Pearl Hart – Lady Bandit of Arizona

 

Pearl Hart, Lady Outlaw

Pearl Hart, Lady Outlaw

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 American 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 Chicago, Illinois where Fred worked as a sideshow barker and Pearl found a number of odd jobs.

While she was there, she became enthralled with the Wild 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 Wild West, she soon mustered the courage to leave her shiftless husband and boarded a train to Trinidad, Colorado. There, she became a popular saloon 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, Arizona. Pearl 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, frequenting the saloons and gambling parlors on Washington Street, where Pearl learned to smoke and drink, and allegedly use other harsher drugs, including marijuana and morphine.

Inevitably, the 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. Pearl 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 Arizona, 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 by acquaintances.

Pearl Hart often dressed in men's clothing

Pearl Hart often dressed in men’s clothing

By 1899; however, she had hooked up with a miner named 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.

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