Pearl Hart – The Arizona Bandit

Hi! Winnie Griggs here. (pssst – look for giveaway info at the bottom of this post)

I was thumbing through one of those ‘infamous women of the old west’ type books the other day and  came across a listing for a woman named Pearl Hart. The heading of First Female Captured Stagecoach Robber caught my eye. And the more I read about this woman, the more fascinated I became with her story. I did some additional research and found a number of different, sometimes contradictory, accounts of her life. I’ll stitch together my favorites here.

While there is very little know about her early life, we do know that she was born Pearl Taylor in 1871 and lived the early part of her life in Ontario, Canada. She was one of several children born into an upper middle-class, church going family. At age sixteen she was sent to a boarding school, but she had an adventurous spirit that couldn’t be contained. That, combined with her attractiveness and wit made her quite popular with the men of her acquaintance.

While at school Pearl became infatuated with a young man named Hart and eloped at about age 17. Hart has variously been described as a rake, a drunk and a gambler. Far from this being the romantic adventure Pearl had hoped for, it turned out Hart was also abusive. She left him and then returned to him several times and it is reported they had two children together. During their last reconciliation, the couple worked odd jobs the Chicago World’s Fair. There Pearl saw Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and developed a fascination for the cowboy life that would stay with her her entire life. She also visited the Women’s Pavilion where she heard speeches by prominent women’s activists such as Julia Ward Howe.

Finally leaving Hart for good, Pearl placed the children in the care of her mother and took up with a man named Dan Bandman, a gambler and dance-hall musician. The two eventually moved to Colorado.

Later, when Dan left to fight in the Spanish-American War, Pearl moved to Globe Arizona, a mining town. There are various reports that she may have worked as a cook, a singer, a laundress and/or opened a tent brothel. It is also said that she developed a fondness for cigar and liquor at this time. Pearl described her life at this time in these words: “I was only twenty-two years old. I was good-looking, desperate, discouraged, and ready for anything that might come. I do not care to dwell on this period of my life. It is sufficient to say that I went from one city to another…”

Whatever her employment, Pearl’s finances hit bottom when the mine closed. Trying to find a way to earn money, she took up with a man named Joe Boot and together they tried to work an old mine claim he owned. But by 1899 the pair found themselves short on cash and decided to rob a stage, though it appears neither had done anything like this before. One account claims they took this desperate measure because Pearl had gotten word that her mother was ill and needed money, though there is little to substantiate this claim.

Pearl cut her hair and dressed up like a man. Both armed with revolvers, they stopped a stage running between Florence and Globe at the Cane Springs Canyon watering point. They collected $421 from the three passengers on board. Pearl then reportedly took pity on them and gave them back each $1.00 so they could buy a meal at the next stop.

But their lack of experience did them in. They did a poor job of covering their tracks and within six days the law had caught up with them. One account states that they were sleeping when the posses caught up with them and that while Joe surrendered quickly but Pearl tried, unsuccessfully, to fight her way out.

Joe and Pearl were locked in the local jail. But the notoriety and attention Pearl received as a female bandit, coupled with the lack of proper facilities, caused the sheriff to throw up his hands and send her to the jail in Tucson. Pearl’s notoriety grew, and she did all she could to fuel it. Her story about her reason for the robbery (her ailing mother) gained her sympathy, and her avowal that she “would never consent to be tried under a law she or her sex had no voice in making, or to which a woman had no power under the law to give her consent” gained her a whole new level of attention.

Never one to give up on her options, within a matter of days Pearl had charmed some of the men at the Tucson prison and managed to escape. Unfortunately for her, a New Mexico lawman recognized her and sent her back to the Tucson prison.

 

Joe Boot was eventually sentenced to 30 years in jail and Pearl to five. Pearl was given the dubious honor of being the first woman incarcerated into the Yuma Territorial Prison. But neither Pearl nor Joe served their full terms. Joe, apparently due to a show of good behavior, was given trustee status. He walked off while working outside the gates less than two years into his term and was never heard from again.

Pearl, on the other hand, gained her freedom legitimately, well, sort of. The warden of the jail where Pearl was imprisoned like all the attention she was attracting from the public and the media. He provided her with a roomy 8 x10 cell as well as a small yard which gave her a space to entertain reporters, photographers and other guests. Pearl, who was the only female incarcerated in the facility, was not above using her wiles to play guards and trustees off of each other to improve her situation.

In December of 1902, Pearl received a pardon from the governor and was released free and clear. The official reason for the pardon remains unclear, but it was given on condition that she leave the Arizona territory. Pearl herself claimed that she had been invited to play the lead in a play her sister had penned based on her life and this had played into her release. However, a later rumor emerged that she had became pregnant. The governor, wanting to spare the Arizona Territory the embarrassment of explaining how this could possibly have happened while she was imprisoned, pardoned her and set her free. While there is no proof that Pearl ever bore a third child, this doesn’t mean the wily woman didn’t use this as a ploy to secure her freedom.

There are varying accounts of what happened to Pearl after she was released. Some say she parlayed her notoriety into a show business career, billing herself as “The Arizona Bandit.” One account says she traveled for a while with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. A less colorful theory is that she married a rancher named Calvin Bywater and settled down into a quite but happier life. If that last is true, then perhaps Pearl got her “happily ever after” after all. Folks who knew Mrs. Bywater described her as “soft spoken, kind, and a good citizen in all respects.” Mrs. Calvin Bywater lived well into her 80s.

As I said earlier, there are a number of different accounts of Pearl’s life and this is only one of them. Her exploits have been featured in theater, film and pulp fiction. There was even a musical called The Legend Of Pearl Hart. And while we may never know the full true story of her life, there is no doubt that she lived it on her own terms.

 

And, as promised I’m doing a giveaway today.  In honor of my upcoming June release, A Baby Between Them, I’m giving away an advanced copy to one person who leaves a comment today.  Here’s a little about this book:

For two months, Nora Murphy has cared for the abandoned infant she found on their Boston-bound ship.  Settled now in Faith Glen, Nora tells herself she’s happy.  She has little Grace, and a good job as housekeeper to Sheriff Cameron Long.  She doesn’t need anything more – not the big family she always wanted, or Cam’s love…

 A traumatic childhood closed Cam off  to any dreams of family life.  Yet somehow his lovely housekeeper and her child have opened his heart again.  When the unthinkable occurs, it will take all their faith to reach a new future together.

Now avaiable for pre-order HERE

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Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at www.facebook.com/WinnieGriggs.Author or email her at winnie@winniegriggs.com.

31 thoughts on “Pearl Hart – The Arizona Bandit”

  1. Winnie,

    I love when pearls (pun somewhat intended) like this are discovered while researching. What an interesting woman. But like Etta Place of Butch and Sundance fame, it seems the more that is uncovered the less is truly known.

    And the cover to your upcoming release is gorgeous!

    –Kirsten

  2. Pearl’s story is certainly interesting but conflicting… which makes is all the more interesting… Thanks for the research & sharing!

  3. That is interesting about the women bandits,,my husband works at walmart an the past weekend the cashier was robbed an roughted up by a bandit A WOMAN!!all alone,she stole over 1200 dollars an put the clerk in the hospital,so there still are some rought mean women out there even today

  4. What an interesting post. I love to read the stories of the women of our past and how they contributed(?) to history. My grandmother was a colorful women though she did not live that long ago. She was never on the wrong side of the law but helped her lawman husband catch a few bad guys and a woman or two who was then locked in the wash house because there was not facilities for a female at the jail. I need to recall some of her stories and get them on paper for the grandkids….

  5. Fascinating blog, Winnie. Pearl did a lot of bad things, but as I read this I found myself admiring her spunk and resourcefulness. One tough lady. I hope the part about her HEA was true.
    Such a beautiful cover. Love it.

  6. I enjoyed reading about Pearl. I have started collecting books about Women from the West, Oregon Trail and Homesteading. Pearl certainly wasn’t going to have an uninteresting life.
    I love your book cover and look forward to reading it. I have the first two books in the series and am waiting for your book to come out to start reading them.

  7. Enjoyed reading the article. I toured the AZ Territorial Prison a couple of times. Very interesting. It truly was a hell-hole with the tiny cells out in the open and the unbearable sun shinning down on the prisoners. If you know anything about Yuma where it is located, it is usually the hottest temperatures in Arizona in the summer. 118 degrees seems to be the normal and with the desert winds blowing through the area, no wonder prisoners did not want to go there.

  8. Winnie, what an interesting free-spirited woman. She definitely lived life on her own terms. Lots of good wishes for your new release. It looks great. I love the cover with her and the baby.

  9. Another colorful Woman of the West to be sure, Winnie. Good job. It’s hard to imagine a woman leaving her kids, though. What was she thinking LOL.

    Congrats on the lovely cover and the new release! I look forward to reading it.

    (Sharon I just found a terrific book at a flea market, Pioneer Women: Voices from the Kansas Frontier by Joanna L. Stratton. It’s riveting, and makes me ever more grateful for home sweet home LOL.)

  10. Liz – so glad you enjoyed the post

    Kristen – (nice pun!) and yes, she was definitely a woman of mystery

    CateS – I agree – contradictions make stories like this fascinating

  11. Vickie – Oh my goodness, that’s awful. These things sound much more romantic when shrouded in the veil of past times

    Connie – Yes, yes, yes – put those stories down on paper so they don’t get lost forever.

    Rebecaa – Thanks for the nice comments about the post and the cover!

  12. What an interesting post. I enjoyed reading about Pearl.Congrats on the new release. The book sounds fantastic. Can’t wait to read it.

  13. Winnie,
    What an interesting woman Pearl was! I had never heard of her before reading your post. I, too, hope she got her HEA–times were so hard for women back then and so many just had to take what life dished out to them–I’m glad she “fought back” in her own way and tried to do what she could to live her life on her own terms.

    Love your cover, too! That story of yours looks wonderful.
    Cheryl

  14. Elizabeth – I’m with you, I’d like to believe her motives were in the right place and that she found peace and happiness in the end

    Wendy – thanks for stopping in!

  15. Sharon – oh don’t you just love those books about the women who came before us. Makes one really appreciate what we have today though! And cool that you have the books in the Irish Brides series. Hope you enjoy!!

    Joye – I’m jealous! I don’t get many opportunities to do on-site visits as part of my research but try to take advantage ot the chances I do get.

  16. Tanya – I agree I couldn’t have left my kids, but they were probably better off in the long run. And that flea market book sounds awesome!

    Joanne – Gald you enjoyed the post and thanks for the kind words about my release.

  17. Very interesting post today, Winnie! I love the Old West and its many stories! We lived in Arizona for 6 years and I soaked up all the stories but I never heard this one! Thanks for the info!

    I can’t wait to finish this Irish Brides series! I have so enjoyed the other two books! I hope to win yours! I’m sure it’ll be as wonderful as the other two 🙂

  18. Cheryl – So glad you enjoyed Pearl’s story, and yes, she was definitely a fighter – nothing meek about her!

    Valri – How cool that you lived there for a while – Arizona is so rich in the history of the old west.

    Estella – Glad you enjoyed the post thanks for stopping by!

  19. I love how you all find such interesting tidbits in history to share with us! Thank you for sharing! 😀

  20. Enjoyed your blog today. I have been to the Arizona Terrirorial Prison and viewed the small, hot cells. I grew up in Arizona and know how hot it can get there. I’m surprised any prisoners survived their ordeal at that prison. If you are ever in Yuma you shold go see the prison.

  21. Colleen – that’s half the fun of research – stumbling onto new, unlooked for but interesting tidbits 🙂

    Jackie – how cool that you’ve actually been there in person – I’m sooooo jealous!

  22. Winnie, Thanks for another enjoyable and interesting post. Pearl Hart certainly was an individual. I wonder if she really was Rancher Bywater’s wife. It sounds like too tame an existence for her. I think I would go with her joining Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. She was a smart woman. Everyone of her complaints about the law and women’s lack of rights was valid.

    Best of luck with the release of A BABY BETWEEN THEM. I can wait to read this trilogy.

  23. Patricia – Your theory was definitely one of the ones put forth. Since we may never know the true story, I guess we are free to imagine the ending we think best fits 🙂

    And thanks for the good wishes!!

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