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Pearl Hart

July 7, 2013
Sue Eckhoff - Grundy County Heritage Museum , Reinbeck Courier

Armed with a .44 Colt pistol and dressed in a man's grey flannel shirt, jeans and boots, Pearl Hart rode off into the hills around Globe, Arizona to rob a stagecoach. Pearl was a petite twenty eight year old woman with a cherub like face, short dark hair and penetrating eyes. The white sombrero she wore was cocked to one side and cast a shadow over her nose and cheeks.

While her accomplice seized the weapon the stage driver was carrying, Pearl lined the passengers up alongside the road and relieved them of their cash. Before she sent the shaken travelers on their way, she provided them with one dollar, for grub and lodging. Once the stage was off again, Pearl and her partner rode out in the opposite direction.

That brazen daylight robbery occurred on May 30, 1899. It held a historical significance in that it was the last stage ever held up, and Pearl Hart was the last stage bandit, female or otherwise to perpetrate such a crime. When the news of the theft reached the public at large, Pearl became an overnight celebrity.

Pearl was born in 1871 in Ontario, Canada. Raised in a middle class family, she attended fine boarding schools, but when she met gambler Fredrick Hart, she began a romantic relationship. Pearl was only sixteen years old and the affair scandalized the school. The pair eloped in the spring of 1889.

The marriage was a volatile one from the start. Hart had a bad temper and drank a lot. The two argued constantly. During a trip to Chicago in 1893, the young bride managed to escape her abusive husband. She found work at the Wild West exhibition. She fell in love with her job and the history of the American West particularly by the tales of highwaymen and road agents. She studied their tactics and dreamed of following in the footsteps of the James Gang.

For a short time Pearl was reunited with her husband. Pearl settled down to a life of domesticity, but after the birth of their second child, Hart returned to his old houses and Pearl left him with her children in tow. She moved back to Canada, but fascinated with the American West she occasionally drifted to mining camps. In Benson, Arizona she met a man named Joe Boot, who had a devil-may-care attitude and the criminal tendencies Pearl found appealing. They frequently discussed famous robberies and wondered if they had the talent to pull off such crimes. Following a letter from Pearl's mother stating she was desperately ill and needed money for medicine, Boot suggested they get the funds needed to assist her by robbing a stage. They decided on the coach that ran from Florence to Globe. The robbery went smoothly, but their escape plan didn't. They got lost in the woods and were eventually apprehended by a posse and arrested, charged with highway robbery. The first jury found that the daring Mrs. Hart was a victim of circumstances and they granted her an acquittal. The judge was furious and ordered a second jury, which found her guilty. She served eighteen months of a five year sentence and left Arizona for Kansas where she settled with her younger sister.

Although the exact date of Pearl's death differ by thirty years, it is known that she eventually died from complications of an addiction to morphine, and her body lies in an unmarked grave in a small cemetery located at the base of the Dripping Springs Mountains near Globe, Arizona.

 
 

 

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