Monday, April 1, 2024

The Story of Pearl Hart

Story by Terry McGahey 

When most of us think about Old West outlaws robbing trains, banks, stagecoaches, or others, what comes to mind are the James Gang, the Wild Bunch, the Daltons, and several others. But one of the last stagecoach holdups in the United States was actually perpetrated in part by a Canadian-born woman by the name of Pear Hart.

Pearl was born Pearl Tayler in 1871, received a very good education, and by late teenage years she met a man by the last name of Hart. Being very enamored with Hart, Pearl married him and had two children, one boy and one girl. 

Hart turned out to be a drunk and a gambler, and because of their unsteady relationship, Pearl sent the children to live with her mother in Ohio. Even though their marriage was on-again-and-off-again, they would be together at different times during their marriage history.

Pearl left her husband at the end of the Chicago World Fair which they attended and boarded a train for Trinidad Colorado. While in Trinidad she worked as a cook and it is speculated she also worked as a soiled dove (prostitute). By 1898, Pearl had ended up in Mammoth, Arizona, also working as a cook in a boardinghouse as best known about her at that time.

Once the mines had played out in the area, Pearl fell upon hard times financially and received a message to return to her mother's home because her mother had fallen seriously ill. 

During this time period, Pearl knew a man who went by the name of Joe Boot. But who knows if that was his true name. Boot was working a worthless mining claim at the time being financially busted also so the two decided they could get some quick cash by robbing the stagecoach which ran between Globe and Florence Arizona.

On May 30th, 1899, Boot and Pearl met the stage in Cane Springs which was a well-known water stop on that route about 30 miles Southeast of Globe. While Boot held a gun on the driver and passengers, Pearl who had cut her hair and was dressed in men’s clothes collected $431.00 from the victims which would equal about $15,000.00 today. Pearl then took the driver's revolver and gave each one of the passengers back one dollar before the two galloped off on their horses.

There hadn’t been a holdup on this route for quite some time so there was no longer a messenger (shotgun rider) on this run. The stage driver then unhitched one of the horses and rode to notify Sheriff Truman of Pinal County of the robbery.

The sheriff formed a posse and caught up with Boot and Pearl on June 5th, 1899, while they were sleeping. Boot was held in Florence, Arizona, while Pearl was being held in Tucson. On October 29th, 1899, Pearl escaped the Tucson jail by digging an eighteen-inch hole in the poorly constructed walls of the jail -- but she was caught shortly afterward. 

Pearl and Boot were sent to trial in October of 1899. In court, Pearl used her femininity with the story of only needing the money to return home to her very ill mother and the jury found the two not guilty. The verdict resulted in the judge becoming irate with the jury afterward for not doing their duty.

San Diego Newspaper Clipping, October, 1899

Boot and Pearl were later re-arrested and found guilty of tampering with the U.S. mail. Both were then sent to the Yuma Territorial Prison, Joe Boot had become a prison trustee driving supply wagons to the chain gangs and while doing so he had escaped. He was never heard from or seen again. He had served less than two years before his escape. 

Meanwhile, Pearl had become somewhat of a media "Darling" while in Yuma. And, since there were no provisions for a woman in the prison, Pearl was placed in a private cell that had a small yard attached to it where she would give interviews to reporters and other visitors.

Pearl received a pardon from the Territorial Governor Alexander Brodie in December of 1902 and she was given a train ticket to Kansas City. She then used an alias and worked for the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show for a time. In 1940 a census taker claimed that he had discovered Pearl Hart being remarried and living in Arizona under her married name. 

When Pearl Hart actually passed away is somewhat of a mystery. Some say she passed in 1955 in Gila County, Arizona, which is most likely, but some say 1925 in Kansas City and others say San Francisco in 1952.

About the Author

Terry McGahey
Associate Writer/ Old West Historian

Terry has been a working cowboy, a writer, and an Old West historian. He is best known for his fight against the City of Tombstone and their historic City Ordinance Number 9.

He was instrumental in getting the famous Tombstone City Ordinance Number 9 repealed while at the same time forcing the City of Tombstone to fall in line and comply with the laws of the State of Arizona.

If you care to read how he fought Tombstone's City Hall and won, check out: