Famous Female Outlaws: Pearl Hart

Hart at the Yuma Territorial Prison.

Pearl Hart (born as Pearl Taylor) was born in Ontario, Canada in 1871 and earned notoriety by being one of the only women to rob a stagecoach. She had a fairly ordinary upbringing, coming from a middle class family and receiving a good education. Things changed at 17 when she eloped with Frederick Hart, a bartender, gambler, and heavy drinker.

The couple travelled to the Columbian Exposition and Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, where Fred had found work as a midway barker. Pearl was inspired by some of the female speakers she heard, including Annie Oakley. Soon after, she left Fred and went to Colorado to become a saloon singer. However, she realised she was pregnant with Fred’s child, so she returned to Canada to have their son. She left him in Canada, moving to Arizona. Fred tracked her down and the pair reunited briefly – enough to have another child, this time a girl – but it didn’t last long. Fred grew tired of domestic life and – in a particularly violent fight – he knocked Pearl out and left her. Again, Pearl went back to her parents and left her daughter with them, returning to Arizona.

She got odd jobs in the mining camps, where she met Joe Boot, a miner. The pair became close, and when Pearl heard her mother was ill and needed money for medical care, it was Joe she turned to. The pair launched a scheme where Pearl would lure men into a room, believing they were about to have sex. Joe would then knock them out, and Pearl would steal their money. However, this wasn’t enough, and the pair soon decided to rob a stagecoach. They made their plans for one travelling between Florence and Globe in Arizona.

To prepare, Pearl cut her hair short and dressed as a man. Pearl and Joe jumped in front of the stagecoach with guns, ordering it to stop. With Joe holding a gun to the driver’s head, Pearl ushered out all the passengers and told them to empty their pockets and wallets. They got around $450 and a revolver. They then told the driver to keep going. Trouble struck when the pair got lost leaving the stagecoach; they weren’t familiar with the terrain and were found by the sheriff several days later, asleep by the their fire. They were arrested and sent to jail.

At Pearl’s trial she claimed she would ‘not consent to be tried under a law in which my sex had no voice in the making’. She was acquitted partly due to sympathy; she robbed the stagecoach to pay for her mother’s medical care. However, Judge Fletcher Doan was furious and would not let it stand: he replaced the jury and tried her for unlawfully carrying a gun. This time Pearl wasn’t so lucky. She was sentenced to 5 years in Yuma Territorial Prison. Joe Boot was sentenced for 30 years, although he later escaped and was never heard of again.

Pearl was paroled after 18 months, and it isn’t known was happened to her after that. Some claim she ended up in Kansas City, others that she ended up in San Fransisco. However, most stories claimed she married a rancher in Arizona and lived there until she died.

-Danielle Triggs
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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