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Tucson Weekly A Whirl With Pearl

Jane Candia Coleman's Study Of Arizona's Infamous Gal Outlaw Is Both Entertaining And Historically Accurate.

By Emil Franzi

AUGUST 17, 1998: 

I, Pearl Hart, by Jane Candia Coleman (Five Star). Cloth, $18.95.

AWARD-WINNING Cochise County author Jane Candia Coleman (Moving On) has once again brought us a female perspective on the Old West and Arizona history. As she did with Big Nosed Kate in Doc Holliday's Woman, Coleman takes what we know of an historical figure and fills in the gaps with plausible possibilities and a rich historical backdrop. In doing so, she's made Pearl Hart, the ill-starred "Bandit Queen" of Arizona legend, a real and human figure.

Hart left a journal about her later years, but failed to mention much about her early life. What we, and Coleman, really know of her is that she came from Toledo, Ohio; was the abused wife of her first husband, a gambler named Frank; that she bore him two children; that she was a professional singer; that in 1899 she and a male partner named Joe Boot robbed the Globe-to-Florence stage and got caught near Benson. Hart escaped from jail in Tucson and was recaptured in Deming, New Mexico. Boot was sentenced to 30 years; Hart was found innocent of the robbery after making a proto-feminist appeal to the all-male jury. But she was found guilty and sentenced to five years in the notorious Yuma State Prison for stealing the stage driver's pistol.

She later remarried and spent the rest of her life outside of Globe, where she raised three children and completed her journal. On that framework Coleman hangs a series of fictional but credible actions. In doing so, she tells us much about the early West and the role of women in it. And Coleman's West is much closer to reality than the ludicrous extremes we've been given elsewhere, from Roy Rogers to Cormac McCarthy.

Coleman has Pearl originally befriended by Boot in a boxcar in which she's heading west from her abusive husband. She reconnects with him later when he talks her into the futile stage robbery, apparently her only crime despite the contemporary press hype and the famous posed pictures. The author invents and weaves a major friendship between the two other women who were also imprisoned at Yuma at the time, and speculates that Hart's early release occurred because she had been raped by a guard and was pregnant.

No one is quite sure today what really happened, but it all works in Coleman's deft presentation.

That Coleman, a regular contributor to the locally published Border Beat, has become a master of this genre is indicated by the fact that I, Pearl Hart, from a small publisher, is already in its third printing. We look forward to her next endeavor.

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