Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Bandit Queen of Arizona

Pearl Hart was born Pearl Taylor in the Canadian village of Lindsay, Ontario. Her parents were both rich and religious, providing their daughter with a good upbringing, which served her well until she made a disastrous marriage at the age of 16 to an abusive drunkard.  This marriage had its turbulent ups and downs for years, but in 1893 Pearl Hart found herself in Phoenix, Arizona without a husband.

Pearl Hart knocked around Arizona, acquiring a taste for cigars, whiskey, and morphine.  In 1898, Hart turned up in Mammoth, Arizona where she worked as a cook while also operating a tent brothel near the local mine.  All was going well until the mine closed.

At this point, Hart threw in with one Joe Boot.  The pair worked a small mining claim Boot had staked, but found no gold.  The pair decided to rob a stagecoach that traveled near the Superstition Mountains between Globe and Florence, Arizona.

One of the last stagecoach routes still operating in the territory, the run had not been robbed in years and thus the coach did not have a shotgun guard. The robbery occurred on May 30, 1899, at a watering point near Cane Springs Canyon, about 30 miles southeast of Globe.  Hart had cut her hair short and dressed in men's clothing. The pair stopped the coach and while Boot menacingly brandished a Colt .45, Hart took $431.20 (equivalent to about $13,000 today) from the surprised victims.

The pair was bold but not bright, being caught sound asleep in camp six days later by a sheriff’s posse.

The novelty of a female stagecoach robber created a sensation.  Hart and Boot came to trial in October 1899. During the trial Hart touched the hearts of the jurors by claiming she needed the money to help her sick mother.  The jury found her not guilty. Immediately following the acquittal, Pearl Hart was rearrested on the charge of tampering with U.S. mail. Boot received a sentence of thirty years and Hart a sentence of five years for their misdeeds.

Both Hart and Boot were sent to Yuma Territorial Prison. Joe Boot became a prison trusty, driving supply wagons outside the walls. One day Boot and the wagon did not return.  Boot had completed less than two years of his sentence.  Pearl Hart used her position as the only female at an all-male prison to her advantage, playing admiring guards and prison trusties off of each other in an effort to improve her situation.  In December 1902, after serving three years of her sentence, Hart was pardoned by the Territorial Governor of Arizona.

After leaving prison, Pearl Hart worked, under an alias, as part of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

Pearl Hart is acknowledged as the only known female stagecoach robber in Arizona’s history earning her the nickname of the “Bandit Queen.”

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