‘Wildcat’ Book Review | Historynet

Wildcat: The Untold Story of Pearl Hart, the Wild West’s Most Infamous Girl Bandit, by John Boessenecker, Hanover Sq. Press, New York, 2021, $28.99

Maybe no different historic Western determine has been obscured by as a lot misinformation and delusion as Pearl Hart. However because the title of this biography suggests, award-winning writer and Wild West particular contributor John Boessenecker has uncovered the onetime stagecoach robber’s true story—and it’s extra fascinating than the legend. One reality the numerous accounts of Hart’s life do get proper is that on Might 30, 1899, she and a person who referred to as himself Joe Boot held up a stage
in Arizona Territory, disarmed all aboard and stole their cash, bizarrely returning 4 silver {dollars} to every of the passengers. “Individuals,” writes Boessenecker “have been concurrently shocked and thrilled by the idea of an actual girl bandit.” That one crime, he says, made her essentially the most notorious girl in America close to the flip of the twentieth century.

Hart was a rarity on the Western frontier, a infamous girl who was really a bandit. As Boessenecker factors out, Annie Oakley was a sharpshooter, Calamity Jane a prostitute and camp follower, Belle Starr a consort of outlaws, and Ellen “Cattle Kate” Watson a homesteader hanged for alleged cattle rustling. However Pearl was not the first feminine stage robber. “In 1874 teenaged Lizzie Keith, together with her lover Fred Wilson, held up a stagecoach within the Coast Vary sound of Hollister, California,” the writer notes. One other delusion is that Pearl and her paramour dedicated the final stage theft in Arizona; there have been 5 extra over the subsequent seven years. Whereas the stage hold-up made her well-known, Hart’s story in any other case stays compelling. “Pearl Hart,” Boessenecker writes, “broke all of the taboos after which some. She swore, smoked, drank, robbed, rode laborious, broke jail and used males with abandon. The Outdated West by no means noticed one other girl like her.” Nicely, Calamity got here shut. However because of the writer’s efforts to disclose Hart’s true backstory and later life story (like Jane, Pearl supplied loads of misinformation to the curious), Pearl Hart can justly declare the title of “Most Attention-grabbing Infamous Girl of the Outdated West.”

For starters, Boessenecker found that Hart’s actual identify was Lillie Naomi Davy. She was born in Lindsay, Canada, on April 19, 1871, the third baby of an illiterate, albeit form, mom, Anna, and a wretch of a father, Albert, who was susceptible to alcoholism, violence, abuse and neglect. By way of their upbringing in grinding poverty with loads of trauma, Lillie and her many brothers and sisters supported one another, and it continued that means by their principally lengthy lives whereas they, for essentially the most half, hid their true identities.

The fourth Davy baby, Catherine Amelia (“Katy”), and Lillie have been nearly inseparable by the years, and Katy would have, because the writer particulars, “a wild profession, rivaled solely by that of her older sister and greatest good friend.” The sisters have been each enticing, each at occasions wearing male clothes and rode freight trains, each have been concerned in burglaries and prostitution, each had relationships with disreputable males, each served jail sentences (Yuma Territorial Jail for Pearl and the Illinois State Penitentiary for Katy), and each have been daring and resilient. In her early 20s Katy was a pioneer balloonist and skydiver and twice broke a husband out of jail, in Oklahoma and Texas. She later wrote The Arizona Feminine Bandit, a play concerning the misadventures of her favourite sister and some of her personal misdeeds, and later grew to become an actress and writer. But in the present day Katy Davy is totally forgotten, whereas Lillie Davy stays identified far and extensive as Pearl Hart. Boessenecker suggests Katy “would have had much more success as an writer had she written a factual autobiography of her unbelievable life.” We’ll need to accept this fascinating new have a look at Pearl and recent have a look at Lillie and the remainder of the dysfunctional however dynamic Davy household.

—Greg Lalire

The Untold Story of Pearl Hart, the Wild West’s Most Infamous Girl Bandit

By John Boessenecker

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