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Cowgirls, Outlaws and Gunslingers: 10 Women Who Ruled the Wild West

We've all heard the legendary names of the American West, back when shootouts and bank robberies were everyday news in the morning paper. Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok and Butch Cassidy have become well-known in American pop culture after gaining such notoriety during their days in the late 1800s. But there were also several female outlaws and crack shooters that were equally well-known.

Here are ten of the most notable women of the Wild West.

Annie Oakley

Women of the Wild West
Wikipedia Commons/ Public Domain

Born initially as Phoebe Ann Mosey, Annie Oakley was one of the best sharpshooters in her day. She first gained recognition at the young age of 15 when she won a shooting contest against Frank Butler, who later became her husband. The couple eventually joined the famous Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show where Oakley became a household name. She even offered Teddy Roosevelt the services of female sharpshooters for the Spanish-American War but was denied. Known as "The Little Sure Shot of the Wild West" due to her small size, Oakley continued to wow her audiences and set incredible shooting records even into her 60s.

Calamity Jane

Women of the Wild West
Wikipedia Commons/ Public Domain

Born Martha Jane Canary (or Cannary depending on the source), Calamity Jane was one of the most well-known frontierswomen in her day. She was also well-known for knowing and potentially marrying Wild Bill Hickok. The two met when Jane settled in one of the most famous wild-west towns, Deadwood, South Dakota.  She had previously earned her nickname after working for the military and being engaged in numerous battles with the Native Americans. Jane joined Buffalo Bill's show as a storyteller but eventually passed away at 51 most likely due to her struggle with alcoholism.

Belle Starr

Women of the Wild West
Wikipedia Commons/ Public Domain

Myra Maybelle Shirley Reed Starr was one of the most notable American outlaws in the old west. Following the Civil War, Starr married Jim Reed, who quickly turned to a life of crime. Starr, a crack shot, was known for being stylish and for riding sidesaddle with two pistols and dressed in black velvet.  The family became involved with the Starr clan, a Cherokee Indian family known for horse thievery and all sorts of crime in Oklahoma (at that time known as the Indian Territory). Belle eventually married Sam Starr, but he died in a shootout against Officer Frank West. Belle died in an ambush from fatal shot wounds, a murder which remains unsolved to this day.

Pearl Hart

Women of the Wild West
Wikipedia Commons/ Public Domain

Hart was a Canadian outlaw who committed one of the last recorded stagecoach robberies in the American West. While many details of her life are unknown, it is confirmed that while living in Arizona, she teamed up with someone named "Joe Boot" and the two decided to rob a stagecoach together. The pair stole what would be roughly $12,000 today, but were quickly caught and sent to jail. Word spread of the female stagecoach robber and Hart became the only female inmate at Yuma Territorial Prison, which loved the attention she received from the press. She was given a large cell with a yard and frequently posed for pictures and regularly granted interviews to reporters. After her release, she briefly worked in Buffalo Bill's show under an alias but ultimately disappeared from the public.

Laura Bullion

Women of the Wild West
Wikipedia Commons/ Public Domain

While the exact details of her birth and early life are unclear, Bullion is best known for being a member of Butch Cassidy's Wild Bunch gang. She was involved in the Great Northern train robbery, which led to her arrest in 1901. Known as  "Della Rose" or "Rose of the Wild Bunch," Bullion was the last surviving member of the Wild Bunch gang, passing away in 1961.

Eleanor Dumont

Also known as Madame Moustache, Dumont was one of the most notorious gamblers during her time, especially during the California Gold Rush. She had traveled all over making a living for herself playing cards. She eventually opened a gambling parlor, "Vingt-et-un," in Nevada City, where no women were allowed except herself. It was incredibly successful and she later joined forces with another experienced gambler, Dave Tobin, to open up the equally profitably Dumont's Place. When the gold dried up, she left and traveled from place to place where she gambled, bringing a crowd to watch what she could do.

Lillian Smith

Women of the Wild West
Wikipedia Commons/ Public Domain

Lillian Frances Smith was another trick shooter who joined Buffalo Bill's show when she was just 15 years old. She became known as the "the champion California huntress" as well as the rival of Annie Oakley. The two were initially not on good terms. After a bad performance against Oakley in front of Queen Victoria, Smith received negative press and eventually decided to leave the show. After relocating to Oklahoma, she joined the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show and performed with other local shows like Pawnee Bill's. She continued to be a record-setting shooter until her death in 1930.

Lottie Deno 

Carlotta J. Thompkins was a notorious gambler, known for her masterful poker skills around Texas. She married fellow gambler, Frank Thurmond, who was convicted of murder in Georgia. The couple escaped to San Antonio where she gained serious notoriety for her skills. Lottie has associated with other well-known Wild West characters, such as Doc Holliday. She also inspired the character of Miss Kitty Russell on Gunsmoke.

Mary Fields 

Wikipedia Commons/ Public Domain

Known as Stagecoach Mary, Mary Fields was one of the toughest and bravest women in American history. Fields was born into slavery around 1832 and freed after the Civil war. She would go on to work at convents in Ohio and Montana, where she ran a tight ship and became notorious for drinking, smoking and toting guns. In 1895, she became the first African-American female star route mail carrier, delivering mail by stagecoach. Fields earned the nicknamed "Stagecoach Mary" for her speed of delivery and reliability. She was also known for being fearless in the face of stagecoach thieves and is rumored to have fought off a pack of wild wolves with a rifle. Badass.

Rose Dunn

Wikipedia Commons/ Public Domain

Known as Rose of Cimmaron, Rose Dunn grew up learning to rope and ride from her older brothers, who became notorious in their own right as bounty hunters the Dunn Brothers. Dunn fell in love with George "Bittercreek" Newcomb, who rode with the infamous Wild Bunch gang. She was even involved in a shootout along with the gang against a group of U.S. Marshals. She hit out with the gang and helped nurse them back to health. Though Dunn eventually settled down and left her outlaw life, she remains a legendary figure of the Wild West.

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Cowgirls, Outlaws and Gunslingers: 10 Women Who Ruled the Wild West