US History - Other

Women Outlaws

Grace Alexander's image for:
"Women Outlaws"
Image by: 

The Wild Wild West had its share of women who could shoot, ride, smoke and drink - and rustle cattle, shoot up saloons and rob banks as well as any male outlaw.

Belle Starr, one of the most notorious of the woman outlaws, was born Myra Maybelle Shirley and grew up a "poor little rich girl", attending the Carthage Female Academy in Missouri. She ended up marrying first one outlaw (Jim Reed) then another (Sam Starr), both who were killed in gunfights. She was indicted along the way of various offenses, most notably horse stealing, and finally was killed herself (presumably by her final husband, Billy July, also a horse thief, in a fit of jealousy).

Legend has portrayed Belle as a "Bandit Queen", portraying her as a Robin Hood like character who flirted with the James boys, had Cole Younger's illegitimate son and ruled her own gang with an iron hand and the teasing promise of her favor. In reality, she was like many outlaw wives, swept up in the seedier side of the West but cunning enough to look out for herself.

Pearl Hart was really a stagecoach robber, though her career was short-lived. After her abusive husband left her to fight in the Spanish American War, she drifted in the company of a gambler until she met a man named Joe Boot. The two worked a mining claim futilely for a few months, then hatched a plan to rob the Globe stage (Pearl wanted money to pay her way back to her dying mother's home in Canada).

The two were promptly captured and imprisoned, but Pearl supposedly walked away from prison by charming male guards and trustees which resulted in an escape aided by a trustee named Hogan. After being recaptured, standing trial and serving only two years of a five year sentence (again in an all male prison), Pearl turned up pregnant and was promptly pardoned by a horrified governor.

Bonnie Parker and her associate and lover Clyde Champion Barrow became the stuff of legend by living fast and dying young. The duo (sometimes accompanied by other outlaws including Clyde's brother and sister-in-law Buck and Blanche) robbed and killed their way across Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Missouri. Their activities included a spectacular jailbreak at Eastham State Prison Farm in Texas, where they liberated five criminals including Raymond Hamilton and Henry Methvin.

After a killing spree that included the murder of various law enforcement officials, the FBI started hunting Bonnie and Clyde, and the pair were shot down by police and rangers from Texas and Louisiana while attempting to avoid arrest. According to a Dallas sheriff on the scene, Bonnie alone had forty bullet holes in her.

Various other women outlaws roamed the West, but these three were among the most notorious of all. History made them legends.

More about this author: Grace Alexander

From Around the Web