She was five foot two and weighed in at around 110 pounds. Nobody ever described her as pretty, but a lot of men thought she was sort of cute. She had a lush little figure that drove the boys crazy, and she used it.
Her name was Pearl Hart, a name that fit neatly into headlines in Arizona Territory and the rest of the nation in the 1890s and early 1900s. She was a real tiger – mean enough to shake up the strongest of men, or she could be coy, flirtatious, sweet and very feminine.
She arrived in Arizona sometime in the 1890s after a stint in Silver city, New Mexico and El Paso. She had found, by now, that she could handle men – and she made a profit at it.
She landed in the Mammoth, Arizona mining camp and went into business with another girl. There she met Joe Boot – a tin-horn at everything he tried. As the production of the mine dropped off, Pearl Hart looked for other work to do.
She and Joe decided to rob the Globe-to-Florence stage. They laid out the ideal spot for the heist – the Gila River crossing near Kelvin.
Unfortunately, neither Pearl Hart nor Joe Boot owned a horse – so they had to walk to the site on foot. Pearl had disguised herself, she thought, in men’s clothing, but that curvy, five-foot-two figure and curly blonde hair couldn’t be hidden completely.
The story goes that Pearl held her rifle pointed at the stage drivers and collected guns from everybody while Joe collected from the passengers. Joe was pretty mad when they hauled in only $300 for their work.
When the stage had finally disappeared along the road to Florence, Joe and Pearl suddenly realized that they had over-looked something important – they hadn’t figured a plan for escape. They still had no horses and they couldn’t return the way they came. So, they set out for Benson, almost 100 miles south, on foot – following the Gila River as far as they could. The walk through the desert was grueling and long. Not many people would survive such a long and dusty hike, but after three full days they made the edge of town. There they planned to hitch a ride on a cattle train to the east, and out of Arizona.
They caught the train all right, but it took them west to Casa Grande where they were immediately captured by the sheriff. The word had gotten around about the heist, and everyone knew who it was. Even through all the grime of the desert walk, Pearl couldn’t get away with a disguise.
The whole nation was caught up by the tale of this tiny, alluring, female bandit. The dime novels spread through the nation. The federal authorities in Arizona Territory had no choice.
Pearl was – eventually – convicted of a federal offense and sent to the famous Territorial Prison at Yuma – with some of the toughest hombres in the west. But, she didn’t stay long.
She spent only three years in the Yuma prison before she was quietly paroled and disappeared. There seems to be something fishy about the shortness of her jail time. It would be fifty years before the public would hear the rumor that she had been released because she was going to have a baby. The Territorial officials surely didn’t want that scandal on their hands.
The legend goes that this little renegade didn’t go far – word still persists that Pearl merely took a stage to Prescott where she got a job as a school teacher. I can’t verify that part of the story, but it appears that Pearl Hart may have won again. It’s hard to keep a good girl down.