Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Outlaw Women of the West by @MattPizzolato

Matthew Pizzolato, author
Outlaw Women
of the West
by Matthew Pizzolato
Copyright © 2012 Matthew Pizzolato

Perhaps one of the biggest myths perpetrated by Hollywood is the role that women played during the days of the Old West. According to Western mythology there were basically two roles for women during the time period: the whore with the heart of gold and the schoolmarm. While both of those characters did exist, they have been so overdone in Western fiction that they have become cliché.

Women served a in a multitude of roles that went against the social conventions of the day. Mary Fields, an ex-slave, drove a US mail coach. Martha Jane Canary or Calamity Jane, as she is more popularly known, was an Army scout. Charley Parkhurst dressed like a man and drove a stagecoach. Poker Alice Ivers was one of the most famous gamblers of the time. However, some women of the time resorted to full scale outlawry.

Sally Skull

Although most of her life and death is shrouded in mystery, Sally became known as a ruthless killer who was a dead shot with the two pistols that she wore. She made her living as a horse trader and wasn't particular about how she acquired her livestock. It was said that she was so proficient with a bull whip that she could snap the head off of flowers.

Sally arrived in Texas with her family as one of the first settlers of Stephen F. Austin's colony. When the Civil War started, she became a Confederate blockade runner and hauled cotton to Mexico for shipment to Europe.

There are no known photographs of her and the records of her life consist of marriage licenses and divorce degrees. Sally was married five times and is suspected of having killed at least one of her husbands.

It is believed that Sally killed more than 30 men during her lifetime. There is no record of her death, but rumor has it that her last husband killed her and disposed of her body in Mexico.

Belle Starr (Myra Belle Shirley)

Belle Starr

Belle Starr was born as Myra Belle Shirley into the life of a spoiled rich girl and received a classical education. Her life changed when the Missouri-Kansas border war broke out. After her brother was killed in 1864, her father moved the family to Scyene, Texas.

She married Jim Reed on November 1, 1866 and bore him two children. When Reed was killed in a gunfight with a member of his own gang in 1874, Belle left her children with her mother and rode the Outlaw trail.

She met a Cherokee named Sam Starr and settled on his place near Briartown, Oklahoma. From that base, the couple formed a gang and began rustling, stealing horses and bootlegging whiskey with Belle calling the shots.

Belle became a target of the Hanging Judge Isaac Parker and was brought before his court several times, but was usually released because of lack of evidence. Eventually, she was caught attempting to steal a horse and was sentenced to two consecutive six month prison terms but returned to the outlaw life upon her release.

After Sam was killed, Belle married Jim July. The relationship was fraught with arguments. On February 3, 1889, Belle was shot and killed from ambush. The killer was never found. Suspects included her husband, a neighbor named Watson, as well as both her estranged daughter and son.

Pearl Hart
Pearl Hart

By the time she became the first known female stagecoach robber in Arizona history, Pearl Hart had already lived a hard life. At the age of seventeen, she married an abusive husband who gave her two children before leaving her.

She left both of her children with her parents and went West. She found survival difficult, suffered from depression and attempted suicide several times.

In 1899, Pearl met a miner named Joe Boot with whom she decided to rob a stagecoach with to raise money to visit her sick mother. On May 30, 1899, with Pearl dressed as a man, the couple stopped the coach between Florence and Globe, Arizona, taking about $450 and a revolver. Their escape attempt was unsuccessful and they got lost. After making camp for the night, the pair woke up to discover they were surrounded by a posse.

During her time in jail, she became known as the "Bandit Queen," often giving autographs. She escaped from the jail but was caught and returned where she faced trial. She was sentenced to five years in Yuma Territorial Prison but was paroled after 18 months.

Pearl tried to profit from her fame as a lady bandit, but was unsuccessful. The circumstances of her death are unknown.

Flo Quick alias Tom King

Flora was born into a wealthy family and married Ora Mundis. The couple moved to Guthrie in Oklahoma Territory in 1892. She inherited the family fortune but quickly squandered it. When the money ran out, so did her husband.

Flora stole horses to make a living and began dressing like a man, using the name Tom King to confuse authorities. She met a fellow outlaw, Earnest "Killer" Lewis and began robbing trains.

Flora had no trouble supporting herself by horse stealing and often resorted to prostitution when necessary. The circumstances of her death are not known but her life is a constant source of speculation among historians to this day.

Rumors persist that she may have been the sixth "man" of the Dalton raid on Coffeeville and that she may have been a sweetheart of Bob Dalton, even that her real name was Eugenia Moore, but none of this has been substantiated.

In conclusion, the historical record is full of women who broke social conventions and lived life how they saw fit, regardless of what Hollywood would like to portray. Although the times have changed since the days of the Old West, human nature remains the same.

The Wanted Man
by Matthew PizzolatoAmazon ~ B&N ~ Goodreads
Excerpt plus an RTW interview with Matthew Pizzolato

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  1. Fabulous post--as usual--fascinating! I could honestly never choose an "ultimate" Western. The West encompasses so much! The Early American Frontier, the Oregon Trail, the Plains, the gold and silver mines, the railroad, the homesteaders vs the ranchers, the cattlemen vs the sheepmen, the women who endured and accomplished so much, wild horses, law & order vs lawlessnes & disorder. The treatment and mass misrepresentation of Native Americans--very few films have given an accurate portrayal. Some of the Western stars who really stand out for me are Gregory Peck, John Wayne, and Gary Cooper. Of course, no one equals Sam Elliott in a Western! Having said all that, I will mention a film that I truly love, one that is starkly beautiful and ever amazing--"Will Penny"--starring Charlton Heston. The story of a simple, middle-aged cowboy with a great heart and a greater comprehension of life than most folks, this film is really unlike another Western ever made. "Will Penny" is a superb film. It is THE perfomance of Charlton Heston's career--subtle, skilled, and assured, yet bravely vulnerable. All preconceived notions and perceptions of Mr. Heston will be wiped away when one views this film. I have loved this movie from the first time that I saw it, and it has grown in resonance through the years. Everything about the film is just right--but it is Mr. Heston's show all the way. He was a big man, physically imposing with a golden, craggy handsomeness. He was larger than life in every way. When you watch this film, you don't see Charlton Heston, you see Will Penny. He's that good. Highly-recommended and much-cherished for lovers of great westerns.

    gcwhiskas at aol dot com

  2. Loved this post! Very interesting. My favorite western of all time is Missing with Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchette.

  3. Loved this post too! My biggest wish as a girl was that I would have a chance to play John Wayne's daughter in a western---of course I would have to have been his mute daughter because I can not act to save my life. As a teenager, the dream shifted to being a mute girl saved from kidnappers by Tom Selleck and/or Sam Elliot. I enjoyed so many westerns in my life but was enthralled by Tommy Lee Jones and Ricky Shroder in "lonesome Dove".

  4. My all time favorite book is LONESOME DOVE by Larry McMurtry. It is such a beautifully written epic. The characters are memorable. The scenery majestic & the villains wicked!!



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