Pearl Hart, an enigma 122 years in the making, solved . . .

By A.H. Furlong and John Exshaw

When Burt Lancaster made the above-quoted observation in Ulzana’s Raid(1972), he wasn’t talking about Pearl Hart and her treatment at the hands of so-called historians – but he may as well have been. For 122 years, the truth about ‘Arizona’s Female Bandit’ has remained not only hidden but ignored  in a manner which stands as an indictment of those who profess themselves custodians of the history of the Old West.

The consensus view of Hart’s life, as typified by her entry on Wikipedia[i], is that she was born Pearl Taylor in Lindsay, Ontario, to respectable, well-to-do parents; that she was educated at a boarding school; that she eloped from same with a charming wastrel named Hart, with whom, during a troubled marriage, she had two children; that she then drifted west, via Colorado, until she wound up in Phoenix, Arizona Territory, in the 1890s.

Following a failed reconciliation with Hart, Pearl next emerged in 1899 at the mining camp of Mammoth, near Globe, A.T., in the company of one ‘Joe Boot’, with whom, on 30 May, 1899, she help up the Globe-Florence stagecoach at Cane Springs, near Riverside. The pair then took to the hills, only to be run to earth by a small posse led by Pinal County sheriff, Bill Truman, on 5 June, 1899. Taken back to Florence, Pearl found herself not only in jail, but also on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers.


Transferred to Tucson shortly thereafter, Pearl, aided by a fellow inmate, escaped from the Pima County jail on 12 October, 1899, only to be recaptured in Deming, New Mexico, two weeks later. Returned to Florence for trial “in October 1899”, Pearl was acquitted of robbery, but, with Joe Boot, was rearrested on the charge of tampering with U.S. mail, and convicted.


Following a December 1902 pardon which, according to a rumour circulated in 1964, may have been due to Pearl claiming to have become pregnant while in the Yuma Territorial Penitentiary, Pearl Hart largely disappeared from the pages of history. It was claimed that she later married an Arizona rancher named George Calvin Bywater, and lived happily ever after until her death in 1955.






This version of Pearl Hart’s life, with occasional variations, has been accepted and endlessly recycled without question by a large number of amateur historians and professional journalists since atleast the late 1920s,

and it is hardly going too far to remark that their collective disregard for such fundamental concepts as proper research, accuracy, and even the very notion of ‘history’ itself, has been truly impressive.






Thus Far


Almost all writings on Pearl Hart begin with the claim that her family name was Taylor. This long-standing assumption can be traced back to a letter written after her arrest (and its attendant publicity) by one James T. Taylor of Toledo, Ohio, in which the latter states quite unambiguously: “Now as I am her brother in law I am interested in her welfare.”[ii]Leaving aside the unlikely possibility that a sister of “Pearl Taylor” had married an unrelated Taylor, it is therefore self-evident that Taylor could not be the family name.

That fact, and other apparent anomalies in the accepted version of Pearl’s life, led the current authors to the obvious conclusion that the best place to begin researching Pearl’s life was Lindsay, Ontario, the town which Pearl herself, in her widely-read interview in the ‘The Cosmopolitan’ magazine of October, 1899, claimed as her birthplace. A telephone call to the Kawartha Lakes Public Library, Lindsay, in April, 2018, resulted in immediate “pay dirt”, as it transpired that a senior librarian (since retired) had been approached by a descendant of Pearl Hart and, starting in late 2016, had undertaken a thorough investigation, the results of which – expanded with further research by the current authors – are as follows:

Pearl Hart was born Lilly Naomi Davy, the third child and second daughter of Albert Davy and Anna Duvall, on 19 April, 1871, in Lindsay, Ontario.[iii]

Albert Davy[iv], born in Ontario, was listed in an 1877-1878 Lindsay directory as a “laborer” and in the 1901 Canadian census and on his death certificate, as a “Fisherman”. Anna Duvall, known as ‘Annie’, is believed to have been born in or near Belleville, Ontario. Newspaper references to her being possessed of a dowry would suggest that she had, in the parlance of the day, “married beneath her” but there can be no doubt that her choice of husband was little short of disastrous. In 1877, Albert Davy was convicted of the indecent assault and attempted rape of a 14-year-old girl; he was duly sentenced to one year in prison and twelve strokes of the cat o’nine tails.[v]


By 1881, the Davy family had moved to Orillia, on Lake Simcoe, and it was about that time that Lilly was involved in her first known act of banditry. Together with brother William, she “rustled” a cow from a local farmer and sold it to an hotelkeeper for $9. Shortly thereafter, the pair removed said bovine from the hotelier’s barn and resold it for $30. While Lilly appears to have escaped retribution for this, William was sentenced to three years in the Reformatory for Boys at Penetanguishene, Ontario.[vi]

In 1884, Albert Davy, then working as a carter and described, with fine understatement, as “a drunken fellow and of little service in supporting a family,”[vii]tried to force Annie to sell the plot of land on Simcoe Lane where they lived. When she refused, Davy threatened her with violence or worse, causing the older children to leave for Campbellford, some considerable distance to the west of Orillia. Eventually, in about August of that year, the children managed to put together enough money for Annie and the younger children to join them.

On the night of 3 October, 1884, four men broke into the shanty in which Mrs. Davy and the children were staying, and proceeded to gang-rape Annie over a period of more than three hours, the assault only being interrupted when one of the children escaped the cabin and alerted a neighbour. Warrants were issued and two of the gang taken into custody. A few days later, Mrs. Davy was approached by two friends of the accused and offered a sum of money not to give evidence at the forthcoming trial. “After much persuasion and much hesitation she finally complied,” and left with the men on 16 October. Her oldest daughter, Saphronia (1867-1957), was given $10 to keep silent.[viii]

Two hours later, with suspicious timing, Albert Davy arrived at the shanty and told the children to get ready to return to Orillia. He then proceeded to get drunk and made some compromising remarks indicating he was now free of Annie. When his comments were reported, a warrant was issued for his arrest on suspicion of murder,[ix]leading Davy to become the first, though not the last, member of the family to make the front page of the ‘New York Times’.[x]  Ultimately, Annie was returned from Watertown, New York, where she had been held, and was detained as a witness.[xi]  The four suspects were arrested, tried, and convicted, the sentence for all four being ten years’ hard labour.[xii]

At some point in that same year, 1884, Pearl, accompanied by her younger sister, Kitty (Catherine Amelia, 1873-1957), ran away from home. According to an account given to Francis Reno in 1899, “The two, dressed as boys, made their way by boat to Buffalo, N.Y., where they worked for a while in a factory where children were employed.”[xiii] Some eight weeks later, they were traced by their parents and returned to Orillia. As would soon become clear, this incident, far from being unique, would set the pattern for Pearl Hart’s subsequent, turbulent career, demonstrating as it did both an urge for freedom that would not be denied and the first steps in an outlaw life.

November 1, 2021 at 12:00 (high noon)

Copyright © 2021 A.H. Furlong and John Exshaw. All Rights Reserved.


Next chapter coming soon.



[ii]‘Grief of a Mother’, Arizona Daily Star (Tucson), 26 November, 1899, page 1, et al. The letter was apparently first published in the Phoenix Daily Herald but was widely reprinted throughout the territory. Some later references to the letter published outside Arizona did mistakenly refer to Taylor as Pearl’s brother; see, e.g., ‘Arizona Brevities’, The Los Angeles Daily Times, 3 May, 1900, page 10.

[iii]It may be noted that Lilly’s older brother, William B. Davy (1869-1955), in a letter written to the Arizona Pioneers’ Historical Society and dated 26 May, 1954, claimed that she was born in nearby Peterborough, Ontario. Said letter is now held in the Arizona Historical Society’s remarkably inadequate file on Pearl Hart.

[iv]Although the Davy children used this spelling, it appears as ‘Davey’ in the 1881 census and in most contemporary newspaper reports.

[v]County Judge’s Criminal Court’, Peterborough Review (Peterborough, Ontario), 28 September, 1877.

[vi]‘Orillia – The Adventures Of The Davey Family’, The Canadian Post (Lindsay, Ontario), 18 May, 1888. In the same report, Chief McKinnon of the Hamilton police recalled hearing that Annie had succeeded in having Albert jailed for abusing her.

[vii]‘Cobourg – An Atrocious Crime’, The Canadian Post (Lindsay, Ontario), 7 November, 1884.

[viii]‘Was There Foul Play? – Mysterious Disappearance of Mrs. Davey, late of Campbellford’, The Campbellford Herald (Campbellford, Ontario), 23 October 1884, and ‘Cobourg – An Atrocious Crime’, ‘The Canadian Post (Lindsay, Ontario), 7 November, 1884. While the accounts of Mrs. Davy’s disappearance in these two newspapers differ slightly in certain details, they are the same in substance.

[ix]‘Was There Foul Play? – Mysterious Disappearance of Mrs. Davey, late of Campbellford’, The Campbellford Herald (Campbellford, Ontario), 23 October 1884.

[x]‘Arrested For Wife Murder’, The New York Times (New York), 20 October, 1884.

[xi]‘Cobourg – An Atrocious Crime’, The Canadian Post (Lindsay, Ontario), 7 November, 1884.

[xii]‘Ten Years in the Penitentiary’, The Campbellford Herald (Campbellford, Ontario), 13 November, 1884.

[xiii]Reno, Francis – ‘Chicago Girl Bootblack As An Arizona Bandit’, The Inter Ocean Magazine (Chicago, Illinois), 17 April, 1904, page 1.

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