Pearl Taylor (1871-1956?), better known as Pearl Hart, was a Canadian-born American cowgirl and outlaw. She is memorable as one of the very few female stagecoach robbers of the tumultuous American Wild West.
Early life and feminist influences
Pearl Taylor was born in Lindsay, Ontario, Canada, of French descent. She was raised in a middle class family and was well-educated. At a young age, she was attracted to older men, and she had a number of relationships with alcoholics and other men of infamous status. After attending boarding school, she met Frederick Hart, his future husband, and fell for him at the age of seventeen. They then had a baby. However, Frederick subjected Pearl to domestic violence. She left him and moved to her mother's residence with the child.
By 1893, she arrived at Chicago, Illinois, where she witnessed Annie Oakley performing at a card show. This experience would usher profound change for Pearl, as she became inspired by Oakley. She also attended the World's Fair women's pavilion and listened to speeches by Julia Ward Howe, an American feminist author, among others.
Inspired by the experience of seeing women demonstrating some social power, she boarded a train to Trinidad, Colorado. In Trinidad, she became a popular saloon singer. It was rumored by the press that she practiced prostitution as a way to make a living while in Trinidad, but it has been argued that the press spread such rumors to embellish her legend; nevertheless, Pearl never denied nor admitted to being a prostitute; she even went as far as declaring to Cosmopolitan magazine that she was "21, good looking, and ready for anything that might come".
Life as an outlaw
Reunited in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband, Pearl endured more physical punishment by him and became impregnated for the second time. After leaving him and sending her children to her mother's home in Ohio, Pearl settled in Globe, Arizona, a city east of Phoenix. She met the equally infamous Joe Boot there.
Joe Boot had long been planning to rob a train, and Pearl felt hard pressed by the fact that her mother was sick, and her children's future was bleak at the time. After much planning, the heist finally took place, on May 30, 1899. Hart and Boot held three men at gun point, stealing 430 US dollar and a revolver.
Pearl Hart became an instant celebrity after the robbery. Her name was featured on the covers of American newspapers nationwide, and she was believed to be one of the few female bandits active in Arizona at the time. She landed in the now famed Florence jail, a place that has since also been connected with controversies concerning other inmates' deaths and other legal matters.
Pearl was also a crossdresser. After the beatings she took from her husband, she took to dress like a man, probably figuring that this would serve her as a way of enforcing upon herself a look of strength, and to send other cowboys a message of power. She was also a marijuana user.
Arrest and imprisonment
On June 4, 1899, she and Boot were apprehended outside of Benson, Arizona. After her stay at the Florence jail, she would be transferred to a jail in Tucson, from where she became an advocate of women's rights and, later on, she escaped. Josephine Brawley Hughes, another women's rights advocate, became a supporter of Pearl, through her columns at The Arizona Daily Star.
Pearl Hart had been a contributor to Cosmopolitan for a long time before her escape from the Tucson jail; while passing through Deming, New Mexico, she was recognized by police officer George Scarborough, an avid reader of Cosmopolitan, who proceeded to arrest her.
Though Pearl Hart was acquitted by the jury, the judge was convinced that the jury was tampered and she was tried for new charges. Ultimately she received a sentence of five years in jail, despite trying to convince the jury that she was temporarily insane during the robbery because of a supposed desire to see her mother and children and because of her mother's sickness. She was sent to a jail in Yuma, Arizona.
At Yuma, she also began using morphine and became fodder of the contemporary press. Magazines that interviewed her included the Cosmopolitan, which at that time was in its infancy. This led Paul Hull, an editor in chief of another leading Arizona newspaper of the time, to sympathize with her and to demand the tabloid press to leave her alone.
Hart was later moved from the Yuma jail to Pima County Jail in Tucson, and was released on parole in 1902. After the release, she married a rancher and lived in a relatively uneventful and private life afterwards as a dedicated wife for her last 50 years. She used the name Pearl Bywater and lived with her husband in Dripping Springs, Arizona. In 1940, however, when Clara Wooly, a newspaper writer, was conducting a census, "Pearl Bywater" was recognized to be Pearl Hart. She spent most of her later life gardening and writing diaries. The year of her death is uncertain, some say it was 1956; however, others contend it to be 1952 or 1955 and some even speculate that she might have already died in 1925.
Notes and citations
- However, some sources like this refer to Pearl Hart's husband's name as "William Hart".
- At Legends of America website
- How a Woman Stagecoach Robber became a famous outlaw, Sharlot Hall Museum Days Past, July 28, 2002.
- Pearl Hart at wickedusa.com
- Lady Belle, Pearl Hart Lady Belle's Outlaw's Hideout.
- Leo Banks, Stalwart Women: Frontier Stories of Indomitable Spirit (ISBN 0-916179-77-X)