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The Toughest Female Outlaws and Gunslingers of the Old West

The Toughest Female Outlaws and Gunslingers of the Old West

We always hear about tough male outlaws and gunslingers in the Wild Wild West, but what about women? There were some pretty notorious thieves and gunfighters during this time that left a unique legacy. Some died due to their crimes while others ran away and started new, living a quiet life. Imagine going from bank robbery to opening a small little store in the middle of nowhere.

Some of these women deserve way more credit. Have you ever heard of Calamity Jane? She was such an iconic Old West girl that she was portrayed in countless movies and TV shows including “The Plainsman” and “Wild Bill.”

The Old West was an interesting time. While people define this time period differently, the Old West generally refers to the American frontier running from the early to mid-1800s into the early 1900s. When most people think of the Old West they imagine overdressed cowboys, horses, guns, saloons, and small towns. So many Western films are about the Old West. (Click here to discover 27 great Westerns that were nominated for Oscars.)

To curate this list, we chose tough female gunslingers and outlaws born active during the Old West. Since everyone defines this time differently, we chose to list females born after 1845 and active before 1920. There is one exception on this list added as an honorary Wild West woman and bonus. These women were murderers, thieves, and gamblers.

Here are the toughest female outlaws and gunslingers of the Old West:

Annie Oakley (1860 – 1926)

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Annie Oakley was an interesting person. She wasn’t an outlaw, but incredibly talented with a gun. Oakley is best known for acting and performing in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.

She was born on August 13, 1860, in Ohio and was extremely talented even at a young age. She won a shooting contest at just 15 against Frank E. Butler, her future husband. They joined the show in 1885. Annie was especially known for shooting a cigar from her husband’s hand without hurting him.

Pearl Hart (1871 – 1955)

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Also on our list is the notorious Pearl Hart. She was known by many aliases and nicknames like Lady Bandit, Bandit Queen, and Talo Halo. Hart was born in Canada but is known for her string of crimes in the United States.

One of her first known crimes was robbing a stagecoach. She wore men’s clothes and used a .38 revolver. She was caught quickly. People were entranced with the idea of a female robber in men’s clothing. Hart served her sentence in Yuma Territorial Prison where she received special treatment. In 1902, Governor Alexander Brodie pardoned her.

Belle Starr (1848 – 1889)

Belle Starr
Source: Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

Belle Starr is a notorious gunslinging woman from the Old West. She was born on February 5, 1848, as Myra Maybelle Shirley in Missouri. Starr was described as a wild child growing up. She grew up on a farm and received an education.

Interestingly, few people knew of Belle Star until after her mysterious death. Her life of crime peaked when she married her husband, Sam. They were charged with horse theft and served her time at the Detroit House of Corrections. She was ambushed and killed on February 3, 1889. The case remains unsolved.

Laura Bullion (1876 – 1961)

Source: trialsanderrors / Flickr

Source: trialsanderrors / Flickr

Another outlaw of the Wild Wild West is Laura Bullion. There is little and conflicting information from the beginning of her life. However, she may have been born near Texas in October of 1876.

This female outlaw was part of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch gang. She ran with a tough crowd and was associated with Wild West legends like the Tall Texan, Sundance Kid, and Kid Curry. Bullion is especially known for her role in the infamous Great Northern train robbery. Although sentenced to five years, she was released after three years and ten months.

Calamity Jane (1856 – 1903)

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Calamity Jane was such an interesting character. It’s hard to imagine she was even a real person. She wasn’t a criminal or an outlaw, but a tough and incredible gunslinger. Most people know her from her involvement in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.

Despite her tough character, she was sweet and helpful, often giving money and food to the needy. Calamity Jane was born as Martha Jane Canary. She was known for wearing men’s clothing.

Bonnie Parker (1910–1934)

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Who hasn’t heard about Bonnie Parker by now? She was half of the Bonnie and Clyde duo. Technically, Bonnie isn’t a Wild West outlaw, but she deserves a mention for her fame. Parker was born on October 1, 1910, in Texas.

Bonnie’s life of crime likely began because of her love for Clyde. They were a dynamic duo. Bonnie Parker robbed quite a few places. She met her end in 1934 after she and Clyde were ambushed. About 112 bullet holes covered the car they died in.

Goldie Griffith (1893 – 1976)

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Like a few other incredible women on our list, Goldie Griffith wasn’t an outlaw but an incredible athlete and show-woman. Griffith was particularly known for her excellent riding skills.

This famous cowgirl was part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. She also performed as a boxer and wrestler in Blanche Whitney’s Athletic Show. She married her first husband during a performance in front of 8,000 people. Sometime later, she fired a gun at him after finding out he was wanted for murder. Eventually, she stopped riding horses and moved to Boulder County, Colorado.

Rose Dunn (1878 – 1955)

Source: Smallboy944, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Smallboy944, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Rose Dunn was involved with some sketchy people, although she was never tied to a crime. This unique Old West woman was born on September 5, 1878. Her brothers were involved in crime and taught her to ride and shoot.

But why is she so significant? Well, Rose Dunn was nicknamed the Rose of Cimarron. She was known for her good looks. Through her brothers, she met and started a romantic affair with outlaw George “Bittercreek” Newcomb. To help him, Rose would go to town looking for supplies as he was a wanted man. The rest of the gang treasured and protected her.

Etta Place (1878 – unknown)

Source: Bliss Bros., photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Source: Bliss Bros., photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Next on our list of the toughest female outlaws and gunslingers of the Old West is Etta Place. She was an interesting woman with a mysterious and unknown fate. Etta was born around 1876. Her real name may have been Ethel Bishop, a quiet teacher. However, some people also believe she may have been Ann Bassett, a cattle rancher who ran in the same circle.

Regardless of her real identity, we know she was a companion of the Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch. She may have been romantically and criminally involved with both the Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy. So, what happened to her? Honestly, no one knows. There are theories that she moved to Chile, Argentina, Texas, or Colorado.

Mary Katherine Haroney (1849 – 1940)

Source: Public Domain via Wikipedia Commons

Source: Public Domain via Wikipedia Commons

Big Nose Kate, a.k.a Mary Katherine Harony Cummings, was a popular outlaw. She was born in Hungary but moved to the United States during the 1860s with her family. Mary is known for her common-law marriage to Doc Holliday, a legendary Old West gunfighter and gambler.

After getting involved with Doc Holliday, she traveled a lot. They went to Kansas, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Colorado. During their travels, Big Nose Kate worked as a prostitute. While dealing cards, Holliday ran into trouble. He killed Ed Bailey in self-defense. While a mob was forming to kill Holliday, Big Nose Kate took charge with a gun and got him out. They ran off with stolen horses.

Western films are a great way to learn about the unique people that lived in the Wild West. Check out our article on the greatest Western directors of all time.)

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