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Vol. 4 - No.04 April, 2022 Nooseletter Home SUBMIT AN ARTICLE
Trailblazing Women of the Old West
Trailblazing Women of the Old West
Gunshots and Gingham! Don’t Mess with these Wild West Women!

Men might have held the power, but these gutsy women ruled the Wild West on their own terms. From saloon owners to sharpshooters, outlaws to entrepreneurs, good or bad, they left their mark on history.
Annie Oakley: Little Sure Shot
Annie Oakley: Little Sure Shot

Born Phoebe Ann Moses in 1860 in Darke County, Ohio, Annie’s young life was mired in poverty. At age eight, Annie took matters into her own hands—in the form of a rifle. She learned to shoot and hunt, selling the meat to restaurants to earn money for her family’s survival. And she was good at it—so good that she was able to pay off her mother’s $200 mortgage.

Encouraged by one of her restaurant connections, at the age of 15, Annie headed to Cincinnati to test her sharpshooting skills in a match against the well-known marksman, Frank E. Butler. Imagine what the spectators thought when this spunky young woman standing at just 5’ tall raised her rifle, and zeroed in on the target. If they underestimated her, they were quickly put in their place, as she bested Butler 25 true shots to his 24. Butler was not only impressed, he was also smitten, and after a courtship, he and Annie married.

Over the years, the couple traveled the country giving sharpshooting demonstrations, and in 1885 joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. For the next 16 years, they toured the U.S. and around the world, even performing in England at the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. Annie rose to stardom.

In her life, Annie Oakley was passionate about teaching women and girls how to shoot. She earned the name, “Little Sure Shot” by Chief Sitting Bull after he saw her perform, and the two became good friends. In 1901, the train carrying the Buffalo Bill Show performers wrecked, and Annie injured her back, halting further performances. She and Frank left the Buffalo Bill show. Annie performed again throughout the years, finally retiring in 1913.

In 1922 the couple made a brief comeback, entertaining large crowds in major U.S. cities, but the tour ended when they were in a serious car crash. Annie Oakley died on November 3, 1926. Her beloved husband, Frank E. Butler, passed just three weeks later. Click here to read more about Annie Oakley.
Dr. Susan Anderson: Pioneer Doctor
Dr. Susan Anderson: Pioneer Doctor

Becoming a doctor wasn’t Susan Anderson’s first career choice. She wanted to be a telegraph operator, and even learned Morse Code, but she came from a home where education was highly regarded, and her father encouraged her to pursue medicine.

Susan was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1870 and grew up in Kansas. Her parents divorced when she was a child, and she and her younger brother, John, moved in with their father, who later remarried. During the Gold Rush in 1891, the family moved to Cripple Creek, Colorado. Now a high school graduate, Susan enrolled at the University of Michigan to study medicine, one of very few women in her class.

After graduating in 1897, Susan, now Dr. Anderson, returned to Cripple Creek and tended to the residents of the mining camp for three years. Early on, a young miner accidentally exploded dynamite in the mine. A surgeon was quick to say the arm needed to be amputated, but Dr. Anderson disagreed and treated the boy, saving his arm. In the years to come, she would be known for her prowess at fighting infection.

Living at the mining camp was a rough life, made worse when her fiancé left her, and her beloved brother died. So, in 1900, Dr. Anderson set up practice in Denver, but the city wasn’t welcoming. There were many male doctors available, and few patients trusted a woman physician. She moved to Greely, Colorado, and because she needed to support herself, she took a job as a nurse for the next six years, during which time she contracted tuberculosis.

Now, she was the patient. It was common practice to send tuberculosis patients to cold, dry climates. Dr. Anderson moved to the small mountain town of Fraser, Colorado. Her only intention was to recuperate, but as word got around that she was a doctor, the locals came to her for treatment. She made house calls on foot over rugged terrain in all weather conditions to treat lumberjacks, railroad workers, ranchers, and even the occasional cow or horse. She soon became known as Dr. Susie.

Her patients were poor, so payment usually came in the form of firewood, food or chores. She found herself destitute but determined to continue serving the community. She finally earned some income when the Moffat railroad tunnel began construction through the Rockies, and she was appointed Grand County Coroner in charge of investigating work-related deaths. Accidents during construction kept her busy, too. She was constantly on call, treating the multitudes of injured workers.

Dr. Susie practiced medicine in Fraser for nearly 50 years. She died in 1960 at a Denver rest home at the age of 90 and is buried in Cripple Creek near her brother.
Pearl Hart: Heart of Steel
Pearl Hart: Heart of Steel

She was born Pearl Taylor in 1871 to wealthy, educated and religious parents in Canada. So how did this young lady who attended boarding school become known as the infamous and legendary “Bandit Queen?”
While at school, at age 16, Pearl fell hard for Frank Hart, a man with a reputation for being a gambler, a womanizer, and a drunk. Coming from a sheltered home, she was easily charmed by his tales of romance and adventure. The couple eloped, and soon Frank showed his true character, becoming cruel and abusive, a ne’er do well who could not hold down a steady job. Pearl stuck with Frank as they drifted from town to town, impoverished vagabonds.

In 1893, she and Frank went to the Chicago World’s Fair, and Pearl had an eye-opening experience. Not only was she fired up by listening to women speakers impassioned about the Suffrage movement, but when she attended Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show she became fascinated with the western and cowboy lifestyle. At the end of the Fair, Pearl left Frank and headed to Colorado. But when she discovered she was pregnant, she headed back home to Canada, to the source of her comfort during hard times—her beloved mother. She gave birth to a boy, but Pearl’s wanderlust could not be tamed by motherhood. She left her son to her mother’s care and took off for Arizona.

Pearl’s starstruck vision of an adventurous cowboy life eluded her. She was working as a cook when Frank tracked her down, and though wiser than the teenager who was once enamored by his fanciful tales, she still fell for his story of repentance and redemption. Pearl and Frank reconciled, and Pearl became pregnant again, giving birth to a daughter, but Frank hadn’t changed. Though facts are sketchy, one story has it that he beat her unconscious. Not surprisingly, she didn’t shed a tear when Frank took off to fight in the Spanish-American War. Pearl headed home, and like before, she became restless. Leaving her baby girl with her mother, she went back to Arizona to work as a cook in a mining camp, where she met German drifter, Joe Boot. The pair moved to Globe, Arizona and mined a claim for silver with no success.

In 1899, Pearl’s life took a devastating turn. She received a letter from home stating her mother was dying, and the family could not afford the medical bills. Neither she nor Joe had the funds to help, so the duo conned miners out of what little they had, but the money they stole not enough. They needed a big haul, and the scheme to rob the stagecoach traveling from Globe to Florence, Arizona took shape—and they pulled it off, though Pearl demonstrated a bit of remorse when she returned one dollar to each passenger before she and Joe galloped away. At this time in her life, Pearl had started cutting her hair short and wearing men’s clothes. Five days later a posse cornered the novice outlaws. Joe surrendered immediately. Surely, the sheriff must have been shocked when the other “guy,” who fought like a wild animal to avoid being taken in, turned out to be a woman. As news spread, she earned the title of “Bandit Queen.” During the trial, Pearl threw herself on the mercy of the court, saying she only robbed the stagecoach to help her frail, ailing mother. They bought it, and Pearl was acquitted. Joe, however, was sentenced to 30 years in prison, but escaped after serving just a couple of years. The judge had it in for Pearl. He had lesser charges brought against her, replaced the jury, and this time, she was found guilty and sentenced to five years.

By now, Pearl was famous. The press loved her. The public was fascinated by her. And she knew how to work the system, charming the warden, the guards anyone with influence to get a more comfortable cell and other privileges. She kept reporters and visitors entertained as she regaled them with tales of her short life of crime.

After just 18 months behind bars, Peal was paroled. It wasn’t long before Pearl’s moment in the spotlight waned. It’s believed Pearl remarried and lived out her life as a law-abiding citizen. She died in 1955 and is buried in Arizona.
Etta Place: Outlaw and Woman of Mystery
Etta Place: Outlaw and Woman of Mystery

In the late 1800s, Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid, and their Wild Bunch gang went on the longest crime spree in American history, robbing trains and banks, while successfully eluding the famed Pinkerton Detective Agency. When the gang split, one woman remained loyal: Ethel “Etta” Place. Little is known about Etta. She was either from Utah or New York. Rumors swirled that she worked as a teacher—or a prostitute. But she was The Sundance Kid’s devoted companion, and as some historical reports state, the gang’s lookout during the heists while holding the getaway horses. For a while she lived on a ranch in Argentina with Butch and Sundance, traveled to Europe, and visited family in the U.S. before the trio became restless and resumed a life of crime throughout South America. Etta’s death is as mysterious as her birth, but certainly not lacking in conjecture! From a dramatic end in Bolivia’s final shootout to living out her life alone in San Francisco, to faking her death and marrying a wealthy rancher in Paraguay, only one thing is certain: We’ll never know.
Poker Alice: Enchanting Poker Face
Poker Alice: Enchanting Poker Face

Born in England, Alice Ivers’ refined life changed when, in her late teens, her family moved from Virginia to Colorado. There Alice met her first husband, Frank Duffield, a mining engineer and gambler. She accompanied Frank to the gambling halls and became hooked on the thrill of the game. Soon she was sitting at the tables. When Frank died in an explosion, Alice gambled to make a living, earning the nickname, “Poker Alice”. She won big, by using her sharp skills, and by distracting her male opponents with her beauty, frilly attire—and by smoking cigars. Alice’s second husband died of tuberculosis, leaving her with seven children and a farm to support. She returned to gambling. Later, she married her farm’s caretaker, but once again, was widowed. In her later years, Alice continued to gamble, and took to wearing men’s clothes. She was arrested and fined several times for drunkenness and running a brothel. Poker Alice died on February 27, 1930, at age 79 from complications after gallbladder surgery.
Carrie Nation: Temperance with a Temper
Carrie Nation: Temperance with a Temper

Carrie Nation was born into a troubled family in Kentucky in 1846. Her father struggled financially, and her mother suffered from mental illness. The family moved around a lot, and after the Civil War, settled in Missouri. Carrie met Dr. Charles Gloyd in 1865, and despite her parents’ objections, they married in 1867. Sadly, she found their warnings of his raging alcoholism to be true, and the couple separated a year later. When Charles died of the disease in 1869, Carrie became a fervent temperance activist, but it wasn’t until her second marriage to attorney and minister, David Nation, did she take to the streets. David began preaching in a Kansas church, and Carrie formed a branch of The Women’s Christian Temperance Movement. The ladies staged protests outside of bars, serenading patrons with hymns and berating bartenders. In 1900, Carrie believed God directed her to escalate her efforts, so wielding a hatchet, she began marching into bars and smashing liquor bottles. She was arrested over 30 times for her efforts. Though notorious for her actions, Carrie initiated many charitable acts, including establishing a shelter for wives and children of alcoholics. She died in a sanitarium in 1911.
Laura Ingalls Wilder: Prairie Born, Prairie Raised
Laura Ingalls Wilder: Prairie Born, Prairie Raised

Laura Ingalls was born in Pepin, Wisconsin, on February 7, 1867, the second of four children born to Charles and Caroline Ingalls. Often uprooted in her young years to fulfill her father’s frontier dream, she was no stranger to tragedy and heartbreak. One year, her family’s very existence was threatened as several blizzards stranded them with little food and no firewood for five months. At 15, Laura received her teaching certificate and taught in a one-room schoolhouse. During this time, she met Almanzo Wilder. When Laura turned 18, the couple married, began life on their farm, welcomed their daughter, Rose. Over the years, disaster and hardship plagued the family, but they survived, rebuilt their lives, and prospered, and when Laura turned her many journal entries into articles for a local newspaper, she found herself on a new journey—as a writer. With the help of Rose, herself a reporter, Laura published her first novel, Little House in the Big Woods, at the age of 65. Laura Ingalls Wilder died in 1957 at age 90.
 Belle Star: Rich Girl, Poor Choices
Belle Star: Rich Girl, Poor Choices

Born Myra Maybelle Shirley on February 5, 1848, in Carthage, Missouri, Belle grew up rich and spoiled. At school, she studied music and classical languages. At home, her brother Bud taught her to ride horses and shoot. When the Union Army attacked Carthage, the family fled to Texas, where they congregated with Confederate sympathizers and outlaws, including Jesse James and the Younger brothers. At 18, Belle married Jim Reed, who soon turned to a life of crime. After seven years running from the law and bearing two children, Belle left him. When Jim died, she married Sam Starr, whose Cherokee family were bootleggers, cattle, and horse thieves. The couple often harbored on-the-lam outlaws in their home. In 1883, Belle and Sam were convicted of larceny, and both served time. After Sam’s death in a shootout in 1886, Belle married horse thief, Bill July. A lifetime running with outlaws, Belle made enemies, including her own children, her new husband, and a neighbor she’d evicted from her land. In 1889, while riding home after visiting friends, Belle was ambushed and murdered. The crime was never solved. Belle died three days before her 41st birthday.
Calamity Jane: Always in the Spotlight
Calamity Jane: Always in the Spotlight

At a time of wild exaggeration, no one spread outlandish tales about Calamity Jane better than Calamity herself. Born Martha Jane Canary in 1856 in Missouri, Jane was the oldest of six children—and orphaned by the time she was in her mid-teens. At 19, Calamity headed to the lawless town of Deadwood, South Dakota. Because of her manly attire and bodacious personality, she soon became the protagonist in a series of dime novels. She dressed like a man, occasionally did men’s work, and she could ride, shoot, out-drink, and out-cuss the most foul-mouthed, tobacco-chewing ne’er-do-wells in any camp she wandered through. She made money as a laundress, a cook, a dance hall girl, and bullwhacker, among other jobs not considered “ladylike.” She was boisterous, and enthralling, drawing crowds wherever she went. She pined for Wild Bill Hickok. Though some accounts state they married, others claim he wanted little to do with her, or they were merely casual friends. As self-aggrandizing as she was, Jane had a big heart, helping the sick and needy. But years of alcoholism caught up with her. She died at age 47 near Deadwood. At her request, she was buried next to Bill Hickok.
Sacagawea – The Ultimate Multi-Tasking Mama
Sacagawea – The Ultimate Multi-Tasking Mama

At age 12, Sacagawea was on a buffalo hunt with her Shoshone tribe members, when enemy Hidatsa warriors kidnapped her. She lived among the Hidatsa for a few years until they sold her to French-Canadian fur trader, Toussaint Charbonneau, as the second of his two wives. Charbonneau was more than 20 years her senior. Meanwhile, Lewis and Clark departed on their famed expedition in search of the Northwest Passage. When they arrived in Hidatsa territory, they met Sacagawea, now six months pregnant, and immediately recognized her and Charbonneau as invaluable resources on the next leg of their journey. The couple spoke several languages and knew the terrain. Plus, having a woman along could help diffuse any possible hostile encounters. But Sacagawea proved she was more than a peacemaker. With her infant strapped into a cradleboard, she negotiated the sale of horses, saved crucial papers, scientific instruments, and medicine when her boat nearly capsized in a squall, all while keeping her son safe. In 1812, after giving birth to a daughter, the Shoshone woman who was essential on the trek to the Pacific Ocean, succumbed to typhoid fever. Sacagawea was 25.
Mary Fields – Fierce and Fearless
Mary Fields – Fierce and Fearless

At six-feet tall, 200 pounds, toting a pair of six-shooters and a shotgun, smoking a foul homemade cigar, even the burliest man would think twice about getting into a fight with Mary Fields. The woman was fierce, feisty with a short, explosive temper that often led to fists flying and gunshots ringing.

Mary Fields was born a slave in Tennessee. As a free woman years after the Civil War ended, she sought a better life…and adventure. She worked on steamboats and at a convent in Ohio. When a group of nuns headed west to do mission work, Mary joined them on the trek to Cascade County, Montana. Once in the city of Cascade, she worked for the Ursuline nuns doing the heavy lifting they weren’t capable of. She chopped wood, did stonework, and rough carpentry. She was adept at hitching and driving horses and mules, so she would often go on supply runs to the train stop, or the cities of Great Falls or Helena. Though her temperament was hardly “holy,” she was known for her devotion to the nuns and her dedication to the students at the convent school. Her time at the mission came to an end when a male coworker complained that a woman—a black woman, at that—made $2 more per month than he. Patience not being one of her virtues, Mary confronted the man. The inevitable argument escalated to an all-out gunfight, with the man suffering a minor injury, and the Bishop’s clothes that were hanging on the line looking like Swiss cheese from all the bullet holes. It was the last straw. The Bishop ordered the nuns to let Mary go. Though the nuns appealed to the Bishop, arguing on Mary’s behalf, he wouldn’t budge, and they had no choice but to dismiss her. Mary was devastated. With the help of the Mother Superior, Mary opened a restaurant, but the business failed, because she couldn’t find it in her heart to turn away customers who couldn’t afford to pay.

Mary’s next job earned her the nickname: “Stagecoach Mary.” In 1895 she became the first African American to receive an independent contract with Star Route Carrier, to deliver the United States Mail, and the tough, determined woman found her calling.

Mary soon gained a reputation for delivering letters and packages in the harshest weather conditions, over the most rugged terrain, under harrowing, life-threatening conditions. Displaying the courage of a hero, she was known to fight off bandits to protect her cargo. Aboard her trusty mule, Moses, she trekked through icy blizzards and sweltering heat to get to isolated miners’ cabins or outposts delivering land claims and other important documents. Because she was so reliable getting mail to its destination, she was a key player in the development of the mostly lawless central Montana. She kept up this pace until she was in her late sixties, but the job took its toll, and she retired.

At age 70, she needed an income. She once again became a business owner, starting a laundry service from her home. Mary may have been a rough, hard-drinking, cigar-smoking force of nature, but, as she demonstrated when she had her restaurant, she also had a soft side. She was known for her kindness and affection for children and added babysitter to her illustrious life’s work. And as an avid baseball fan, she’d attend the Cascade team’s home games, distributing bouquets of flowers from her garden to any Cascade player who hit a home run.
A beloved and respected member of the Cascade, Montana community, locals often treated Mary to drinks and meals. “Stagecoach” Mary Fields died in 1914, at around the age of 82.
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