Even though she only committed one robbery, Pearl Hart became a minor icon of Wild West mythology as one of the era’s few female outlaws, and it was on this day in 1899 that she committed that crime: One of the last stagecoach robberies.
Pearl Hart was born around 1871 to an affluent family in Lindsay, Ontario, Canada. At the age of 16 she eloped with a young man by the last name of Hart, a drunken gambler. Their rocky on-again, off-again marriage isn’t of any particularly notoriety, except for one event in 1893: During the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Mr. Hart worked as a midway barker, and while he was working, Pearl Hart regularly attended Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and began to fall in love with the Wild West. When the World’s Fair ended, Hart hopped a train to Trinidad, Colorado, leaving her husband behind.
By 1898, Hart had moved to the mining town of Mammoth, Arizona, working in either a boarding house or brothel, but when the mine closed, her finances took a severe hit. Desperate for money, Hart began working on a friend’s mining claim. However, when it became clear that there was no more gold to mine, Hart and her associate determined the best way to make some quick cash would be to rob the Globe to Florence, Arizona stagecoach.
The robbery occurred on May 30, 1899 just outside of Kane Springs Canyon. The Globe-Florence route was one of the last surviving stage coach routes and had not been robbed in years, and did not have a shotgun messenger riding alongside the driver. So, when Hart appeared dressed in men’s clothing and brandishing a .38 revolver, with her associate at her side with a Colt .45, it was easy pickings. They quickly held up the stage, taking the driver’s revolver, two pistols belonging to the passengers and $431.20. Before departing, Hart returned a single dollar to each passenger.
Of course, the law caught up with Hart soon enough when she and her partner were caught by deputies a week later. Hart put up a fight while her partner surrendered quietly. The novelty of a female stagecoach robber struck the public’s fancy and Hart became a media star, especially after she made a successful escape attempt in October. After two weeks on the lam, she was recaptured and forced to stand trial. Hart pleaded with the jury, saying that she only robbed because she needed money for her ailing mother. Amazingly, the jury found her not guilty, which inspired the furious judge to scold the jurors.
As soon as they were released, Hart and her partner were rearrested, this time on the charge of tampering with the U. S. mail. During this second trial, Hart was found guilty and sentenced to five years imprisonment. Despite being sent to the big house, Hart remained a subject of fascination. The warden came to enjoy the attention Hart brought his prison and gave her a large cell with a yard and plenty of opportunities to speak with reporters.
She was pardoned by Arizona’s governor three years into her sentence, the reasons for which were never made clear. After leaving prison, she went on tour recreating her famous crime for paying audiences, and amusingly enough even spent some time as a member of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. In 1904, Hart was running a cigar store in Kansas City, and it’s said that in 1928, Hart made a surprise appearance at the Tuscon jail she was imprisoned in and asked to visit her old cell…and that was the last anyone heard from Pearl Hart. Various reports claim that Pearl Hart sightings were made as late as 1960, but her true fate remains unknown.
Let’s toast Pearl Hart’s stagecoach robbery with decidedly western cocktail called Stagecoach. It’s a bright and aromatic cocktail with a slight citric notes that’s as mysterious and complex as Pearl Hart’s life.
- 1 1/2 ounce Reposado Tequila
- 3/4 ounce Punt e Mas Sweet Vermouth
- 1/2 ounce lime juice
- 2 dashes Fee Bros Aztec Chocolate Bitters
- 1 or 2 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters
- 1/4 amber abave nectar
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Tomorrow: Punk rock’s greatest moment.