‘Wildcat’ Book Review: John Boessenecker Sifts Reality From the Mythical Life of Outlaw Pearl Hart

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 fantasy 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 truth the numerous accounts of Hart’s life do get proper is that on Might 30, 1899, she and a person who known 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. “People,” 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 truly 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 fantasy 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 exhausting, broke jail and used males with abandon. The Previous West by no means noticed one other girl like her.” Nicely, Calamity got here shut. However due to the writer’s efforts to disclose Hart’s true backstory and later life story (like Jane, Pearl offered loads of misinformation to the curious), Pearl Hart can justly declare the title of “Most Fascinating Infamous Girl of the Previous West.”

For starters, Boessenecker found that Hart’s actual title was Lillie Naomi Davy. She was born in Lindsay, Canada, on April 19, 1871, the third little one of an illiterate, albeit sort, mom, Anna, and a wretch of a father, Albert, who was vulnerable 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 method by their largely lengthy lives whereas they, for essentially the most half, hid their true identities.

The fourth Davy little one, 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 finest 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 in regards to the misadventures of her favourite sister and some of her personal misdeeds, and later turned an actress and writer. But right now Katy Davy is totally forgotten, whereas Lillie Davy stays identified far and large as Pearl Hart. Boessenecker suggests Katy “would have had much more success as an writer had she written a factual autobiography of her unimaginable life.” We’ll should 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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