These fascinating photos reveal the female outlaws who ran rampant in the Wild West in the late 19th century.
In the popular imagination, unlawful cowboys and bandits dominated the rugged landscape of the American frontier but it was also home to female outlaws, very different to the helpless dames typically portrayed in Hollywood.
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 Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch and Big Nose Kate who broke legendary gunfighter Doc Holliday out of jail.
Bullion was known as the ‘Rose’ of the Wild Bunch while another famous outlaw, Bella Star, was described as the Bandit Queen and the Female Jesse James.
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 social and economic freedom on the American Frontier and ran businesses, owned land, and even engaged in politics and crime.
Some of the women taking advantage of this freedom found their livelihoods through ventures like gambling, larceny or prostitution, building their legend.
For many years this photograph was thought to be Rose Dunn but it was actually a prisoner posing as her and it is believed to be an accurate representation. Rose was a member of the Wild Bunch gang. Known as Rose of Cimarron , she was best known for her good looks and for her romantic involvement with outlaw George ‘Bittercreek’ Newcomb. On September 1, 1893, Newcomb’s gang was cornered by U.S. Marshals, in what became known as the Battle of Ingalls, resulting in an intense shootout. A western legend has it that Newcomb was badly wounded, and while he lay in the street, Rose ran from the ‘Pierce Hotel’ to his location with two belts of ammunition and a Winchester rifle. She fired the rifle at the Marshals while Newcomb reloaded his revolvers, and Newcomb was able to escape
The fascinating collection of photos show some of the ‘ladies of ill repute’ who a cowboy would not dare cross in an old west saloon. Among them was Calamity Jane, pictured in men’s clothing in 1895 in Livington, Montana. Jane was known for her sharp-shooting, whiskey-swilling and dare-devil ways, as well as her habit for wearing men’s attire. She was well known through the Hills as Calamity Jane, but how she got this nickname has long been debated. According to Old West legend, Calamity Jane rode into a group of fighting hostiles to save a wounded army captain. Jane emerged from the fight untouched so the captain named her ‘Calamity Jane’. The truth behind Calamity Jane is markedly different to her portrayal in the famous 1953 movie named after her. In that, she is played by Doris Day and is a gentler, less rowdy person
The photographs show hard-drinking and gun-slinging women like Pearl Hart who became one of the most infamous characters in the Wild West. A young Pearl Hart attired in men’s clothing (pictured), circa 1890s. Pearl committed one of the last recorded stagecoach robberies in the United States earning her notoriety. Hart cut her hair short and dressed in men’s clothes for the robbery. She was armed with a .38 revolver and, together with her partner, they halted the coach and took around $431 and two firearms from the passengers. Hart took pity on them and had handed back $1 to each before she galloped away
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. Pearl Hart sat in a jail cell, 1899. Pearl was notorious after the stagecoach robbery and the novelty of a female robber quickly spawned a media frenzy. Locals also became fascinated with her, one local fan giving her a bobcat cub to keep as a pet
Laura Bullion’s mugshot, a famed criminal and prostitute that got involved with Butch Cassidy, 1893. 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 stealing stolen goods and assisting their train robberies – and she was nicknamed the ‘Rose of the Wild Bunch’ by them
Calamity Jane pictured in 1885 in Livington, Montana. By the late 1870s Calamity Jane had captured the imagination of several writers who covered her colorful early days of Deadwood. One writer dubber her ‘The White Devil of the Yellowstone’. Many of the exciting adventures of Calamity Jane came from Jane herself, and most of them could not be corroborated by others. However, she cemented her legend as a hard-drinking woman, wearing men’s clothing and living a rough life
Calamity Jane pictured here visiting ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok’s grave in Deadwood, Dakota territory, sometime in the 1890s. She was an American frontierswoman and professional scout known for being an acquaintance of Wild Bill Hickok and fighting against Native Americans Much of what she claimed to have witnessed and participated in could not be proven. It is known that she did not have any formal education and that she was an alcoholic
Blue Duck, left, and Belle Starr, right, May 24, 1886. Born into a prosperous family Belle preferred shooting guns than being a lady and was childhood friends with Jesse James whose crew she later joined. Blue Duck was another outlaw in the wild west who committed armed robberies and acts of cattle rustling. Blue Duck had an affair with Belle Starr and became a part of her gang later
Belle Starr atop a horse in Fort Smith, Arkansas, 1886. The man on the other horse is Deputy U.S. Marshal Benjamin Tyner Hughes who, along with his posse man, Deputy U.S. Marshal Charles Barnhill, arrested her at Younger’s Bend in May of 1886 and brought her to Ft. Smith for arraignment. Belle’s story was popularized by Richard K. Fox—editor and publisher of the National Police Gazette—and she later became a popular character in television and movies. She was also dubbed the Female Jesse James and the Bandit Queen
Jim Reed and Belle Starr in 1866. Jim Reed and Belle Starr were married in 1866. Belle was convicted of horse theft in 1883. She was fatally shot in 1889 in a case that is still officially unsolved. Edgar Watson, who rented land from Belle, was a fugitive wanted for murder whom she kicked off her land once she discovered his history. Authorities believed that Watson might have ambushed Belle and he was arrested on suspicion of her murder. Yet he was eventually released as there were no witnesses
Kate, originally from Hungary, 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 continued to work as a prostitute throughout her relationship with Holliday and even broke him out of jail in 1877 by starting a fire and pulling a gun on the prison guard
Although little known today, some of these women, like Bandit Queen Belle Starr (right) were legendary during their lives and shocked society with their ruthless and unladylike behaviour. After Doc Holliday died in 1887, Big Nose Kate (left) married Irish blacksmith George Cummings in Aspen, on March 2, 1890. After working several mining camps throughout Colorado, they moved to Bisbee, Arizona, where she briefly ran a bakery. After returning to Willcox, Arizona, in Cochise County, Cummings became an abusive alcoholic and they separated
Pearl Hart pictured in 1899. Born as Pearl Taylor of French descent in Lindsay, Ontario, Canada, the petite and attractive young girl would grow up to become one of the only female stagecoach robbers in the American West. One of several children, Pearl was brought up in a respectable middle-class family and received a good education. Her life changed for the worse when, at the age of seventeen, she fell for swaggering and seductive gambler named Frederick Hart. Pearl eloped with Hart, who sometimes worked as a bartender, but usually lost whatever money he had at the gaming tables. In addition to being a poor provider, he was also said to have been a heavy drinker and often abusive to his young wife
Pearl Hart whilst incarcerated at Yuma Territorial Prison, circa 1899. Earlier that year, she got together with a miner named Joe Boot. When she received a letter from her brother that her mother was ill and needed money for medical bills, Pearl asked Joe for help to make some quick cash. Their first scam was for Pearl to lure men into their room, making them think there was an opportunity for romance or sex. However, Joe instead knocked them out and they took the unsuspecting men’s money