The Wild West has long been glorified as a testosterone-fueled battleground, but it’s time to give credit to the fierce cowgirls who carved their own paths in the vast American frontier.
These ten legendary female outlaws defied societal norms while wielding guns and living on the edge of the law, proving that women could be just as ruthless and cunning as their male counterparts.
Prepare to saddle up for a thrilling ride through history as we uncover their fascinating stories, challenge stereotypes, and celebrate these fearless dames who helped shape our understanding of this iconic era.
Table of Contents
The Wild West: A Brief History
The Wild West, also known as the American Frontier or the Old West, encompassed the western territories of the United States during the late 19th century. This era represented a time of lawlessness and adventure, where outlaws, cowboys, and pioneers navigated their way through a rugged landscape filled with untamed wildlife and vast expanses of uncharted land.
During this tumultuous period, legendary figures emerged – infamous outlaws like Jesse James and skilled gunslingers like “Wild Bill” Hickok. As much as these men remain prominent symbols of those times, numerous women also survived and made their mark on history.
One notable example is Calamity Jane (born Martha Canary), who worked various jobs typically reserved for men at that time –from scout to ox team driver– all while dressed accordingly in pants rather than skirts.
Famous Female Cowgirl Outlaws Of The Wild West
Discover the thrilling and inspiring stories of Belle Starr, Calamity Jane, Pearl Hart, Mary Fields, Cattle Annie and Little Britches, Rose Dunn, Sally Skull, Laura Bullion, Lillian Smith, and Annie Oakley – these fierce women who defied societal expectations to become some of the most notorious female outlaws and cowgirls in Wild West history.
Belle Starr: Queen Of The Outlaws
Belle Starr, born Myra Maybelle Shirley in 1848, earned her title as the “Queen of the Outlaws” through a life filled with crime and notoriety. Her adventures began after her family moved to Texas during the American Civil War, where she eventually crossed paths with notorious outlaws like Jesse James and the Younger Brothers.
Known for her intelligence and fearlessness, Belle was heavily involved in planning heists while also maintaining appearances as an upstanding member of society. Unfortunately, her criminal exploits caught up with her when she was shot in the back by an unknown assailant while riding home from a neighbor’s house in 1889.
Calamity Jane: The Gunslinger
Calamity Jane, born Martha Jane Cannary in 1852, carved her path as a daring frontierswoman and professional scout in the treacherous terrains of the Wild West. Known for her sharpshooting talents and captivating storytelling abilities, she etched herself into history as one of the most notorious female cowgirl outlaws during that era.
Her life story has been shrouded with numerous legendary tales – some factual and some embellished. However, it’s undeniable that Calamity Jane defied gender norms by taking on perilous jobs typically reserved for men, thereby inspiring generations of women to break boundaries.
Pearl Hart: The Stagecoach Robber
Pearl Hart was one of the most legendary female cowgirl outlaws in the Wild West, known for her daredevil acts and infamous stagecoach robberies. Born into a humble family in Canada, she rose to national fame for her bold and daring exploits that captured the imagination of people across America.
One of her most well-known heists involved holding up a stagecoach at gunpoint with an accomplice, making off with over $400 worth of goods.
Mary Fields: The Black Pioneer
Mary Fields, also known as Stagecoach Mary and Black Mary, was born into slavery in 1832. She became an American mail carrier and was the first Black woman to do so.
Before moving to Montana in 1885, details about her life were difficult to trace. However, once she arrived in the territory, Fields quickly gained a reputation for being one of the toughest mail carriers around.
She was known for her fearlessness when it came to facing elements such as harsh weather conditions and wild animals on her delivery runs.
Cattle Annie And Little Britches: The Teenage Outlaws
Cattle Annie and Little Britches were two young girls who defied societal norms to become infamous outlaws in late 1800s Oklahoma. Born Anna Emmaline McDoulet and Jennie Stevenson Midkiff, respectively, the duo gained notoriety for their involvement in cattle rustling, robberies, and even possible spy work for the Wild Bunch gang.
Legend has it that Bill Doolin himself gave them their nicknames. Despite their brief stint in crime, Cattle Annie and Little Britches have remained a part of Wild West folklore, inspiring books such as “The Thorny Rose” by Larry D.
Rose Dunn: The Rose Of The Wild Bunch
Rose Dunn, also known as the “Rose of Cimarron,” was an infamous female outlaw who learned how to shoot and ride from her older brothers. She lived a life of crime with the Wild Bunch gang, pulling off several heists and robberies across the United States.
Dunn was romantically involved with George “Bitter Creek” Newcomb, another member of the Wild Bunch gang. Her association with them made her one of the 10 famous female cowgirl outlaws who ruled the Wild West.
Despite her illegal activities, Dunn had a reputation for being kind-hearted and helping those in need.
Sally Skull: The Texas Terror
Sally Skull was a true cowgirl outlaw known as the “Texas Terror.” She lived during the Wild West era and made her name by driving wild horses from the prairie to the market.
She didn’t shy away from danger, traveling alone through dangerous territory between Corpus Christi and Rio Grande with her oxen wagon. Sally Skull’s legacy is still celebrated today as she is considered one of the 10 famous female cowgirl outlaws who ruled the Wild West.
Laura Bullion: The Wild West’s Female Bandit
Laura Bullion was a notorious female outlaw of the Wild West and a member of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch gang in the 1890s. She was one of the few women to have joined the gang, earning her nickname “Rose of the Wild Bunch.” Laura Bullion is known for being the last woman to help rob a train and also became famous for holding off marshals with her rifle until Joe Boot could hold up the driver.
Unfortunately, she died on December 2, but no information has been provided regarding her cause of death.
Lillian Smith: The Lady Outlaw
Lillian Smith was a true Wild West trailblazer known as a trick rider and shooter. Born in California in 1871, she joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show at just 14 years old and quickly became renowned for her skills on horseback.
Despite being Annie Oakley’s rival, Lillian made a name for herself by shooting targets while riding a bicycle.
Lillian paved the way for other women to enter the historically male-dominated world of cowboys and outlaws during that time period. She proved that women could hold their own and excel in dangerous activities such as trick riding and sharpshooting.
Through her feats of bravery and skill, Lillian demonstrated that gender norms should not limit one’s abilities or opportunities.
Annie Oakley: The Sharpshooter
Annie Oakley was an American sharpshooter who became famous for her incredible shooting skills. She spent her entire childhood in Ohio, where she learned to hunt and trap to support her family.
Oakley starred in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, performing acts of bravery while shooting at targets with remarkable accuracy. She represented women as capable shooters and paved the way for future female athletes.
Despite being famous for her sharpshooting skills, Oakley was not a frontierswoman nor a female cowgirl outlaw like some of the other women on this list.
What Made Female Cowgirl Outlaws So Rare?
Female cowgirl outlaws were rare due to societal expectations and gender norms that limited opportunities for women in the Wild West and the dangers and risks associated with a life of crime.
Societal Expectations And Gender Norms
In the Wild West, societal expectations and gender norms made it challenging for women to break free from traditional roles. Women were expected to stay home, care for their families, and behave demurely in public.
These female cowgirl outlaws defied convention by dressing like men or engaging in illegal activities such as robbery. Not just society limited them; laws also worked against women who strayed from traditional gender roles.
Being caught could mean prison time, fines, or even death sentences.
Lack Of Opportunities For Women
Women in the Wild West faced a significant lack of opportunities to pursue careers and activities outside of traditional domestic roles. Men were generally favored for ranching, mining, and other labor-intensive jobs, leaving women with few options beyond becoming wives or working as prostitutes.
This societal imbalance meant that female cowgirl outlaws had to be resourceful in carving out their own paths outside of societal expectations. Mary Fields, for example, worked as a mail carrier and later ran her own laundry business in Montana.
Pearl Hart disguised herself as a man to rob stagecoaches and support her family financially.
The Dangers And Risks Of Being An Outlaw
Female cowgirl outlaws faced a multitude of risks and dangers during their lives of crime in the Wild West. Firstly, they were often hunted down by law enforcement, which often resulted in fatal shootouts or imprisonment.
Belle Starr, also known as the “Bandit Queen,” was gunned down while returning home from a neighbor’s house. Secondly, female outlaws had to face harsh and dangerous conditions, such as living on the run, hiding out in caves or abandoned mineshafts, and traveling long distances across vast territories with little food or water.
Despite these challenges, many female cowgirl outlaws became legendary figures in Wild West history, inspiring future generations with their boldness and determination to carve their own paths despite societal expectations and gender norms.
The Impact And Legacy Of Female Cowgirl Outlaws
Female cowgirl outlaws broke gender barriers and paved the way for future generations, inspiring depictions in popular culture and contributing to the Wild West’s history and folklore.
Breaking Gender Barriers And Paving The Way For Future Generations
These female cowgirl outlaws were not only notorious for their daring and risky exploits, but they also helped to break down gender barriers in the Wild West. Despite the societal expectations and gender norms of their time, these women made a name for themselves by challenging traditional roles and taking on extraordinary feats.
For example, Calamity Jane’s unorthodox lifestyle challenged popular notions of womanhood at the time by dressing like a man, smoking cigars, drinking whiskey, and handling guns with ease.
Similarly, Annie Oakley became one of the most famous sharpshooters of all time by demonstrating her impeccable marksmanship skills in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
Contributions To The Wild West’s History And Folklore
Female cowgirl outlaws played a significant role in shaping the history and folklore of the Wild West. Their stories have been passed down through generations, capturing the imagination of millions.
Their contributions were not only limited to challenging gender norms but also paving the way for future generations to pursue their dreams fearlessly. Female cowgirl outlaws have inspired countless depictions in popular culture, from movies like Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid to novels like True Grit.
They have become symbols of strength, courage, and tenacity even today.
Inspiring Depictions In Popular Culture
The female cowgirl outlaws of the Wild West have captured the imagination of popular culture for decades. From movies to TV shows, these women have been portrayed as fierce and independent, challenging traditional gender roles and expectations.
These depictions not only showcase the bravery and resilience of these women but also highlight how they broke down societal barriers during a time when opportunities for women were limited.
Depictions Of Female Cowgirl Outlaws In Movies And Literature
Female cowgirl outlaws have been depicted in various movies and literature, portraying their extraordinary lives of crime, adventure, and resilience that challenged the norms of society.
The Hollywood Version Of The Wild West
The Hollywood version of the Wild West often features romanticized portrayals of cowboys and outlaws, with very little emphasis on the roles women played in shaping this period of history.
Many movies and TV shows present one-dimensional female characters as damsels in distress or love interests for male protagonists. However, a few examples break this pattern, such as “The Quick and the Dead,” with Sharon Stone playing a gunslinger seeking revenge, and “Bad Girls,” which follows a group of women who become outlaws together.
Representations In Books And Art
The legendary stories of female cowgirl outlaws continue to inspire authors, artists, and filmmakers. Some of the most famous depictions of these women can be found in dime novels from the late 19th century.
In more contemporary art forms like movies and TV shows, female cowgirl outlaws have been given a new lease on life. Shows like “Deadwood” showcase gritty portrayals of male and female characters.
And films such as “The Quick and The Dead” provide reimagined versions of famous female outlaws that stay true to their rebellious spirit while also providing a fresh take on their history-making lives.
Frequently Asked Questions (About Famous Female Cowgirl Outlaws)
Who were some of the famous female cowgirl outlaws of the Wild West?
Some notable female cowgirl outlaws from the Wild West include Belle Starr, Calamity Jane, Pearl Hart, and Cattle Annie.
What motivated these women to become cowgirl outlaws?
Many of these women turned to a life on the run due to poverty and lack of opportunities during that time period. Others sought adventure or revenge against those who wronged them.
What types of crimes did these female cowgirl outlaws commit?
Crimes committed by female cowgirl outlaws varied but often included robbery, horse theft, cattle rustling, and even murder.
How were these female cowgirl outlaws portrayed in popular culture and media?
In popular culture and media, many of these women have been romanticized as rebels with a heart of gold or feminist icons breaking free from societal constraints. However, their true stories may be more complex than what is depicted in films or books about them.
Conclusion: Celebrating The Legacy Of Famous Female Cowgirl Outlaws
In conclusion, the Wild West was a time of great adventure and danger, where many legendary figures left their mark on history. Among those were 10 famous female cowgirl outlaws who ruled the Wild West with daring exploits and fearless attitudes.
From Belle Starr to Annie Oakley, these women broke down barriers and paved the way for future generations of strong, empowered women. Their legacy lives on today in popular culture and our ongoing fascination with the Old West.