Women of the Wild West: Background information when reading Outlawed

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by Anna North

Outlawed by Anna North X
Outlawed by Anna North
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2021, 272 pages

    Feb 2022, 272 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Will Heath
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About this Book

Women of the Wild West

This article relates to Outlawed

Print Review

Pearl Hart The Hole in the Wall Gang in Anna North's Outlawed — a band made up largely of outcast women who have formed their own family outside of ordinary 19th-century society — may be fictional (despite taking its name from a real gang in the Wild West), but history features many true outlaw women and talented gunslingers.

Legendary shotgun-wielder Annie Oakley is a household name thanks to retellings of her life, including the musical Annie Get Your Gun. She was an impressive marksman who performed alongside her husband, Frank E. Butler, in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. Another exemplary sharpshooter, Lillian Smith, opted for the rifle as her weapon of choice. Smith joined the Wild West show at the young age of 15. While touring in London, however, she was mocked by the press for a bad performance, which contributed to the decline of her career. Thus, Oakley's name lives on and Smith's is all but forgotten.

In addition to performers like Oakley and Smith, women made for some of the Wild West's most exciting and legendary outlaws, despite the common myth of these criminals being gruff male loners with gray moral codes. While many women on the American frontier found their freedom in ranching or engaging in typically masculine ventures like gambling, some, like Rose Dunn, joined gangs and enjoyed a life of train jobs and bank heists. A member of the Doolin Gang, also known as the Wild Bunch, Dunn served as the group's ammunition provider.

Other women played a more active role as outlaws. Belle Starr, born Myra Maybelle Shirley, took the name she is now known by from her husband, Samuel Starr of the Starr clan. Before that, Starr had already passed on a life of luxury, marrying (and soon enough becoming widowed by) a horse thief and murderer named Jim Reed. As a prominent member of the Starr clan, she was involved with bootlegging, horse-stealing and bribery. Though she was considered the gang's savviest member, she was arrested multiple times and eventually murdered while riding home. The identity of her killer is still unknown.

In North's novel, the women of the Hole in the Wall Gang dress as men at several points, either to disguise themselves from the authorities or during a heist. One of history's real outlaw women, Pearl Hart, employed the same tactic while robbing a stagecoach in 1899, becoming the first woman known to do so and survive. Her partner in crime was Joe Boot, a man who had made little success of himself as a miner and turned to thievery. After the two made an art of Hart playing the seductress to gullible men and Joe knocking them out and stealing from them, they attempted to take on the stagecoach. However, they were soon tracked down, tried and convicted. After 18 months in prison, Hart was released and went on to enjoy a short-lived career in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. While her story is not as well known as Annie Oakley's, Hart's experiences were also adapted into a musical, titled Legend of Pearl Hart.

Pearl Hart, circa 1900

Filed under People, Eras & Events

Article by Will Heath

This "beyond the book article" relates to Outlawed. It originally ran in January 2021 and has been updated for the February 2022 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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