Monday, September 28, 2015

Pearl Hart:: Bandit Queen

Little Pearl Hart, mother of two, Saloon singer, laundress, and stage robber. 
     Pearl was born in Lindsay, Ontario, Canada, and raised in a middle class family offering a good education and high hopes for a happy future. Then her heart betrayed that future when she fell blindly in love with a swaggering itinerant gambler named Frederick Hart. They eloped when Pearl was only 17 years old.

In 1893, the couple traveled to Chicago, Illinois where Fred worked as a sideshow barker at the Colombian Exposition, and Pearl worked at a number of odd jobs. 

     Here, she saw Annie Oakley perform, which cinched her fascination and passion for the Old West. She also attended the World's Fair Women's Pavilion listening to a number of women's speeches, especially enjoying one by the prominent activist and poet, Julia Ward Howe. 

    Fredrick Hart turned out to be better at drinking and abuse than at successful gambling or working. Pearl, inspired by these strong women, and enamored by the heroes of the Old West, gathered her courage, said adios to Freddy, and moved to Trinidad, Colorado. 

       Here she became a popular saloon singer. But the song came to and end when she discovered she was pregnant with Fredrick's child. She returned to her family in Ontario, gave birth, left her son there, and quickly returned to the West. This time she landed in Phoenix, Arizona. While working as a cook and laundress, her dreams and fantasies of the Old West and it's heroes began to dissolved away.   

    Being a woman of substance herself, she toughed it out until 1895, when Fredrick tracked her down and they became a couple once again. Fredrick worked steady, and they lived the high-life for a while frequenting saloons where Pearl learned to smoke and drink. 

    But a  happy domestic life was not to be hers. After the birth of a second child, this time a girl, Fredrick ran off to join Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders in Cuba. 

  After trekking back to Ontario, where she left her daughter, Pearl again returned to Arizona. But life was becoming harder and harder for a woman alone, and totally depressed, she even contemplated suicide. 

    Then in 1899, she received a letter stating her mother was ill and the family needed money. She asked an acquaintance, Joe Boot, for advice, and once again not having chosen wisely, she hooked up with the ne'er-do-well. 

   Joe had lots of ideas on how to make money, like having Pearl lure men to hotel rooms with the expectation of romance where Joe knocked them out and robbed them. But this wasn't lucrative enough, and they finally decided to rob a stage.  

The year was 1899, the streets were quiet. No more shoot outs at the Okay corral, and saloons were serving mixed drinks as well as Red-eye whiskey. The stage they chose to stop and rob was making a routine 65 mile trip from Globe, Arizona to Florence. 

They supposedly planned the robbery to the last detail. Unfortunately they didn't plan the get away quite as well. On May 30th, they robbed the passengers of $450 dollars and sent them on their way. Then Joe and Pearl headed for the hills where they promptly got lost. After a couple of days of wandering around, they made camp and fell asleep, only to wake up surrounded by the local sheriff and his posse. They were taken to the Globe jail where Pearl escaped once, but was quickly recaptured.  

    Pearl played up being the lady bandit, handing out autographs at the Globe jail. During her trial, she remembered the Women's lectures she attended, and insisted the court had no right to place her on trial under a law which her female sex had no voice in making. The jury found her not guilty, but the judge still sentenced her to 5 years in the Yuma territorial prison. Where she once again became a celebrity. 

     Joe Boot got 30 years, but he escaped and rumor has it he went to Mexico and was never seen again. Pearl was paroled in 1902 and moved to Kansas where some say she opened a cigar store. Others say she moved to San Francisco. But most say she married a rancher in Dripping Springs, Arizona, went by the name of Pearl Bywater, and died in 1956.  I hope she had a few happy years at the end. 

     Now that you're in the mood and hankering for a good western romance, why not try one of these. Each comes complete with a wild west adventure, a hunky cowboy, and brave women. 

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Desperate Women of the West by James D. Horan
How a Woman Stagecoach Robber became a famous outlaw by Parker Anderson. 
Legends of the American West

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