Anniversary Post: Pearl Hart

Pearl HartLet’s just call this Pearl Hart Day. On this day in 1899, she committed one of the last recorded stagecoach robberies. She was a colorful character.

Born sometime around 1871, Hart was raised in an upper middle class home in Canada. In her late teens, while at boarding school, she fell in love with a bad boy. The two of them had two children, which Pearl quickly shipped off to be raised by her mother. And the two of them had an turbulent relationship, finally splitting up in 1893. She then made her way to Colorado.

For a while, she made a living doing various things. It would seem that she primarily got by based upon her looks — even working as a prostitute and madam at one point. But one day, Hart received news that her mother was ill and she needed to come home. Around this time, she hooked up with a guy named Joe Boot. The two of them tried to make some money by mining for gold, but that didn’t work. So they came up with the idea of robbing the stagecoach.

Apparently, stagecoach robberies were such a thing of the past that there was no shotgun man on the vehicle. So the two of them managed to rob it and get away with $431.20 — well in excess of $10,000 today. But within a week, a posse managed to track them down and bring them to jail. Hart escaped before the trial, but was caught two weeks later. At the trial, she gave an impassioned speech about how she wasn’t a criminal and only did what she did to get home to see her dying mother. And the jury found them both not guilty.

The two were quickly arrested again on another charge, mail tampering. It sounds like a set-up to me. Regardless, Joe Boot was given a 30 year sentence. Hart was given just 5 years. But within two years, Joe boot escaped and was never heard from again. It was doubtless easier for a single man to get away than it ever was for a woman. What’s more, Pearl Hart had been widely photographed, so people knew what she looked like. However, she was given a pardon by the governor after two years under the condition that she get the hell out of the territory.

After her life of crime, she went on to star in a show where her robbery was recreated and then she spoke of the horrors of her life in prison. (It doesn’t sound like it was that bad; it sounds like she managed the situation rather well.) She would later do various things, including work for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. And then, after 1928, she disappeared from the historical record. It is thought she lived into the 1950s and maybe even to 1960.

Happy Pearl Hart Day!

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