|Matthew Pizzolato, author|
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.
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 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.
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.
by Matthew PizzolatoAmazon ~ B&N ~ Goodreads
Excerpt plus an RTW interview with Matthew Pizzolato
Win a $20 Amazon Gift Certificate!
What do you consider the best Western (either movie or novel) of all time? Why? Comment and you'll be entered to win the $20 Amazon Gift Certificate !
Email address must be included to be eligible for the drawing (so we can contact you).
Drawing will be held Saturday, June 30 at 9pm Pacific Time.