“THE LADY BANDIT”

— THE ADVENTURES OF PEARL HART — 

On the afternoon of May 30, 1899, two bandits waited in hiding for the Benson-Globe express stagecoach, one of the few stage lines still covering the remote regions of Arizona Territory. 

LADY BANDIT

The necessity of traveling by stage was giving way to the emerging popularity of the railroad as the preferred means of transportation.

When the coach reached a watering point near Cane Springs Canyon, a lady bandit by the name of Pearl Hart stepped into the open, waved her six-gun, and forced the driver to pull to stop.

Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and disguised as a man, the five-foot-tall Hart ordered the driver down and disarmed him.

Her partner Joe (or John) Boot, armed with a 45 caliber, motioned the three passengers outside, where Hart kept the foursome in her gunsights.

Boot relieved the three passengers of $471 in cash along with three guns and a gold watch. Minutes later, he and Hart rode off.  

The hold-up, sometimes mistakenly referred to as the last stagecoach robbery in the country, had not been well planned.

After the heist, Hart and Boot headed into the wilderness of the Superstition Mountains and wandered around lost.

Three nights later, they built a campfire, which made it easy for Sheriff William Truman and his posse to track them down.

According to the June 5, 1899, issue of The New York Times, “When they were awakened the man seemed paralyzed with fright, but the woman, reaching for the guns, which had been removed, sprang to her feet and fought vigorously.”

The jail in Florence couldn’t accommodate women, so authorities transferred Hart to Pima County Jail in Tucson to await trial.

The next morning, the jailer discovered Hart escaped by cutting a hole through a thin partition.

Ironically, Boot also managed to vanish from his Florence jail cell.

After a couple of weeks on the run, both were recaptured near Deming, New Mexico.

Pearl Hart was born Pearl Taylor in 1871 and grew up in Lindsay, Ontario, Canada. At seventeen, she eloped with gambler Frederick Hart.

The two traveled to Chicago in 1893 to work at the Columbian Exposition. They separated when Frederick Hart drank too much and squandered away most of their money.

Pearl left him and traveled to Colorado where she gave birth to a son.

She returned to Ontario, left the child with her parents, and then headed to Phoenix where she worked as a laundress and cook.

A couple of years later, she and her husband reunited and had a second child. 

Frederick Hart left her in 1898 to join the Rough Riders and headed off to war, his fate unknown.

Pearl, at this point, decided to leave the second child with her parents and returned to Arizona where she eventually met Boot.

Because of a need for cash, Hart and Boot decided to rob the Benson-Globe express stage. 

At her trial, Hart admitted guilt but told the jury she needed the money for her ailing mother. The jury bought the story and acquitted her.

The decision angered Judge Fletcher Doan and he impaneled another jury to try her for unlawfully carrying a weapon.

After about ten minutes of deliberation, the jury found her guilty and Doan sentenced her to five years in Yuma Territorial Prison.

Meanwhile, in a separate trial, Boot was found also guilty but drew a thirty-year prison term, also at Yuma. 

Yuma couldn’t accommodate female prisoners at the time and the court pardoned her on December 19, 1902.

Hart moved to Kansas City and starred in a play her sister wrote called The Arizona Bandit.

When it flopped, she reverted to her old ways.

She was arrested and briefly jailed for purchasing stolen canned goods.

Little is known about Hart’s later life. She made a nostalgic trip to Arizona in 1924 to visit the courtroom where she was convicted. It’s believed she died sometime after 1928.

Boot, her partner in crime, became a prison trusty and earned the job of driving supply wagons to chain gangs outside the prison walls.

On one of those delivery runs—after serving only two years of his sentence—Boot made a break for freedom and was never seen again.

_______

 

 

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4 comments to “THE LADY BANDIT”

  • Steve Rossignol

    Hello Tom–Enjoyed this story and all you post. But Pearl Hart may not have been the only woman stage hold-up artist. Blanco County, Texas had its own Elaine Sinclair, who held up a stage at age 16!

    See: 1)The Sunday Gazetteer. (Denison, Tex.), Vol. 19, No. 45, Ed. 1 Sunday, February 24, 1901 – Page: 4; 2) Santa Cruz Evening Sentinel, May 14, 1901; 3) St Louis Post Dispatch, Feb 3, 1901

    Steve Rossignol
    Blanco County Historical Commission

  • Hi Steve–A 16-year-old female stagecoach robber. Wow. I wasn’t aware of Elaine Sinclair but it definitely is worth some further research into what could be a fascinating story. Thanks so much for stopping by and letting me know. I’ll check out your sources first and go from there. Again–thanks.

  • Steve Rossignol

    Hello Tom–

    I can send you those articles if you so desire. What is a good email address?

    Best wishes,

    Steve

  • Hi Steven, I’d love to see them.
    Email:
    tom@tomrizzo.com
    Thanks!

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