Pearl Hart

Pearl Hart

Pearl Taylor (1871-1956), better known as Pearl Hart, was a cowgirlfact|date=September 2008

Early life and feminist influences

She was born in Lindsay, Ontario, Canada, of French descent. As a youngster, Pearl 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 a man at the age of sixteen and became impregnated. She endured abuse by this man and returned to her mother's home with her new baby.

By 1893, she arrived at Chicago, Illinois, where she saw Annie Oakley perform at a card show. This would turn out to be a life changing experience 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, 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 of crime

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 dollars 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 began to dress like a man, probably as a way empowering herself and sending other cowboys a message of strength. She was also a chronic marijuana user.

In and out of jail

On June 4 she and Boot were arrested 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.

Pearl Hart ultimately 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.

While at Yuma, she also became addicted to morphine and became fodder of the tabloid newspapers of the day. This led Paul Hull, an editor in chief of another leading Arizona newspaper of the time, to feel sympathy for her and to plead with these type of newspapers to leave her alone.

A quieter life

After spending the five years in the Yuma jail, she lived a quieter and much more private life. She married a rancher and became a dedicated wife for the last 50 years of her life. They settled in Dripping Springs, Arizona, where she used the name Pearl Bywater. It was in 1940 that newspaper writer Clara Wooly accidentally discovered that "Pearl Bywater" was actually Pearl Hart. Wooly was conducting a census when she made her discovery.

Pearl Hart died in 1956, after spending most of her life as a free citizen gardening and writing in a diary.


*Leo Banks, "Stalwart Women: Frontier Stories of Indomitable Spirit" (ISBN 0-916179-77-X)
* [ Pearl Hart] at

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