May 30th, 1899 – Pearl Hart, the Outlaw

Today-In-History

Pearl Hart, née Taylor, was a Canadian-born outlaw of the American Old West. She committed one of the last recorded stagecoach robberies in the United States; her crime gained notoriety primarily because of her gender. Many details of Hart’s life are uncertain with available reports being varied and often contradictory.

Pearl_Hart_in_Jail_Cell 680

Pearl Hart (c. 1871 – after 1928)

Hart was born as Pearl Taylor in the Canadian village of Lindsay, Ontario. Her parents were both religious and affluent, providing their daughter with the best available education. At the age of 16, she was enrolled in a boarding school when she became enamored with a young man, named Hart, who has been variously described as a rake, drunkard, and/or gambler. (Different sources list Hart’s given name as Brett, Frank, or William.) The two of them eloped, but Hart soon discovered that her new husband was abusive and left him to return to her mother.

Hart reconciled with and left her husband several times. During their time together they had two children, a boy and a girl, whom Hart sent to her mother who was then living in Ohio. In 1893, the couple attended The Chicago World’s Fair where he worked for a time as a midway barker. She in turn developed a fascination with the cowboy lifestyle while watching Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. At the end of the Fair, Hart left her husband again bound on a train for Trinidad, Colorado, possibly in the company of a piano player named Dan Bandman.

Pearl_Hart_seated_in_dress

Hart as society wanted her to look.

By early 1898, Hart was in Mammoth, Arizona. Some reports indicate she was working as a cook in a boardinghouse. Others indicate she was operating a tent brothel near the local mine, even employing a second lady for a time. While doing well for a time, her financial outlook took a downturn after the mine closed. About this time Hart attested to receiving a message asking her to return home to her seriously ill mother.

Looking to raise money, Hart and an acquaintance, Joe Boot (whose name is probably an alias), worked an old mining claim he owned. After finding no gold in the claim the pair decided to rob the Globe to Florence, Arizona stagecoach.

The robbery occurred on May 30th, 1899 at a watering point near Cane Springs Canyon, about 30 miles southeast of Globe. Hart had cut her hair short and took the highly eccentric act, for a Victorian Era woman, of dressing in men’s clothing. Hart was armed with a .38 revolver while Boot had a Colt .45. One of the last routes in the territory, the run had not been robbed in several years and thus the coach did not have a shotgun messenger. The pair stopped the coach and Boot held a gun on the robbery victims while Hart took $431.20 and two firearms from the passengers. After returning $1 to each passenger, she then took the driver’s revolver. After the robbers had galloped away on their horses, the driver unhitched one of the horses and headed back to town to alert the sheriff.

Pearl_Hart_with_number

Hart in jail attire.

Reports of the next few days vary. According to Hart, the pair took a circuitous route designed to lose anyone who followed, while making their future plans. Others claim the pair became lost and wandered in circles. Either way, a posse led by Sheriff Truman of Pinal County caught up with the pair on June 5, 1899. Finding both of them asleep, Sheriff Truman reported that Boot surrendered quietly while Hart fought to avoid capture.

Following their arrest, Boot was held in Florence, Arizona, while Hart was moved to Tucson, the jail lacking any facilities for a lady. The novelty of a female stagecoach robber quickly spawned a media frenzy and national reporters soon joined the local press clamoring to interview and photograph Hart. One article in Cosmopolitan said Hart was “just the opposite of what would be expected of a woman stage robber,” though, “when angry or determined, hard lines show about her eyes and mouth.” Locals also became fascinated with her, one local fan giving her a bobcat cub to keep as a pet.

The room Hart was held in was not a normal jail cell, but made of lath and plaster. Taking advantage of the relatively weak building material, and possibly with the aid of an assistant, Hart escaped on October 12th, 1899, leaving an 18-inch (46 cm) hole in the wall. She was recaptured two weeks later near Deming, New Mexico.


 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar