10 Notorious Female Outlaws From the Wild West
The Wild West was a place of lawlessness and marked a unique and fascinating period in American history. Many are familiar with the tales of Billy the Kid, Jesse James, and other male outlaws whose stories shaped the rugged frontier of the Old West.
What many don't know is that there were female outlaws who were just as infamous as their male counterparts. Here you'll discover the tales of the resourceful female criminals who shot down the traditional notions of women's roles as homemakers and child-rearers and chose instead to lead lives of debauchery and scandal.
10 Famous Female Outlaws of the Wild West
- Pearl Hart
- Laura Bullion, a.k.a. the Rose of the Wild Bunch
- Belle Siddons, a.k.a. Madam Vestal
- Rose Dunn, a.k.a. Rose of the Cimarron
- Sarah Jane Newman, a.k.a. Sally Scull
- Mary Katherine Haroney, a.k.a. Big Nose Kate
- Belle Starr
- Etta Place
- Eleanor Dumont, a.k.a. Madame Mustache
- Bonnie Parker
1. Pearl Hart
1871 – after 1928
Born in Lindsay, Canada, in 1871, Hart attended an exclusive school. However, she enjoyed adventuring more than school work. At age 17, Pearl eloped to Chicago with a gambler, Frederick Hart. But Frederick was abusive and Hart left him at age 22.
She then made her way to Arizona where she met a miner named Joe Boot. When Boot couldn’t make enough from his mining job to support the pair, they turned to robbery. They developed a routine where Hart would lure a man into her room, and, once through the door, Boot would whack the unsuspecting gentleman on the head and rob him. However, this play was risky and the couple was almost caught on several occasions.
In 1899, Hart developed a plan to rob a stagecoach—more money, less risk. Hart cut her hair and dressed as a man. Boot held up the driver while Hart took over $400 from the passengers. After giving a little back to ensure the victims had enough money for food and a hotel, Hart and Boot rode gallantly away into the sunset, only to get lost in the desert.
After several days of wandering they desperately needed sleep, but when they woke, the sheriff and his posse had found them. They were caught a mere three miles from the scene of the crime.
It was while she was being tried for her crimes that Hart is famous for saying this feminist phrase: "I shall not consent to be tried under a law in which my sex had no voice in making." Unfortunately, the judge didn't care and Hart was tried and convicted anyway.
Being the second woman to rob a stagecoach and the first one not to die while doing so, Hart instantly became the most famous woman in Arizona. Journalists came from all over to interview and photograph Hart with her gun.
She received a pardon after 18 months. The official reason was that the penitentiary did not have accommodations for women, although rumor had it that Hart was pregnant and the judge didn't want to have to explain how that had happened during her incarceration.
After being released from prison, Hart had a brief stint in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show but lived the rest of her life under the radar of the law.
In Popular Culture
- Featured in an episode of the television show Tales of Wells Fargo in 1960.
- Musical Legend of Pearl Hart is based on her life.
I shall not consent to be tried under a law in which my sex had no voice in making.— Pearl Hart
2. Laura Bullion, a.k.a. the Rose of the Wild Bunch
October 1876 – December 2, 1961
Bullion was born into a life of crime. Her father, a Native American, was a bank robber, and Bullion, after spending her teenage years as a prostitute, joined the Wild Bunch gang and became known as the “Rose of the Wild Bunch.”
Bullion sold stolen goods and made connections that provided the bunch with a steady supply of horses. She was romantically involved with several members of the gang, on and off. On certain occasions, she dressed like a man and joined the rest of the gang in train robberies.
In 1901, she was arrested in St. Louis with $8,500 worth of stolen banknotes in her possession. When she was released from prison after three-and-a-half years, Bullion retired from her life of crime and became an interior designer in Memphis, Tennessee.
Bullion died of heart disease in 1961. Her gravestone is embossed with a rose and thorny vines and reads “The Thorny Rose.” Bullion was the last surviving member of The Wild Bunch.
Freda Bullion Lincoln
The Thorny Rose
1876 - 1961— Laura Bullion's grave marker
3. Belle Siddons, a.k.a. Madam Vestal
Birth and death dates unknown
Born and raised on a wealthy Southern plantation to a politically powerful St. Louis family, Belle Siddons was the definition of a Southern belle. During the Civil War, she employed her good looks and became a Confederate spy at 25. She was caught and imprisoned but pardoned after four months.
She later married a gambling man, Newt Hallett, who taught her to play cards. Finding that she was naturally good at the game, Belle became famous as a dealer of the game 21.
When her husband died of yellow fever and Siddons was forced to support herself, she followed the Gold Rush and set up shop in South Dakota. As the owner of her own dance hall, bar, and gambling establishment, Siddons began going by the nickname "Madame Vestal."
It was in her establishment that she met and fell in love with stagecoach robber Archie McLaughlin. Once again, Siddons used her skills and beauty to become a spy and retract information from stagecoach drivers, which she then passed on to her lover.
Unfortunately, Siddons’ overconfidence got the best of her and one night she let slip that there was going to be a robbery. McLaughlin was caught, tried, and hung.
Siddons became a wandering drunk, the last record of whom was an arrest in San Francisco in 1881.
4. Rose Dunn, a.k.a. Rose of the Cimarron
September 5, 1878 – June 11, 1955
Dunn was born in Oklahoma in 1879 and educated at a convent in Wichita, Kansas. She was known for her good looks and charm. Her two older brothers became outlaws when she was young and taught her how to shoot and ride.
Dunn became an outlaw when she fell in love with George "Bittercreek" Newcomb, a member of the Wild Bunch gang led by Bill Doolin. The Wild Bunch, also known as the Oklahombres, were known for robbing banks and holding up trains. All of its members eventually met a bloody end. Dunn participated in the gang by providing them with ammunition and supplies when members could not go to town.
Dunn once saved Newcomb when he was wounded by U.S. marshals. Legend says she dodged open fire and held off the marshals with her own rifle until he could get to safety.
Dunn’s brothers, who had abandoned their careers as outlaws in favor of becoming bounty hunters, killed Newcomb for what some say was a $5,000 bounty for each brother. Dunn was later accused of being involved in Newcomb's death by telling her brothers his location but Dunn and her brothers maintained her innocence.
She was never prosecuted for her involvement with the gang, and eventually settled down with a local politician.
5. Sarah Jane Newman, a.k.a. Sally Scull
1817 – unknown
Sarah Jane Newman was born tough. Born in 1817 to one of the first families to settle in Austin, Texas Territory, Newman, also known as Sally Scull or Skull, grew up having to defend her family’s land from constant attack. Legend says her mother, Rachel Newman, once cut off the toes of a Comanche Indian who was trying to get through their front door.
Newman married Jesse Robinson at age 16 and they had two children together. After 10 years of marriage, Robinson filed for divorce and Newman was married to her namesake husband—George Scull—less than two weeks later. He died mysteriously in 1849.
Her next husband, John Doyle, also died under mysterious circumstances after a short marriage.
Inheriting her mother’s spirit, Scull became notorious as a male-dressing, gun-slinging, horse-trading woman. Twice a year she would make the treacherous trip alone to Mexico and come back with horses that were likely stolen, but no proof could be found. She’s rumored to have killed two of her five husbands.
Woman rancher, horse trader, champion "cusser." Ranched Northwest of here ... Loved dancing. Yet during the war, did extremely hazardous "man's work."— Excerpt from Sally Scull's historic marker in Texas
6. Mary Katherine Haroney, a.k.a. Big Nose Kate
November 9, 1849 – November 2, 1940
Mary Katherine Haroney was born into a wealthy Hungarian family, which immigrated to New York City in 1860 and settled in Davenport, Iowa. Kate’s parents died several years later when she was fourteen, and she was placed in the foster care system.
Kate ran away from her caregiver at age 16 and claims to have married a dentist she met on a steamboat en route to St. Louis, who she says died of yellow fever. When her husband died, Kate went to a convent for a short period of time before working as a prostitute in St. Louis.
She later moved to Fort Griffin, Texas, and met Doc Holliday, a well-known gunfighter who was also a dentist. By that time, she had already picked up the nickname "Big Nose Kate."
Kate introduced Holliday to Wyatt Earp, one of the Wild West's most famous professional gamblers and lawmen. She spent the next several years acting as Holliday’s sidekick as she followed him across the country. Kate and Holliday married and moved around while Holliday made money gambling, working as a dentist, and operating saloons, while Kate worked as a prostitute.
Holliday then joined Earp in the well-off little town of Tombstone, Arizona Territory. Kate visited him often, including during the days leading up to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, one of the Wild West's most talked-about and portrayed shootouts.
In Popular Culture
- Portrayed by Isabella Rossellini in Wyatt Earp (1994)
- Portrayed by Faye Dunaway in Doc (1971)
The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Recognized as the most famous shootout of the Wild West, the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place at 3 p.m. on October 26, 1881, in Tombstone, Arizona Territory.
Five outlaws and four lawmen were involved, including Doc Holliday. Three of the outlaws were killed and two ran away when the fight began. The fight has been featured in many Old Western novels and films.
7. Belle Starr
February 5, 1848 – February 3, 1889
Born in 1848 to a prosperous family in Missouri, Myra Maybelle Shirley should have become a proper young lady, married a rich man, and never done anything interesting in her life. But, as luck would have it, Starr preferred to be outdoors learning to shoot a gun with her older brother, Bud, than stay inside the all-girls school she attended.
Fate changed the stars for Starr when her family moved to Scyene, Texas, in 1864. It was here that she would meet members of Jesse James’ crew, the Missouri-based James–Younger Gang. The gang is well known in Old Western history for their robberies of banks, trains, and stagecoaches in at least ten different states. Starr knew them from her childhood in Missouri.
In 1866, Starr married a horse thief named Jim Reed, who, in 1869, murdered a man who was said to have killed his brother. After the murder, the couple fled to California together. Jim was shot to death in 1874.
Left as a widow, Belle joined the Starr clan and married a Cherokee man—Samuel Starr—giving her the name that would forever be associated with the legend of her life. It was then that she submerged herself in outlawry.
She became the mastermind behind the gang. Starr was arrested several times, but it seemed she was just as good at eluding sheriffs as she was at stealing horses—they never had enough evidence to put her away and she was often able to bribe them with earnings from her lucrative horse-thieving and bootlegging enterprises.
Sam Starr died in 1886, after which Belle was said to have been involved with a slew of interesting men. She then married Jim July Starr, her deceased husband's younger relative, in order to keep her land on Indian territory.
In 1889, Starr was shot several times with a shotgun while riding home from a neighbor's house in Oklahoma. Her murderer is still unknown.
In Popular Culture
Belle Starr was the subject of several films and television episodes including:
- Belle Starr (1941)
- The Belle Starr Story (1968)
- The Long Riders (1980)
8. Etta Place
1877-1879 – unknown
Most well known as Butch Cassidy’s girlfriend and, later, the wife of Harry Longabaugh (the Sundance Kid), Etta Place is shrouded in mystery. She is said to have been from Texas.
Historians know that she was a sweetheart to the Wild Bunch Gang, that she assisted Cassidy and Longabaugh in certain heists and fled with them to Argentina, but her exact identity and life after Longabaugh’s death are mostly unknown.
Theories have suggested that she and Ann Bassett, one of the famous, cattle-rustling Bassett sisters, were one and the same because of similar looks and their ties to the Wild Bunch gang. Photographic evidence analyzed by historians in recent years have suggested this may be the case.
In Popular Culture
Etta Place was portrayed as a schoolteacher and played by Katharine Ross in the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch
This gang borrowed their name from the original Wild Bunch, also known as the Doolin–Dalton Gang. Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch was known as the most successful train-robbing gang in history. They were popularized by the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
9. Eleanor Dumont, a.k.a. Madame Mustache
1829-1834 – 1879
Perhaps born in New Orleans to Creole parents around 1829, Dumont’s early life is not well known. She was known for her card-dealing skills as a Gold-Rush-era gambler.
She moved around frequently and eventually appeared in Nevada City, California, opened up a gambling house, and immediately enticed men with her good looks and even better manners.
Dumont fell in love with con man Jack McKnight, who stole her money and sold her ranch. In retaliation, Dumont tracked McKnight down and shot him dead. After that, she returned to gambling.
As she aged, Dumont became plump and a thick line of hair began to grow on her upper lip, earning her the nickname "Madame Mustache." After that, Dumont’s fortunes continued to dwindle. She turned to prostitution and became the madame of a brothel in her later years.
In 1879, she lost $300 of borrowed money in one night of gambling. She was found dead the next morning of an apparent suicide via morphine overdose.
“She had the reputation of being honest in her dealings and always paying her debts. Upon this she prided herself, and woe unto anyone who claimed she did not play fair. . . . It is said that of the hundreds of funerals held in the mining camp, that of ‘Madame Moustache’ was the largest.
The gamblers of the place buried her with all honors, and carriages were brought from Carson City, a distance of 120 miles, especially to be used in the funeral cortege.”— George A. Montrose, former editor of the Bridgeport Chronicle-Union
10. Bonnie Parker
October 1, 1910 – May 23, 1934
Born in 1910 in Rowena, Texas, Parker was a bright student with aspirations to become an actress.
But everything changed when 19-year-old Bonnie met 20-year-old ex-con, Clyde Barrow, in 1930. The two fell immediately in love and Bonnie joined Clyde’s gang to become a full-time thief and murderer.
Bonnie and Clyde embarked on a two-year crime spree that crossed five states and killed 13 civilians.
In 1933, a warrant was issued for Bonnie and Clyde's arrest. They died in an ambush led by Texas Ranger Frank Hamer in 1934.
In Popular Culture
Perhaps the most popular retelling of the tale of Bonnie and Clyde was the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway.
Someday they'll go down together
they'll bury them side by side.
To few it'll be grief,
to the law a relief
but it's death for Bonnie and Clyde.— The Trail's End by Bonnie Parker (1934)
- Bonnie and Clyde. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/bonnie-and-clyde
- Haile, B. (2015, March 3). Sally Skull was not a woman to mess with. Retrieved from https://www.myplainview.com/opinion/editorials/article/Sally-Skull-was-not-a-woman-to-mess-with-8389583.php
- Koller, J. (2005, February 20). Famed Deadwood Faro Queen Turned War Spy Talents Over To Highwaymen. Retrieved from https://rapidcityjournal.com/travel/famed-deadwood-faro-queen-turned-war-spy-talents-over-to/article_658c4156-e0a8-5608-8625-bc6bf93685c1.html
- Mulvaney, K. (2012, October 26). What Happened at the OK Corral? Retrieved from https://www.seeker.com/what-happened-at-the-ok-corral-1766022875.html
- Old West Female Outlaws – Prostitution in the West – Pistol Packing Madams. (2017, May 22). Retrieved from https://worldhistory.us/american-history/old-west-female-outlaws-prostitution-in-the-west-pistol-packing-madams.php
- Piatt, M. H. (2009, March). The Death of Madame Mustache: Bodie’s Most Celebrated Inhabitant. Retrieved from http://www.bodiehistory.com/madame.htm
- Reeve, W. P. (1995, May). Just Who Was The Outlaw Queen Etta Place? Retrieved from http://historytogo.utah.gov/utah_chapters/pioneers_and_cowboys/justwhowastheoutlawqueenettaplace.html
- Rutter, Michael (2008). Bedside book of bad girls : Outlaw women of the Old West. Helena: Farcountry Press. p. 89. ISBN 978-1-56037-535-7. OCLC 957165196.
- Simkin, J. (2014). Laura Bullion. Retrieved from http://spartacus-educational.com/WWbullion.htm