Even during the 1800s, people believed in the myth of the “Old West”. Among them was the romantacized character, Pearl Hart. That myth drew her from Canada into a rough lifestyle in the United States.
Pearl Taylor was born in 1871 and raised in the village of Lindsay, Ontario. The young Pearl was locally famous for her physical attractiveness and her eagerness to date older men. After Pearl finished boarding school, she was seduced by Frederick Hart at the young age of 17. The pair eloped and moved to Chicago, Illinois. Her new husband proved to be a gambler, alcoholic, and an abusive spouse.
While in Chicago, the couple found temporary work at the Columbian Exposition of 1893. Frederick was a midway barker for sideshows, while Pearl worked odd jobs. It was the combination of Wild West shows, exhibits, and especially Annie Oakley that inspired Pearl’s imagination and caused her to believe in the myth of the Old West.
She abruptly abandoned her abusive husband and moved to Trinidad, Colorado, there she gave birth to a son. Pearl Hart became popular as a saloon singer and acquired a questionable reputation. Pearl moved on to Phoenix, Arizona, where she was reunited with her husband. She became pregnant by him a second time, all the while enduring more domestic violence. Frederick left home to join the Army to fight in the Spanish-American War.
Pearl left for a short stay in Ohio where her mother had moved. Pearl left her children in the care of her mother, then settled in Globe, Arizona. While in Globe, Pearl met the outlaw known as Joe Boot. The couple unsuccessfully worked a mining claim. To make ends meet, Joe contemplated robbing a stagecoach. At the same time Pearl received a letter, informing her that her mother was on her deathbed. They asked that she return home immediately. Pearl claimed the letter drove her crazy because she had no money.
By 1899, stagecoaches were considered an antiquated form of transportation. The Globe to Florence stage was one of the last to run in Arizona Territory because the railroads connected nearly every town. Nobody had robbed a stagecoach in many years, so there wasn’t anyone riding shotgun with the driver. Also, salesmen who carried several hundred dollars, usually rode that particular stagecoach.
On May 30, 1899 Cane Spring in the Dripping Springs on the western edge of the Organ Mountains near Globe, the pair waited by a watering hole. The two knew the stagecoach would rest and water the horses at that spot. Joe was armed with a .45-caliber six-shooter. Pearl carried an old Colt .44. She was dressed in men’s clothing, jeans, boots and a grey flannel shirt. Her hair had been cut short and was tucked beneath a white sombrero.
The coach appeared at the watering hole, then the pair ran in front of it, training their guns on the driver. Pearl took the driver’s six-shooter. Joe threatened the driver while Pearl robbed the passengers. A salesman forked over $350, a “tenderfoot” $36, and a “Chinaman” $5. Supposedly, Pearl returned a dollar apiece, out of feelings of charity, “enough to eat on”. The pair then ordered the stage to resume its journey. The robbers rode south, “into the hills”.
The pair failed to thoroughly plan their escape. Pearl and Joe became lost and wandered around for several days. The pair was discovered by a sheriff’s posse asleep next to a campfire. The bandits were arrested and taken to the Florence Jail in Pinal County. Because Pearl was a woman and the last person to rob a stagecoach, she became an overnight celebrity. Crowds of admirers visited Pearl in jail. She played the part of a ruffian and gave out autographs to her visiters.
Pearl was tried and convicted in Florence, then was sentenced to five years at the Yuma Territorial Prison. A special cell was prepared to segregate Pearl from the all male population. In a separate trial, Joe was convicted of highway robbery, then was sentenced to 30 years at the same prison.
While at Yuma Prison, Pearl had the distinction of being the only woman ever to serve a sentence there. She also became pregnant. There are several conflicting tales about what came next. Rumor had it that the prison warden was alarmed about the pregnancy. He was afraid that if the public found out, the ensuing scandal would destroy his career. Supposedly, the warden convinced the territorial governor to release Pearl. His excuse being that Yuma Prison lacked accommodations for women prisoners.
Following her “discrete” gubernatorial pardon, Pearl left for points East and got into trouble occasionally by committing petty crimes. Pearl also performed under an alias with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.
Her later life is shrouded in mystery. Apparently, Pearl married a rancher and lived an unremarkable private life with her husband on a ranch near Dripping Springs, Arizona. It is said that she spent her older years writing and gardening. When she died is also up for speculation. Some people claim she died in 1952, others say 1955.