On Pearl Hart's Ear Part 3

Or The Battle of the Historical Societies

· Pearl Hart,Writing the West,Wild-Willed Women,History Can be Odd,Historical Societies

9 a.m. the next day. 

Globe is nothing at all like Florence. First, it’s up in the mountains, with red earth and a profusion of saguaros and every other type of cactus Arizona can grow. Second, it doesn’t have a state prison. Instead, it is surrounded by copper mines and slag and rugged canyons.

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The town, once a rough and tumble mining town, hugs the edge of the Pinal Mountains and is now a rought and tumble modern town with the requisite car washes, gas stations, Dollar General, and sleepy downtown. It also has two very fine features: the Besh-Ba-Gawah Museum which contains the ruins of a once thriving, rough and tumble village built by a native population so ancient their name is guessed at, as is what happened to them. The other fine feature was my morning destination (Besh-Ba-Gawah was on the agenda for the afternoon): The Gila County Historical Society, and meeting Vernon Perry, who was sure to discuss The Ear.

Unlike the Pinal County Museum of Oddities, this historical society kept a low profile, with a small exhibit of historical artifacts and many file cabinets and shelves of books and printed ephemera. Vernon Perry, tall, lanky and with the hint of a swagger, greeted me and led me to the research room and had me take a seat.

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Now, I have been in many a research room, and generally find myself facing a table filled with cases and folders of historic materials related to the questions I had sent over to the archivist. Indeed, I have been faced with so much material that my designated two hour reading slot ended up taking two days. Historians, archivists, and librarians are generous creatures and, once on a research trail, continue until you tell them to stop.

This table, dark stained oak and very large, was empty.

Vernon settled into his chair and crossed his arms. "Tell me what you know of Pearl Hart."

My heart sung with glee. I had done my research. I knew the ins and outs of hearsay and legend. I babbled it out with with confidence of a ten-year-old answering their first question on the origins of the universe. He nodded along, just like my dad did when I tackled the beginning of all beginnings. I was passing the test. The one that would unlock the golden secrets. Indeed, my confidence grew so great I even mentioned, as if I were in on the whole thing, that I'd talked to Chris just the day before.

"You talked to Chris."

"I did."

"Uh huh." He nodded again, then stood. "I'll be right back."

I was left alone in the empty table in the empty room, not sure if I'd passed, or failed so badly Vernon had decided to abandon me and go meet up with friends at the coffee shop.

I have this thing about looking stupid; I certainly looked so then. No way would I let the other staff and the pair of visitors ambling past the door see that I had been left without any instructions at all. So, I pulled out my notebook, put on my Serious Scholarly Face, and pretended to read my scribbles. Long about the time I thought the staff had figured out I was faking it, Vernon returned with a box. He opened it and took out two photos, one of a middle-aged woman set in a round frame behind cracked glass, and one a square Polaroid of a couple doting on their grandchild.

"Pearl Hart," Vernon said, "married Cal Bywater, lived on his ranch in Dripping Springs, and died there in 1955."

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He pointed to both pictures. "You have a copy of the young Pearl Hart in your notebook?"

I did.

"Take it out."

I did.

"Now look at the ears."

He tapped the glass. Then the Polaroid. Then my picture of Pearl in her too small ladies hat.

I squinted at each of the images. I didn't know how to tell him that in one photo her ear was covered by her hair and the other was of an older woman and we all know ears grow, so it was possible...and wasn't possible, and did he please have a 200x magnifier so I might see what he saw.

"Earlobes don't lie." He dragged other papers from the box. "But in case you see Chris again, you might want to look at these."

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It's hard to deny an original marriage certificate and funeral card. However, there seemed to me to be a few questions.

"The marriage certificate says Pearl Bablett," I said. "She was born Pearl Taylor. And her birthdate was sometime in 1871, not 1876, and not in Arkansas but in Canada."

"It's her."


"I could tell more, but we keep respect for the family."


"Even the State Archives files are private. Out of respect for the family."

I bit back asking if she was a serial killer and the family wanted that little tidbit buried. Then I bit back my questioning of Cal possibly being tied to the mob.

"But there were children," I said.


"She had two with Frank or Frederick or something Hart, and then more with Cal Bywater?"

"Died at the ranch fat and happy and surrounded by family."

"Then where are they all?"

He fiddled with the photos and papers. "They're a private family."

"And I can't see what's in the public State Archives?"


"For the family."

"Mh-hm." He slid the pictures closer to me. "Look again. It's the earlobes. Dead giveaway."

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I did the requisite review and came away with the same lack of an answer. Vernon spent another hour sharing historical items from the 1890s in Globe, but the sheen of respect I'd gained when babbling back to him all I knew of Pearl Hart had lost its luster. I didn't wholeheartedly believe the fat happy rancher's wife story. Pearl was a foul-mouthed, hot-tempered, opium-toking vagabond who had a talent for self-aggrandizement. I just couldn't see her hiding her one true claim to infamy.

Perhaps it didn't matter what I thought. The citizens of Globe, Arizona believed Mrs. Bywater had once been a notorious bandit and that gave the town a gilded glow and no small amount of pride. The crowd in Florence was certain she'd moved on to running a thieve's ring of young boys in Kansas City, bilked a few people, owned a cigar shop, and disappeared from the record. But they, too, took pride in the notorious bandit that once graced the floors of their courthouse and gave the state of Arizona no small amount of dyspepsia.

She'd be pleased with all the attention.


NEXT: Cactus Furniture and Hanging Ropes - A Visit to a Museum of Very Odd Things

K.T. Blakemore grew up in the United States West and never left. Her upcoming novel THE GOOD TIME GIRLS is the first in the Wild-Willed Women of the West Series, featuring women who take no prisoners and succeed through sheer grit, determination, and a parcel of luck. 

She has hung her hat in California, Colorado, and currently the Pacific Northwest. The rain does not deter her research whether it be train timetables from 1905 or the best way to catch a loose horse.

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