Kristy McCaffrey said...

Such an interesting woman. I'd heard about her but didn't know her whole story.

GiniRifkin said...

Thank you. Great recap of this determined woman. Hope she married the rancher in Arizona.

Julie Lence said...

Glad you both enjoyed getting to know her. Such a hard life back then, and so many interesting people to tell about that there just isn't enough time in the day.

Andrea Downing said...

Thanks for this piece Julie. Getting the facts on these characters of the past is a difficult job.

Julie Lence said...

Hi Andrea: Glad you enjoyed Pearl. She was quite a woman. And yes, there is so much to research and to learn that it's impossible to include everything in one blog. Hugs!