Pearl Hart, born Taylor, (born around 1871 – died, but nobody knows when) was a Canadian-born outlaw of the American Old West.
She committed one of the last recorded stagecoach robberies in the US, a crime that gained her notoriety primarily because she was a woman.
Many details of her life are uncertain with reports being varied and often contradictory.
Born as Pearl Taylor of French descent in Lindsay, Ontario, Canada, the petite and attractive young girl would grow up to become one of the only female stagecoach robbers in the American West.
One of several children, Pearl was brought up in a respectable middle-class family and received a good education. Her life took a turn for the worse when, at the age of seventeen, she fell for a gambler named Frederick Hart with whom she eloped.
Hart was primarily a gambler who more often than not he lost whatever money he had at the gaming tables and so sometimes worked as a bartender. He was also a heavy drinker and often abusive to his young wife. The result was that Pearl's life proved to be one hardship after another.
In 1893, the couple traveled to the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois where her husband worked as a sideshow barker and she found a number of odd jobs. While in Chicago, she became enthralled with the Wild West shows and was especially enamored by Annie Oakley, who she saw performing. She also attended the World’s Fair Women’s Pavilion where she listened to a number of women’s speeches, including Julia Ward Howe, a prominent women’s activist and poet.
Inspired by seeing such strong women and falling in love with the legends of the Wild West, she soon left her husband and boarded a train to Trinidad, Colorado. After arriving in Trinidad she became a popular saloon singer but soon found that she was pregnant with her husband's child and returned to her family in Canada. After giving birth to a son, she left him with her mother and traveled west again, this time to Phoenix, Arizona.
She found the Wild West disappointing and there was no glamour. Instead, she ended up working as a cook in a cafe and taking in laundry.
In 1895 her estranged husband caught up with her and begged her o come back to him and promised to get a regular job. True to his word, he got a job working as manager and bartender at a local hotel. They seemed happy, but they also began to live a wild life frequenting the saloons and gambling parlors where Pearl learned to smoke and drink. It's also alleged that she also began using marijuana and morphine.
Marital problems started up again and after she gave birth to a second child, a girl. That's when her husband announced that he was bored with domestic life and tired of supporting a family. After a violent argument between the two in 1898, Pearl was knocked unconscious and her husband left to join Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in Cuba. She again returned to her parents but didn’t stay long and headed back to Arizona, leaving her second child with her parents as well.
Back in Arizona, she at odd jobs in many of the mining camps. But a woman alone during these times found it difficult to survive and she became very depressed and tried to kill herself several times but was saved by acquaintances.
By 1899 he had hooked up with a miner named Joe Boot. When she received a letter from her brother that her mother was ill and needed money for medical bills, she asked Boot for advice. It turned out that Boot had long been planning to rob a train and he had several ideas for Pearl to make some quick cash.
Their first scam was for Pearl to lure men into their room, allowing them to think that there was an opportunity for sex. Instead, Joe knocked them out and robbed them. There wasn't a lot of money in this so they conceived of the idea of robbing a stagecoach.
After careful planning, the couple decided to rob the stagecoach that ran between Florence and Globe, Arizona. To get ready Pearl cut off her hair and dressed in Joe’s clothing. On May 30, 1899, they jumped in front of the stage with drawn guns and ordered the driver to stop. Joe kept his gun pointed at the driver, Pearl ushered the passengers out of the coach and robbed them. After taking about $450 (over $12,000 today) and a revolver, the pair ordered the passengers back in the coach and Joe fired his gun in the air and told the driver to take off.
However, they were unfamiliar with the surrounding desert hills and got lost while making their escape. After a couple of days, the couple made camp in a grove of trees and after building a campfire, they fell asleep. Some time later, when they awoke, they were surrounded by the sheriff and his posse.
Taken to the Globe, Arizona jail, Hart played up her part as a lady bandit, giving autographs and entertaining those who just wanted to get a glimpse of the "Bandit Queen.” A few weeks after her capture, Pearl escaped from the jail on October 12, 1899, with another prisoner by the name of Ed Hogan. As a result her legend began to grow, but she was soon recaptured and returned to jail.
Her trial took place in Florence, Arizona in November, 1899 where she insisted that the court had no right to place her on trial, saying: "I shall not consent to be tried under a law in which my sex had no voice in making.” Though she admitted her guilt, she was acquitted by the jury, most likely because of her story of robbing the stage only to send her mother money. Her lawyer had also plead with the jury that it was her first offense and that she had always obeyed the law in the past.
Judge Fletcher Doan (later to become a state Supreme Court Justice) was furious at the verdict, claiming that Pearl "...flirted with the jury, bending them to her will." He soon replaced the jury and had Pearl re-tried for unlawfully carrying a gun. This time, the jury was not swayed and she was convicted and sentenced to five years in the Yuma Territorial Prison.
Though she is often credited with being the last person to ever rob a stagecoach, this is untrue as the last actual stage robbery took place on December 5, 1916 near Jarbridge, Nevada. During the hold-up, the bandit, Ben Kuhl, killed the driver and made off with more than $3,000 in gold coins. Hart is also frequently credited as being the only woman to ever hold up a stagecoach. This is also untrue, as Jane Kirkham was killed when robbing a stagecoach along the road between Leadville and Buena Vista, Colorado on March 7, 1879.
Joe Boot was tried in a separate trial and got 30 years for the stage robbery. Boot, who was also sent to the Yuma prison, escaped in 1901 and was never recaptured or heard of again. He was thought to have fled to Mexico.
Pearl became an even greater celebrity in prison and the warden, who liked the attention, accommodated her with a larger than usual cell and a few other perks. In prison she entertained visitors and reporters, often posing for pictures. After serving just 18 months she was paroled on December 19, 1902 and moved to Kansas City.
There, she planned to profit from her fame as the "Lady Bandit” in a production that her sister wrote about her western adventures. However, her fame faded quickly and she disappeared from public view for a couple of years until she was arrested in Kansas City under the name of Mrs. L.P. Keele for buying stolen canned goods.
She disappeared again until in 1924, when she visited the old courthouse in Florence, Aziriona where she had been tried. While there she identified herself to an attendant.
What happened to Pearl after that? Nobody knows. Some reports say that she died in Kansas City where she operated a cigar store in 1925. Others say that she was living in San Francisco, California when she died in 1952.
Most often it's said she married a rancher in Dripping Springs, Arizona, where she lived out the last days of her life going by the name of Pearl Bywater and died in 1956.