Most everyone is aware of the numerous male outlaws and raiders who terrorized the country for years after the Civil War. Many aren’t aware of the many females who made their living robbing and thieving their way across the west. Here are six of the most notorious female desperados of the Wild West.
Hart was born in Lindsay, Canada in 1871. At age seventeen, she eloped to Chicago with gambler, Frederick Hart. It wasn’t long before she learned of his abusive nature and when she was 22 she left him.
Hart traveled to Arizona where she met a miner, Joe Boot. The lovers became robbers using a scheme where Hart enticed a man into her room, then Boot struck the unsuspecting victim on the head and robbed him. But after several close calls, Hart came up with a plan that was less risky and would bring in more money—robbing stagecoaches.
For the robbery, Hart cut her hair and disguised herself as a man. Boot’s job was to hold up the driver, while Hart took over $400 from the passengers, minus what she let them keep so they could get food and a hotel room. However, during their get-away, they got lost in the desert and after several days of wandering in the heat, they were exhausted and fell to sleep. They awoke to find themselves surrounded by the sheriff and his posse. At her trial Hart uttered the feminist phrase she’s famous for, “I shall not consent to be tried under a law in which my sex had no voice in making.” But the judge wasn’t moved by her argument and she was tried and convicted.
Pearl Hart was the most famous woman in Arizona. As the second woman to rob a stagecoach, and the first one not to die while doing it, journalists came from all over to interview and snap pictures of Pearl with a pistol in her hand. Hart was pardoned after serving 18 months due to the penitentiary’s lack of accommodations for women. But, there was a rumor that the real reason was that she got pregnant while in prison. Later, Hart briefly worked in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
It is unknown how Hart died and where she’s buried because Hart’s life after her release is shrouded in legend. One story is Hart married an Arizona rancher named Calvin Bywater and thereafter lived a quiet life of domestic bliss. If Mrs. Cal Bywater actually was Pearl Hart, she lived into her 80s.
Bullion’s father was a bank robber. She spent her teen years working as a prostitute until she joined Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Wild Bunch Gang where she became known as the “Rose of the Wild Bunch”. She and the other members of The Wild Bunch outlaw gang operated out of their Hole-in-the-Wall hide-out in Wyoming.
By selling stolen goods and making connections, Bullion was able to provide the gang with a steady supply of horses. She had on and off romantic relationships with various members of the Wild Bunch Gang. Occasionally, she dressed as a man and took part in train robberies. In 1901, she was arrested with $8,500 worth of stolen banknotes in her possession. When she was released from prison, Bullion retired from her life of crime and became an interior designer in Memphis, Tennessee.
Bullion died, the last surviving member of the Wild Bunch, on December 2, 1961, in Memphis Tennessee of heart disease.
Bullion is buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis Tennessee. Her gravestone is embossed with a rose and thorny vines and reads “The Thorny Rose.”
Belle Siddons was born on a wealthy southern plantation and spied for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Though she was caught and imprisoned, Siddons was pardoned after four months. Later, she married a gambler who taught her to play cards, becoming a dealer of the game 21.
Belle traveled to South Dakota after her husband died. There she opened a dance hall, bar, and gambling establishment and changed her name to Madame Vestal.
It was in the dance hall she owned that she met and fell in love with stagecoach robber, Archie McLaughlin. Siddons used her spy skills once more, this time to uncover information from stagecoach drivers, which she passed on to McLaughlin. Unfortunately, one night she slipped up and mentioned there was going to be a robbery. McLaughlin was caught, tried, and hung.
Siddons became a wandering drunk and died behind bars in a San Francisco jail in 1881 at 41 years of age.
There are no specifics as to where Siddons is buried but it’s most likely in the Golden Gate Cemetery which is San Francisco’s City Cemetery—their Potter’s Field.
Born in Oklahoma in 1879, Dunn became an outlaw when she fell in love with George Newcomb, a member of the Doolin Gang.
Dunn furnished the gang with ammunition and supplies since the gang members couldn’t go to town. Dunn saved Newcomb’s life when he was wounded during a shootout with U.S. Marshals. She dodged open fire and held off the Marshals with her rifle until Newcomb could get to safety. However, Rose’s bounty hunter brothers turned Newcomb in.
Dunn married Charles Noble in 1897. After the 1900 census, they moved to New Mexico. After Nobles died, Dunn married Richard Fleming in 1946 and moved to Lewis County, Washington.
Rose died at age 76, on June 11, 1955, in Lewis County, Washington. She is buried at the Salkum Cemetery in Lewis County, Washington.
Sarah Jane Newman was born in Illinois in 1817, but in 1822 her family was one of the first to settle in Stephen F. Austin‘s colony in Texas. When she was a child, she watched her mother, Rachel Newman, protect the family by cutting off the toes of a Comanche who tried to break down their front door.
Sally inherited her mother’s feisty spirit. It’s said she “cussed like a mule skinner, rode like a man, roped like a vaquero, and picked wildflowers with her bullwhip.” Like any gunslinger she always kept two revolvers strapped to her waist, and she was a fast draw and sure shot with both hands.
Twice a year she braved the perilous journey to Mexico to bring back a large heard of Mexican ponies, most likely stolen but no one could ever prove she was a horse thief. She’s also rumored to have murdered two of her five husbands. Most people thought better of questioning Skull too much about the horses or the husbands, and rightly so.
Skull’s headquarters was her 640-acre spread at Banquette in Nueces County, Texas. She was a Texas Bad Girl through and through.
After the Civil War, Skull’s fifth husband, “Horse Trough” Horsdorff reputedly murdered her to get her gold fortune, but he was never charged since her body was never found.
Skull’s death was as mysterious as her life, so her burial site is unknown.
Myra Maybelle Shirley was born in 1848 to a prosperous family in Missouri, who later moved to Texas in 1864. There she met members of the James-Younger Gang. In 1866, Starr married a horse thief named Jim Reed, who, in 1869, murdered a man.
After the murder, she and Reed fled to California. Reed was killed in 1874. Belle then joined the Starr Clan in California and married Samuel Starr.
Belle Starr was the mastermind behind the gang. Though she was arrested several times, the sheriffs never had enough evidence to put her away. It turns out Starr was as good at eluding the law as she was at stealing horses.
Starr was shot in the back in 1889 while riding home from the general store. Her murderer has never been identified. She is buried at her cabin in Porum, Muskogee County, Oklahoma.
In my latest book, Fletcher’s Pride, the heroine is tied to an outlaw gang. The book is on preorder with a release date of September 27.
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