William James “Joe” Boot was an outlaw who rode with lady bandit Pearl Hart in Arizona.
Born in Mammoth, Arizona, nothing is known of Boot’s early life. When he grew up, he worked as a farmer and a miner and lived in Globe, Arizona, when he met Pearl Hart in 1899. Originally from Canada, Hart, whose real name was Pearl Taylor, had become enamored with the “Wild West” and had been working at odd jobs in several Arizona mining camps.
Together, Joe and Pearl worked a small mining claim, but unfortunately, the ore was found to be worthless. 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 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.
Allegedly, Boot had been planning a train robbery for some time. Instead of robbing a train, the two decided to hold up a stagecoach. After careful planning, the couple decided to rob the stagecoach between Florence and Globe, Arizona. Pearl cut off her hair and dressed in Joe’s clothing to get ready for the heist. 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 unfamiliar 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. In the meantime, Pinal County Sheriff W. E. Truman was hot on their trail and traced them to a schoolhouse 20 miles north of Benson. When the couple awoke, they were surrounded by the sheriff and his posse.
“The officers came up, removed their armament, and awoke them. The woman sprang up, fighting, but the man made no resistance. His companion reproached him in vile and profane language for his lack of sand and said that if the posse had tried to capture her while she was awake, she would have made some holes in it.”
— Silver Belt newspaper, Globe, Arizona
Taken to the Globe jail, Hart played up her part as a lady bandit, giving autographs and entertaining those who just wanted to glimpse 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 grew throughout the west. But her freedom would be short as the law soon found her and returned her to jail.
“The woman is receiving much attention, an afternoon rarely going by without her having lots of callers and herself being photographed. The camera fiends have taken shots of her with all sorts of firearms and looking as much the desperado as they can make her.”
— Silver Belt newspaper, Globe, Arizona
Hart’s 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.” Because she was a female, the hold-up drew nationwide attention, covered by newspapers from as far away as New York. Though she admitted her guilt, she was still acquitted by the all-male jury, most likely because of her story of robbing the stage only to send her mother money. Her lawyer had also pleaded with the jury that it was her first offense and that she had always obeyed the law in the past.
The trial 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 crime, 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. Due to good behavior, Boot became a trusty and was assigned to drive food and materials to inmate crews working outside the prison walls. In 1901, he drove his wagon through the gate and disappeared. He was thought to have fled to Mexico, stayed there, and was never heard of again.