What comes to mind when you think about women of the Old West? Women following their husbands to find land or gold? They had to be tough, but not all women followed a man. There were those who broke the mold and made a name for themselves, although not always a good name! Below are a few of the more notorious women of pioneer times:
Pearl Heart came from Canada to live it up in the American West in the 1880s. Grabbing on to an outlaw named Joe Boot (not her husband) she went on a crime spree robbing stagecoaches, drinking, smoking cigarettes, and dabbling in drugs. When she was caught and put on trial she said, “I shall not consent to be tried under a law in which my sex had no voice in making.” Nevertheless, she was still tried and found guilty.
Pearl was the madam of an upscale whorehouse in Colorado. Patrons could rent rooms with girls costing up to $200 a night, which is the equivalent of nearly $6,000 today! It was decorated very fancily with carpets, chandeliers and even had an intercom! Her brothel, The Old Homestead, catered to miners who struck it rich. Pearl told her family she was working as a dress designer. In those days, they didn’t have Google, so there was no way for them to find out the truth!
The purported girlfriend of Butch Cassidy, Etta apparently was a prostitute in San Antonio when she hooked up with Butch and his gang, The Wild Bunch. Allegedly she participated in bank and train robberies, but she was not with Butch and the Sundance Kid when they had their last gunfight. It is said that she was a cattle rustler in the end.
Poker Alice was born, Alice Ivers, in 1851 of Irish parents in England but moved to the U.S. as a baby. She relocated to Colorado as a teenager where she became a storied poker player and brothel owner. Winning a lot of money, she would take her cash to New York City and spend it on fancy clothes. Alice worked for Bob Ford, the man who murdered Jesse James. Alice’s summary of notorious acts included numerous arrests for gambling, running a brothel and bootlegging. She even shot two soldiers, killing one, just for making noise. Alice never did much time for her offenses and was pardoned by the Governor of South Dakota. A regular cigar smoker, she was still considered a catch! Poker Alice died at age 79 in 1930 after complications from a gall bladder operation.
Born in Kentucky in the mid-1800s, Carrie Nation moved to Missouri, then Kansas and then Texas. An anti-alcohol activist, this 6-foot, 175-pound zealot preached against the evils of alcohol. She was famous for taking an ax to destroy liquor-serving establishments. She said that she was being directed by God, Nation was not above making a few bucks off her notoriety. She sold souvenir hatchets and signed pictures of herself. Nation died in 1911 before she saw the U.S. establish abolition.
Born with the name of Martha Jane Canary, Calamity Jane was a wild and tough woman known for fighting Native-Americans and being a friend of Wild Bill Hickok. Although Jane worked the treacherous job of frontier scout and was in the Deadwood, South Dakota crowd at its wildest, she was known for her acts of kindness in caring for sick and injured people. She died between the ages of 51-55 of an illness while aboard a train in South Dakota. She is buried next to her friend, Wild Bill Hickok.
Annie Oakley was an expert female sharpshooter.
Probably the best-known as an expert female sharpshooter in American history, this little lady (5’0” tall) became famous and successful performing a “man’s” sport. Teaching over 15,000 women and girls how to shoot certainly left its mark on America. Expert shooters still marvel at her abilities.