Female outlaws of the Wild West: photos


When most people think of outlaws, they picture characters like Jesse James or Billy the Kid. But it was not just men who ruled the Wild West.

These rare images taken in the 19th century reveal the female outlaws who held their own when it came to criminal behaviour on the old American frontier.

In the popular imagination, unlawful cowboys and bandits dominated the rugged landscape of the Wild West.

But the frontier was also home to female outlaws who were very different to the helpless dames typically portrayed in the standard Hollywood Western film.

The fascinating collection show some of these “ladies of ill repute” who a cowboy would not dare cross in an old west saloon.

The photographs show hard-drinking and gun-slinging women like Pearl Hart who became one of the most infamous characters in the Wild West when she robbed a stagecoach in Arizona in 1899.

Other female trailblazers who gave their male counterparts a run for their money include Belle Starr — the mastermind behind the horse-thieving and bootlegging “Starr Clan’. A close friend of Jesse James, Belle became wealthy from her criminal exploits and evaded sheriffs on the American Frontier for years.

Although little known today, some of these women were legendary during their lives and shocked society with their ruthless and unladylike behaviour — such as the unflappable outlaw Laura Bullion who robbed trains with the Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch and Big Nose Kate who broke legendary gunfighter Doc Holliday out of jail.

Women of the American Wild West had to be a resourceful to cope with the elements that surrounded them: the harsh conditions, lawlessness and living in an age where there were few amenities.

Whilst for many female settlers who made the trek west with their families, their lot was in raising children, running a household, establishing schools and churches, and occasionally, warding off Indian attacks.

Other women in the wild west took to the gun as readily as any man and made lives for themselves apart from dignified society.

The 19th century American frontier provided an opportunity for female pioneers to turn to a life of law-breaking. Free from the conventions of traditional city life, women experienced a lot more social and economic freedom on the American Frontier. They could run businesses, own land, and engage in politics or crime if they wanted.

Many of the women taking advantage of this freedom found their livelihoods through ‘unladylike’ ventures like gambling, larceny or prostitution, professions that brought them in close contact with gangs that roamed the frontier.

But what all these gun-toting wild women of the Wild West had in common was a need to survive in an extremely trying environment.

BELLE STARR (1848 -1889)

Myra Maybelle Shirley Reed Starr better known as Belle Starr, was a notorious American outlaw queen.

Born to a prosperous family in Missouri, Belle could have easily enjoyed a life as a wealthy housewife. But growing up, Belle preferred learning to shoot a gun outdoors and the company of her childhood friends — the infamous Jesse James and the Younger brothers. Belle later became associated with their crew, the James-Younger gang — who became legendary for their robberies of banks, trains and stagecoaches in at least ten different states.

In 1866, Belle married horse thief and murderer, Jim Reed. But when Jim was shot to death whilst the couple were on the run, Belle joined the Starr Clan and married a Cherokee man — Samuel Starr — giving her the name that would forever be associated with the legend of her life. It was then that she submerged herself in outlawry.

Belle became the mastermind behind the gang who were unrivalled in the Wild West at stealing horses. As the leader of the Starr Clain, Belle was arrested several times, but it seemed she was just as good at eluding sheriffs as she was at stealing horses — they never had enough evidence to put her away for good and she was often able to bribe them with earnings from her lucrative horse-thieving and bootlegging enterprises.

In 1886, her beloved husband Samuel Starr was killed in a gun fight and for the last two-plus years of her life, gossips and scandal sheets linked Belle to a series of men with colourful reputations, including Jack Spaniard, Jim French and Blue Duck.

In 1889, Belle was shot several times with a shotgun while riding home from a neighbour’s house in Oklahoma. Her murderer is still unknown.

PEARL HART (1871-1928)

Pearl Hart was a Canadian-born outlaw of the American Old West — who committed one of the last recorded stagecoach robberies in the United States and became notorious for the shocking heist.

As a teenager, Pearl became fascinated with the cowboy lifestyle and whilst operating a tent brothel near a local mine in Arizona, she developed a fondness for hard liquor, cigars and morphine.

Pearl’s first foray into crime however came when she fell into hard financial times when the mine closed — causing her to lose many of her brothel’s mining clients. Looking to raise money, Pearl and an acquaintance known only as “Joe Boot” hatched a plan to rob a stagecoach that travelled between Glibe and Florence, Arizona in 1899.

For the robbery, Pearl cut her hair and dressed as a man and stole over $400 from the stagecoach passengers — a small fortune at the time. Following the heist, Pearl went on the run in the desert but was eventually caught by sheriffs.

Being the second woman to rob a stagecoach and the first one not to die while doing so, Hart instantly became the most famous woman in Arizona. Journalists came from all over to interview and photograph Hart with her gun.

Hart served 18 months in jails before receiving a pardon. After being released from prison, Hart had a brief stint in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and later ran a cigar store in Kansas City.

LAURA BULLION (1876—1961)

Born in Knickerbocker, Texas, Laura Bullion worked as a prostitute in Fannie Porter’s famed brothel in nearby San Antonio. It was here that Laura began a relationship with outlaw and member of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch, William “News” Carver.

Although Carver initially denied Laura’s pleas to join the gang at first, he eventually relented. The group admired her skill at selling stolen goods and assisting their train robberies — and she was nicknamed the “Rose of the Wild Bunch” by them.

When Laura was eventually arrested after her involvement in Greath Northern train robbery in 1901, the Chief of Detectives Desmond noted of her “I would’nt [sic] think helping to hold up a train was too much for her. She is cool, shows absolutely no fear”

Laura Bullion was released from prison in 1905 and lived the remainder of her life as a seamstress, dying in Memphis, Tennessee in 1961, the last of the Wild Bunch.

CALAMITY JANE (1852-1903)

Martha Jane Canary, better known as Calamity Jane, was a Wild West woman known for her sharpshooting, whiskey-swilling and daredevil ways — as well as her habit for wearing men’s attire.

After being orphaned at the age of twelve, Jane was forced to move from place to place and took on any work she could to survive on the American Frontier.

It was also during this time that Jane started adopting a ‘male’ persona and in 1875, she travelled with an US Army troop into the Black Hills of South Dakota — where she fought in several campaigns in the long-running military conflicts against the Native Americans and got the moniker ‘Calamity Jane’.

She soon drifted to the lawless town of Deadwood, South Dakota where she survived as gun-toting prostitute and befriended outlaw Wild Bill Hickok. It was claimed that after Will Bill’s death, unruly Jane went after his murderer with a meat cleaver.

Calamity Jane’s fame grew even more in 1895 when she joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show performing sharpshooting skills astride a horse — and immortalising her as one of the most colourful characters of the American Frontier. Eventually, the hard life and her alcoholism caught up with her and Jane died at age 51.

ROSE DUNN (1878-1955)

Known for her good looks and charm, Rose Dunn became an outlaw when she fell in love with George “Bittercreek” Newcomb, a member of the Wild Bunch gang led by Bill Doolin. The Wild Bunch, also known as the Oklahombres, were known for robbing banks and holding up trains. All of its members eventually met a bloody end. Dunn participated in the gang by providing them with ammunition and supplies when members could not go to town.

Dunn once saved Newcomb when he was wounded by U.S. marshals. Legend says she dodged open fire and held off the marshals with her own rifle until he could get to safety.

She was never prosecuted for her involvement with the gang but her short outlaw life launched her to the level of western legend. Rose eventually settled down with a local politician.

BIG NOSE KATE (1850—1940)

Originally from Hungary, Mary Katharine Haroney — more commonly known as ‘Big Nose Kate’ to her clients — travelled to Kansas at age sixteen to seek her fortune as a prostitute. Whilst working as a prostitute in Fort Griffin, Texas, she began a relationship with one of the deadliest gunslingers Doc Holliday — which lasted until his death.

Kate began the next several years acting as Holliday’s sidekick — and even broke him out of jail in 1877 by starting a fire and pulling a gun on the prison guard.

She was closely associated with Holliday in the days leading up to the Gunfight in the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881 — which is generally regarded as the most famous shootout in Wild West history.

Kate was a key witness and watched the gunfight — which was the result of a long simmering feud between cowboys and politicians and has been portrayed in numerous Western films — from the window of a boarding house.


Etta Place was the companion of the American outlaws Butch Cassidy (real name Robert LeRoy Parker) and the Sundance Kid (Harry Alonzo Longabaugh), both members of the outlaw gang known as the Wild Bunch.

Etta assisted Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in certain heists and her name was strewn across Wanted posters in the Old West. Etta went on the run and fled the two outlaws to Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1901. The rest of Etta’s life and identity is shrouded in mystery.

Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here