Pearl Hart, the first woman stage robber and she got famous for it

Time Before Now – May, 1899 – William McKinley was president, only to be assassinated two years later in Buffalo, New York.  Mt. Rainier was the country’s newest National Park and John Thermer received a patent for the first power vacuum cleaner. (Left)

May 30, 1899

On this day, the “Bandit Queen,” Pearl Hart stuck up the stage 30 miles southwest of Globe, Arizona, writing herself into the history books as the West’s first and only female stagecoach robber.

It was also Hart’s first serious criminal enterprise.  Dressed as a man, (right) she and a German drifter named Joe Boot, relieved passengers of $431, a bit over $13,000 today, plus two fire arms of unrecorded value and botched the get-away by wondering the countryside in circles.

The stage driver unhitched the lead horse, reported the robbery and six days later a posse led by the Pinal County sheriff caught up with the amateur outlaws sound asleep. Boot surrendered without incident while Pearl tried to avoid capture.  Boot was taken to nearby Florence but  lacking facilities for women prisoners, Hart was transported to Tucson. When the media got wind of the “lady bandit” novelty, they began clamoring for interviews.

Hart (left) proclaimed herself a feminist, saying she wouldn’t be tried under laws passed only by men.  Her life up to that point, however, had been dominated by men.  Born in the Canadian mill town of Linsey, Ontario, in 1871, she was raised by affluent and religious parents.  At 16 while in boarding school she met and eloped with an abusive gambler known only as Hart, whom she left and reconciled with numerous times.  

Lindsey, Ontario circa 1895

After sending her two children back to her mother in Canada, the Harts did a stint at the Chicago World’s Fair.  Enthralled with the cowboys in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, she again left Hart for Denver, reportedly in the company of a piano player named, (seriously) Dan Bandman.  Sometime in the next five years she landed in Monmoth, Arizona, minus the piano player.  She reportedly worked as a cook, a saloon singer and perhaps the madam of a tent bordello. It was here she hooked up with the unlucky Joe Boot. (Left)

 Just weeks before her trial, Hart wiggled out an 18-inch hole in the wall of the of the lath and plaster room where she was being held and escaped with the aid of an unnamed accomplice.  She was recaptured two weeks later in Deming, New Mexico.

 Boot and Hart were reuinted for a trial in October.  The jury’s”not guilty” verdict enraged Judge Fletcher Doan.(Left) The pair was immediately rearrested following acquittal for robbery on charges of tampering with the U.S. mail.   They were not so lucky the second time around.  Poor Joe Boot received a 30-year sentence, Pearl got five years and both were shipped off to the Yuma Territorial Prision.  

Again famous mostly for her gender, she was the first female inmate in Yuma.   But her stay was shorter than expected. After serving just three years of her sentence, Hart was pardoned by Arizona’s territorial governor, Alexander Brodie, amidst a flurry of rumors that she was pregnant under circumstances that would embarrass the governor – or the warden.  Insiders claimed she had carried on a an affair with her head jailer.  There was never any proof of the scandel or that she was given a ticket to Kansas City with instructions never to return to Arizona. 

Hart (standing at right) with two other female Yuma prisoners 

As for Boot, he soon became a trustee, assigned to drive a supply wagon to the chain gangs.  He was, by all accounts, a model prisioner up until the day  a year and half later he escaped, never to be heard of again.

Following her release Hart had a short run re-enacting her crime for paying audiences.   Other accounts say she performed with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.  She apparently really did manage a Kansas City cigar store where she had another encounter with the law.  Charged with receiving stolen property, she was once again aquitted.  

It was at this point the Bandit Queen bid goodby to center stage and was believed to have lived happily ever after under an assumed name with husband two, George Calvin Bywater.  According to at least one source, Hart died December 28, 1955, in Globe, Arizona, at the age of 78.

Hart’s  misadventures got a slim mention in the early 1900s film “Yuma City” and  in 2006 a short-lived musical, The Legend of Pearl Hart was based upon her story.

Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, 220 North Prison Hill Road, Giss Parkway, Yuma, Arizona, opened in the summer of 1876.  It finally closed  more than three decades later and became part of the Arizona parks system in 1961. 

During its 33 years as a correctional institution a number of notorious inmates were housed there including gunfighter “Buckskin Frank” Leslie, Pete Spence, a suspect in the murder of Morgan Earp and the Bandit Queen herself, Pearl Hart.  The gun used in her ill-fated stage robbery is on display in the museum.  Now on the National Register of Historic Places in the Yuma Crossing National Heritage Area the park is reopening June 1 with new health and safety regulations. 

A gift shop and modern restrooms are located at the park’s Visitor Center, open 9 to 5, Thursday through Monday, June 1 to September 30 and 9 to 5 daily from October 1 to May 31.  Admission is $8 for adults, $4 for youth, 7 to 13, and children 6 and under free.  For more information go to, call (928) 783-4771 or write Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park, 220 N. Prison Hill Road. Yuma, AZ 85364

© Text Only – 2020 – Headin’ West LLC  – All photos – public domain or fair use.

*Head On West strives for historic accuracy and uses a number of sources considered reliable.  When research differs on significant facts, the various points of view will be cited.