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Female Outlaws Of The Wild West

Pearl Hart

As the United States grew and expanded in the latter part of the 19th century, and the cry across the country was "Westward Ho!," the images of cowboys and Indians, dangerous outlaws and justice-hungry sheriffs, became well known figures in popular culture. 

Belle Starr is probably the most well known of the female outlaws of the Wild West, although there is still very little written about her life. Born in 1848, Starr had a short affiliation with the James-Younger Gang, which included the notorious Jesse James. In 1883, she and her husband Sam Starr were first convicted of horse theft and Belle served 9 months in prison. In 1886, her husband was killed in a shootout, in which Belle herself may have actually shot and killed a U.S. Marshall.

Belle Starr lived the next few years of her life on the run from the law, although her romantic attachment to a long list of men became notoriously well known. She was eventually attacked two days before her 41st birthday in 1889, as she rode home from a neighbor's house on horseback. Starr was shot with her own double barrel shotgun by an unknown assailant. After her death, Belle Starr became a legendary figure in Wild West lore and was the subject of dozens of paperback dime store novels and in later years, and the star of many made for television movies. 

Laura Bullion, 'The Rose Of The Wild Bunch' was the daughter of an outlaw, so it seemed unsurprising that she should grow up to follow in her father's dangerous footsteps. In 1898, Bullion and her lover, Ben Kilpatrick, joined up with the Wild Bunch, a gang of train robbers led by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Known by the Bunch as "Della Rose," Bullion was responsible for fencing the money and goods that the gang stole during their robberies. In 1901, she was arrested and convicted for her involvement in the robberies, eventually serving three and a half years for the crimes. After her release, Bullion created a new life as an interior decorator, living quietly for the next 50 years, until her eventual death from natural causes in 1961. 

Canadian born Pearl Hart was 22 when she traveled to Chicago and became mesmerized by gunslinger Annie Oakley's performance in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. She teamed up with a male lover and become one of history's only legendary female stagecoach robbers. Known as the "Bandit Queen," Hart dressed as a man and terrorized stagecoaches with a .38 revolver. She then stole the riders' money and all their belongings. 

Pearl Hart spent much of 1899 on the run from the law, throughout the wide Arizona territory. When she was finally arrested and convicted of her crimes, Hart was a bit of a jailhouse celebrity, with reporters often visiting to interview and photograph the incarcerated "lady bandit." Hart was pardoned in 1902, with the requirement that she leave Arizona permanently. Most reports indicate that she lived a long life, without further incident, dying sometime around 1955. 

Rose Dunn, The 'Rose Of Cimarron' was with Newcomb when he fatally shot three U.S. Marshalls and by 1895, there was a $5,000 bounty on Newcomb's head. Unfortunately, it was Dunn's own brothers who would collect on the reward, acting on an accidental tip probably given to them by their sister Rose. What is most often said about Rose Dunn is first, that she was very beautiful, and second, that her infatuation with George "Bittercreek" Newcomb, whom she met in 1893 when she was just a teenager, was probably her worst, and maybe her only, mistake. For her part, Rose Dunn escaped her life of crime after Newcomb's death, eventually marrying a politician and living a life of respectable prominence. 

Eleanore Dumont, Madame Mustache known for the thick line of black hair that made its way above her upper lip, "Madame Mustache" was a successful gambler, perhaps the first female professional black jack player in the United States. She was born around 1829 in Louisiana, and had tremendous success at the gambling tables in the mining camps of Nevada in California, until her luck finally ran out. When she was robbed of everything by a lover and swindler in 1860, she "tracked him down and opened up on him with a double blast from a shotgun." She would spend the next few decades as a madame of her own whorehouse, firing her derringer pistol on customers that would not respect her strict rules. She committed suicide on September 8, 1879, after drinking a dose of red wine laced with morphine. 

Born in Hungary in 1850, Mary Katherine Horony-Cummings would spend most of her life with the moniker Big Nose Kate, for reasons that were, according to most sources, obvious at first glance upon the young woman's face. In the late 1870s, Kate, who was working as a prostitute, met the notorious "dentist" turned gambler and gunfighter, Doc Holliday. The two worked together, dealing cards, often teaming up with the Earp brothers in Tombstone, Arizona and seeking any possible—and illegal—opportunity to make money. 

The two may or may not have secretly wed around 1880, according to Kate. Both Kate and Holliday had horrible tempers, which made for a tumultuous relationship. They racked up gambling debts and reigned pistol fire, stealing horses and setting fires every where they roamed across Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota, and New Mexico. Kate's excessive drinking eventually led to discourse between the couple and Doc reportedly sent her packing around 1885. Kate wed a blacksmith in Arizona in 1888 and lived a quiet life thereafter, with most people never knowing of her remarkable history. 

Etta Place, described by the Pinkerton Detective Agency in 1906, as having "classic good looks, 27 or 28 years old, 5'4" to 5'5" in height, weighing between 110 lb and 115 lb, with a medium build and brown hair" was a woman highly shrouded in mystery. Her romantic attachment to the Sundance Kid, who was a member of the Wild Bunch with the famously criminal Butch Cassidy, connected her to a bevy of high profile and deadly crimes. 

Place was one of only a handful of women who was ever allowed access to Wild Bunch hideouts and she was known to travel with the Sundance Kid to many exotic locations throughout the world. The end of their relationship and the end of Place's life, for that matter, is shrouded in mystery. After The Sundance Kid was confirmed dead in 1909, the Pinkerton Agency lost complete track of Etta Place and she faded from history forever. 

Popular shows like "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" featured performers who demonstrated their shooting and riding prowess. Audiences traveled long distances to see female riders, such as Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley, two vaudeville female "outlaws," demonstrate their skills. As people flocked to view these circus-like performances on stage, the 1880s and 1890s were also a peak time for action among real life female outlaws in the western United States. 

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