Over the last three weeks, we have been celebrating some famous Arizonans in this column. There are so many that the list could go on forever, but this will be the last week to share two that are particularly notable. So far, we’ve covered the gamut from artistic sorts to heroes and historical legends. Our assembly wouldn’t be complete without adding at least one well-known politician and an authentic Arizona bandit;
Sandra Day O’Connor—Sandra’s early life was a Western story through-and-through. Growing up the oldest of three children, Sandra and her family made their livelihood on a 198,000-acre cattle ranch near Duncan, Arizona. By our standards, the Day family truly roughed it—they didn’t have running water or electricity until Sandra was seven years old. She helped supplement the food by learning to shoot a .22 rifle and hunting for jack rabbits. Their home was nine miles away from the nearest paved road and so far from schools that she lived with her grandmother in El Paso, Texas in order to complete most of her schooling. Sandra went on to attend Stanford University and Law School, receiving her degree in 1952 and marrying John O’Connor the same year. Due to the gender bias of the time, O’Connor reportedly had difficulty finding work as an attorney. She was eventually hired, without pay, when she offered to work for no salary and no office. Sandra did not let the challenges of her early life and career hold her back— she served as an Arizona judge, elected official, and first female Majority Leader of a state senate before earning the distinction of being the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.
Pearl Hart—On the opposite side of the spectrum from Judge O’Connor, we find Pearl Hart. Hart’s life story is also Wild West only Pearl found herself on the wrong side of the law, not practicing it. Born Pearl Taylor in Ontario, Canada, by age 22 Pearl had married Hart. The abusive marriage kept her on the move—in 1893 she found herself in Ohio. From there, Pearl traveled westward to Phoenix. Evidently liking what she found, Pearl meandered through our fine state, spending time in Tucson and Mammoth—making a living through singing, cooking, and running a boardinghouse and/or brothel. But, Hart didn’t really go to the bad until the local mines ran dry and her luck ran out. Bemoaning her financial state with accomplice Joe Boot, the plan was hatched to rob the Globe/Florence stagecoach. With Pearl dressed up like a man, on May 30, 1899, that’s exactly what they did. The bandits made off with what would be $13,252 in today’s world. There were no injuries and, reportedly, Pearl even returned $1 to each passenger. But, alas, after six days Sheriff Truman caught the pair. While found not guilty for the stage robbery, Hart was later found guilty of tampering with the U.S. mail. Taken to Yuma Territorial Prison, Pearl became a news sensation, including an interview with Cosmopolitan in 1899. She was given a pardon in 1902 by the governor with the stipulation that Hart leave the state. However, Pearl must have been bitten by the Arizona bug because a 1940 Arizona census taker was said to have found Hart married again under a new name. Pearl allegedly finally settled down for 50 years with husband, George Bywater. She is credited with being the only known female stagecoach robber in Arizona’s history.
Whether born in Arizona or making a conscious decision to claim this land as your home, who can be blamed for wanting to live in our unusual and alluring state? I hope you will think about the people and things that make you love Arizona as we approach its 108th anniversary next month. You are invited to join us February 14th for a special Valentine lunch. Although the focus is on sweethearts that day, we won’t mind a bit if you raise a glass to celebrate Arizona. Please call 928.282.2834 for lunch reservations. Menus and activities calendars are online at www.sccsedona.org.