by KATHY MEGYERI
March is Women’s History Month and for fun we’re going to take a look at some
colorful and often notorious Women of the Wild West – those who you may not
have read about in the history books, but whom collectively were heroines and
heart breakers, entertainers and entrepreneurs, outlaws and other women of note.
Phoebe Ann Mosey, stage name Annie Oakley (1860-
1926), was a sharpshooter who was said to have split
cards on their edges, popped corks off bottles and
snapped cigarettes out of the mouths of men. In 1887,
she joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and became an
Cigar-smoking, gun-toting, whiskey-drinking
“Stagecoach Mary” Fields (1832-1914) was born
into slavery, freed after the Civil War and did a variety
of odd jobs until her 60s when she became the first
female African-American star-route mail carrier in the
U.S. Would-be thieves didn’t stand a chance against
this stagecoach driver with the “temperament of a
Pearl Hart (1871-1928), the “Lady Bandit of Arizona,”
was a Canadian who came to the West in the 1880’s
and was the only documented female stagecoach
robber in U.S. history. While on trial, she claimed, “I
shall not consent to be tried under a law in which my
sex had no voice in making.” She went to jail anyway
where she charmed the warden into allowing her to
entertain visitors, journalists and photographers in her
Pearl de Vere (1862 1897), the “soiled dove of Cripple
Creek,” was the madam of the stylish Colorado brothel,
The Old Homestead. Catering to rich gold miners,
a room cost $250 a night but offered carpeting,
bathtubs with running water, chandeliers, and an
intercom. Her funeral was the most lavish in the town’s
history as bands played, There’ll be a Hot Time in the Old
Town Tonight. The Old Homestead is now a museum.
Carrie Nation (1846-1911), a member of the Women’s
Christian Temperance Union, crusaded against alcohol
before Prohibition by smashing up Kansas bars and
liquor barrels with her axe. She proudly sold souvenir
hatchets and signed photos of herself in her later years.
Eliza Farnham (1815-1864) was a novelist, feminist
and abolitionist. In 1849, she organized a party of
single women to travel to California to meet eligible
bachelors of the Gold Rush and save them from the
evils of drinking and depravity. Her unconventional
methods helped transform the land into one fit for
wives and families.
Myra Maybelle Shirley Reed Starr, a.k.a. Belle Starr (1848-1889), was part of the Jesse James-Cole Younger gang. A flamboyant outlaw and horse thief, she often wore velvet riding dresses with plumed hats while sitting side saddle and carrying six shooters. She was fatally shot in the face at age 40.
Martha Jane Canary, “Calamity Jane” (1852-1903) is
said to have dressed like a man, shot like a gunslinger and drank like a fish. As part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, she told outlandish tales of frontier life. Despite her daredevil ways, she cared for the poor, sick and injured. Alcoholism and poor health led to her early death at age 51; she’s buried next to her friend Wild Bill Hickok.
Olive Oatman (1837-1903) was captured by a Native
American tribe at age 14, enslaved and later sold to the
Mohave people. During her time with the Mohave, they
raised her as their own including giving her a ritualized
blue tattoo on her chin. Later, after returning to white
society she spoke highly of her treatment with the Mohave
though she would often cover her tattoo in public.