Friday, April 8, 2016

Pearl Hart She Robbed a Stagecoach, But a Magazine Article Made Her a Nationwide Celebrity


Cosmopolitan Magazine, more, or less, created the legend that was Pearl Hart in an article they published in October of 1899.

Pearl Hart reading over her statement
According to the story, the lady bandit "directed the affair...The woman held a revolver in one hand, the muzzle of the weapon looking threateningly, now on one person and now on another. The woman was in a man's garment, and in the moonlight, her slender (read between the lines: sexy) figure and the masses of hair escaping from beneath the broad sombrero were plainly discernible." 

It was a story that was too good to ignore. 

Within a few days, papers from all over the country were borrowing quotes from the article, telling readers about the brash, cigar-smoking, hard drinking "lady bandit" who masterminded the daring daylight stage robbery.

Pearl told readers, she came from a good home, had attended a private boarding school, but at the tender young age of sixteen she hooked up with a fast-talking conman and gambler. She told readers, "marriage to me was but a name. We ran away one night and were married."

It didn't take Pearl long to discover her new husband, Frank Hart, wasn't exactly marriage material. He drank, gambled to excess, and frequently, he beat Pearl and abused her. They broke up and got back together at least three times. 


In 1893, the couple headed to Chicago. Pearl said they planned to fleece visitors to the Columbian Exposition. Before that could happen, she attended a performance of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. After that, Pearl became enamored with cowboys and the old west. One day, after taking another drubbing from Frank Hart, Pearl decided enough was enough. She abandoned her husband, sent her son back home to live with her mom in Ohio, and hopped a train, first to Colorado, and then to Arizona.

Pearl took a job cooking (some reports said she gave the men more comfort than food, but no proof exists that she prostituted herself) in a mining camp in the Pinal Mountains. 

After a short spell cooking, Pearl hooked up with a guy named Joe Boot. They staked a claim in the Pinal Mountains, but the takings were slim.

Late in May of 1899, Pearl said she received word that her mother was dying, and she was desperate to get home to see her. Money was tight. They eventually hatched a plan to rob a stage coach.

Pearl said, on the day of the robbery they rode out to a bend in the road they knew the stage coach would have to pass. It seemed like the perfect spot, so they waited and listened for the stage. 

As it came closer to them, they approached it at a slow trot. Joe pulled his Colt .45 and screamed at the driver to "throw up his hands." Pearl pulled out her .38, got off her horse, and went to work collecting booty from the passengers. All the while, Joe remained on his horse and kept everyone covered.

Pearl later said, "I can't believe why men carry revolvers because they almost invariably give them up at the very time they were made to be used." She took two revolvers from the passengers that day.

The passenger who was most scared had the most money on him. Pearl snatched $390 out of his pockets. She told reporters the man was trembling so hard she had a hard time getting her hands in his pockets. She described the other fellow as a dude, who had his hair parted in the middle. He "tried to tell me how much he needed the money," she said. But, his sob story didn’t stop Pearl from rustling through his pockets. She took $36 from him. The last passenger was a Chinaman. He was plenty scared and trembling, but Pearl remarked he was easy to search because he was a little fellow, close to her own size. All he had was $5.00.

For some reason, they decided not to take the driver's money. Instead, Pearl took his pistol. That proved to be a big mistake, but we will get to that in its own time.

When they were finished robbing the passengers, Pearl says she gave them "a charitable contribution of a dollar apiece and ordered them to move on."

Their getaway was a bungled mess. Pearl told a harrowing story of their escape. The duo traveled fast, and what they thought was far, but mostly, they rode around in circles. Eventually, they found a quiet space to sleep. "About three hours after laying down," she says, "we were awakened by yelling and shooting. We sprang up and grabbed our guns, but found we were looking straight into the mouths of two gaping Winchesters in the hands of the sheriff's posse. Resistance was worse than useless, and we put up hands.

In most cases that would have been the end of the story, but Pearl was a novelty. She was the first female stage robber, and the press played the story for every extra reader they could wring out of it.

The Cosmopolitan story published in October of 1899, catapulted Pearl into the limelight.

The magazine described Pearl as “a small woman, weighing less than a hundred pounds, with features of the most common type. Donning a set of man's clothes and taking the necessary revolvers, and securing a male companion, she appeared on the highway. The leveled revolvers quickly brought the coach and its occupants to a standstill."

A short time after the article was published, Pearl made a daring escape from the Pima County Jail in Tucson, Arizona. She was aided in her getaway by Ed Hogan. He had been locked up for public drunkenness a few weeks previous to the escape, and Pearl somehow charmed him into helping.

Hogan snuck out of prison on the morning of October 12th, 1899. Later that night he crawled up on the balcony and cut a hole in the wall outside of Pearl's cell. The headline in the San Francisco Call the next morning read, "Famous Woman Bandit and Stage Robber Once More at Liberty: Helped By a Man."

The couple made their way to Deming, New Mexico, but were captured a few weeks later. Pearl was a victim of her own fame. A detective in Deming recognized her from the pictures published in the Cosmopolitan pictorial. She was quickly arrested and sent back to prison in Tucson.

The headline of the Rockland County Journal on October 28th, 1899, proclaimed, "Pearl Hart Captured."

Shortly after she was recaptured, and stood trial for the stage robbery. Pearl walked into the courtroom wearing a pretty dress and charmed the jury. She told them she didn't want to do it. It was Joe Boot's idea. All she wanted to do was raise enough money so she could visit her dying mother.

Whatever she said, the jury bought her story - hook, line, and sinker. The jury acquitted Pearl after less than an hour of deliberation.

Judge Fletcher Doan was outraged by the verdict. He quickly empaneled a new jury and tried Pearl for stealing the stage coach driver’s ten dollar revolver. In the new trial, Pearl received a five-year sentence. Joe Boot was sentenced to thirty years in the Yuma Territorial Prison.

Joe Boot escaped two years later and was never heard from again. Pearl received a pardon from Governor Alexander Brodie in 1902, on the condition that she immediately leave the Arizona Territory.

The prison superintendent told the Herald Democrat, “Pearl had been a model prisoner, complying well with the regulations of the penitentiary, and was therefore entitled to lenient consideration.”

Rumors on the street had it Pearl was pregnant, and officials were anxious to get her out of Dodge before they had to explain how she got into that situation.

In 1903, Pearl attempted to cash in on her fame by acting in a play, “The Arizona Bandit,” written by her sister. It failed miserably. A year later Pearl was said to be running a cigar store in Kansas City. After that, she faded into oblivion and was never heard from again.

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