Our favorite Old Wild West sure had sheriffs, criminals, pastors, cowboys, ranchers and many other men…But wait a minute! What about the women of the era? 

Despite the patriarchal society people were living in, there were some women that were brave, strong and…badasses! 

Well, darling, today’s topic is about them! Make yourself comfortable, pour a glass of whiskey in your glass—you’ll need it—and get ready to meet six of the most notorious female outlaws from the Wild West!

Calamity Jane

    

I couldn’t have started this article with anyone else. But let’s take things from the start. Calamity Jane, a.k.a. Martha Jane Canary was born in Missouri, but her family decided to head to Montana while searching for gold. By the age of fifteen, after the death of her parents, Canary was left on her own, with her siblings. She went to Wyoming and the following years she worked in a boarding school, danced with soldiers, worked as a laundress and also as a prostitute. 

How Did She Become Calamity?

Well, that’s an easy one to answer! She liked to dress like a man, scorning the dressing code of the women of the era, she was an excellent shooter, rider and—what else of course?— a hard drinker! She was one of the first white women to enter the Black Hills of South Dakota. I bet she could chew tobacco way easier than the…notorious tough men of her era!

So, about her nickname…

Even though there are many rumors around this topic until now, here are the two most popular ones I found:

  • Number 1: She rescued a man from his horse during a raid by Native Americans. Shot by the Indians, she managed to pull him onto her own steed. He said to her: “I name you Calamity Jane, the heroine of the plains.”

  • Number 2: She chose this nickname because she claimed that if someone offended her, it was like committing a “court calamity”…which simply means it would be like someone offended the court!

And the Romantic Part Of the Story

In July 1876, she joined a wagon train headed north, which is where she first met Wild Bill Hickok. She became friends with him and they were in Deadwood together. She must really have admired Wild Bill because after his death she claimed to have been married to him. Furthermore, she admitted she was the father of her child, whom she said was born on September 25th, 1873 but was given for adoption. Unfortunately, we’ll never know if that was true because there are no records to prove the birth of a child. The fact, though, is that before her death, Calamity Jane’s last wish was to be buried next to Wild Bill. I get emotional every time I read or write about this story…

In Conclusion

Despite her tough character and image, Jane had a really hard life. And also despite her upbringing, she always wanted to take care of people in need—her siblings, her friends, probably her sweethearts. Kind, fair, sweet were, in fact, the most distinctive characteristics of her extraordinary personality. 

Pearl Heart

Our second lady—and what a lady was she!— is…who else? Pearl Heart! 

Educated and coming from a middle-class family, she became one of the most notorious female outlaws. Her specialty? Stagecoach robberies! 

Being young, attractive and adventurous, Pearl eloped with Frederick Hart, who eventually proved to be abusive, a drunkard and a gambler. When Pearl realized who he really was, she left him and moved to Colorado. She became a saloon singer, but when she found out that she was pregnant with Fred’s child, she went back to her family. She gave birth to a boy that she left to her mother.

Love, Sadness, Love…

Sometime later, Frederick Hart and Pearl got back together and Frederick tried to live a domestic life—to find a decent job so that he can be able to support his family. They also had a second child together. But after a while, Frederick couldn’t handle the family life and Pearl left him, for the second time. She, again, returned to her family along with her second child. But the taste of the West she had gotten was enough for her to leave her family again and move to Arizona alone, where she fell for Joe Boot! 

An Almost Successful Robbery

With her new love, they decided they needed to make some extra money by holding up a stagecoach, even though neither of them had any previous experience in robberies. However, in 1899, Pearl (dressed as a man) and Boot stopped a stage on the run between Globe and Florence. Their first robbery would have been successful if Pearl and Boot hadn’t chosen such an obvious trail, which eventually led the sheriff of Pinal County to them, arresting the young couple four days later. Ironic, isn’t it? 

They managed to hold up the stage but they were caught while trying to escape…

What Happened To Them?

Joe Boot was sentenced to thirty years and Pearl to five. Neither of them served out their terms, though. After several years of good behavior, Joe was released and people never heard from him again.. Pearl somehow got pregnant after a year in prison. For this sole reason, Governor Alexander O. Brodie pardoned her. It would be a disaster for the government to explain how Pearl got pregnant, in a prison facility…

Eleanor Dumont

Photograph source: https://www.legendsofamerica.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/eleanoredumont.jpg

A businesswoman of her era…

With her French accent, she showed up in Nevada City all of a sudden. Her plan? To open up a casino! Her business was so successful that she opened a second one. But over time she got tired of that kind of life, so she bought a ranch and stayed away from her previous activities. She fell in love with a man named Jack McKnight, but as it turned out, he was a conman, who sold her ranch and ran away. Eleanor’s nickname? Madame Moustache! 

What Did She Do?

This independent, dynamic, high tempered woman tracked Jack McKnight down and shot him dead. Broke but not guilty, she went back to gambling and created an even larger name for herself. There were many hilarious stories of her foiling robbers or threatening steamboats at gunpoint. Her ending though was a real tragedy…She killed herself when her gambling debts became too large as she couldn’t pull it through. 

Well, dear, one thing is certain: her reputation lived and will surely continue to do so!

Mary Fields

Mary Fields, known as “Stagecoach Mary”, wasn’t an outlaw—she simply was incredibly tough. She was born into slavery under harsh conditions. After being emancipated at the age of thirty, she went west, to Montana. She was very tall and extremely strong, so she worked as a general handyman and laborer at a school for Native American girls. She had quite a reputation for her strength, her stiffness and her participation in fights with people who annoyed her. At some point, the local medical examiner claimed that she had broken more noses than any other person in central Montana!

Rumor has it that one time she got stranded on a supply run and fought off wild wolves at gunpoint! 

One day during another epic fight, Marie was fired from her position after having a shootout behind the school. At the age of sixty, Fields went to work for the U.S. Postal Service. That way she became the first black woman to work for the service. After so many years of driving coaches and traveling hundreds of miles, she retired by starting her own cleaning services. 

I think we all agree that this woman was a real fighter, right?

Bonnie Parker

Bonnie was a bright student who wanted to become an actress. Until she found love…

At the age of nineteen, Bonnie met the twenty-year-old ex-con, Clyde Barrow. The two fell immediately in love and Bonnie joined Clyde’s gang. Next to Clyde, she became a full-time thief and a…wait for it…murderer! Bonnie and Clyde followed a two-year criminal career during which they crossed five states and killed thirteen civilians. In 1933, a warrant was released for Bonnie and Clyde’s arrest. After a year, they died in an ambush together. 

Bonnie and Clyde were partners in life and in…crime!

Madam Vestal

Photograph source: http://www.treasurenet.com/forums/old-photos-south-dakota/597482-belle-siddons-aka-madame-vestal-confederate-spy.html

Belle Siddons, a.k.a. Madam Vestal was born and raised by a politically powerful St. Louis family. During the Civil War, she decided to use her good looks and became a Confederate spy at the age of twenty-five. She was caught and imprisoned but pardoned after four months.

Later, she married a gambling man named Newt Hallett, who taught her how to play cards. Finding that she was naturally good at the game, she became a famous dealer of the game 21.

When Newt died of yellow fever and Belle had to support herself, she followed the Gold Rush and set up shop in South Dakota. As the owner of her own dance hall, bar and gambling establishment, she became “Madame Vestal”.

In her establishment, she met and fell in love with the stagecoach robber Archie McLaughlin. Using her skills and beauty once again, she became a spy and retracted information from stagecoach drivers that she passed on to her lover.

Unfortunately, one night she let slip that there was going to be a robbery. You can imagine what followed. McLaughlin was caught, tried, and hung.

Belle found a company in her whiskey…She was last seen during an arrest in San Francisco in 1881.

Towards The End (For Now)

And now I think it’s time to end this article. Let’s finish our drinks, sweetheart because I think we all need a final glass after what we learned today!

But that’s our sweet Old West…full of outlaws, scandals, forbidden romances, passionate love stories, marriages, drinks, shootings, saloons and many, many more! It is fascinating that, behind the cruelty and the rough times of the era, there was always love, romance, and sweet stories to soothe the realism and the difficulties of life. 

Thank you for staying with me till the end of this article. I’m so grateful! 

If you enjoyed it, I’d be happy to see your comment below, or perhaps your email in my inbox! 

Have a blessed day!

 

Written by Clarice Mayfield

46 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for those wonderful stories of tough, bad, but loving women of old times. You don’t hear much about them, usually of only men. I would love to hear more stories like this.

  2. Hi Clarice,
    As I don’t live in the USA so I haven’t a lot of knowledge of the old west,so I found your article about the some of the woman of the west very interesting, the only one I have heard of was calamity Jane,that was because of the musical film.hope you have a great day Joyce Dodd

  3. I think that these women were the leaders of today’s exceptional women who have not been able to get their lives figured out. They just wanted to be recognized for what they were, not what they did. Women today want to be able to be themselves and not have to conform to society’s idea of what they are supposed to become. Just think how would you feel if you were living in their time and had to do those things or worse just to live and get by.

  4. I never knew how many women were outlaws until I did research. Thank you for sharing a couple I haven’t heard of or knew anything about. Quite an eye opener.

  5. Wow!! What an assortment of unlawful women!! Here in Australia we don’t have such notorious women of the late 1800’s but lots of bushrangers, or robbers & murderers. Ned Kelly to name a famous one. Then there was Captain Midnite/Midnight also of this ilk. I am curious to do some research on the role of notorious women in the Australian bush.

  6. Very informative as several of these women were new to me however I once worked with a young woman that claimed to be a relative of Bonnie Parker. I enjoyed reading

  7. A post script to my above comment: I found the names of two well know female bushrangers. They are Jesse Hickman & Mary Jane Bugg. Just google their names & the info will come up. Apparently the Australian Broadcasting Company is going to make a film about the life of Jessie Hickman but when?? Mary Ann Bugg was part Aboriginal.
    Yay!! for the Australian female bushranger. Nothing much was written about them as early Australian writers/reporters were more interested in the male bushranger, indeed women were really invisible in early Australian history.

  8. History is always fascinating and you are right, women’s stories are not published very often. I believe my grandparents saw Calamity Jane in the Wild Bill show.

  9. Oh my gosh….. this was great reading about these women. I knew about Bonnie Parker. And knew some about Calamity Jane but not really that much. I am from Ohio and I read a lot about Annie Oakley….. no she was not a criminal but she was in a Wild West Show since she was such a sharpshooter. Her life was very interesting as she had it pretty hard when she was 9 until she was about 15. Belle Starr would have been a good one to write about too. Whew her life was most interesting. Thank you for sharing the lives of the women. Most interesting they were.

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