Welcome to the World of Women in the Old Wild West!

Women in the Wild and Wooly Old West

There were basically two different types of women on the frontier of the American West: the respectable class of women who filled the role of housewives, church goers, social organizers and even business women; and the not so respectable class of women who fell victim of their circumstances — the soiled doves, fallen angels, painted ladies and bawdy women of il repute. This page explores the lives of these women and the contributions they made to the opening of the West.

Return to the Old West

Books about Western women

The Life and Legacy of Annie Oakley
by Glenda Riley
With a widowed mother and six siblings, Annie Oakley first became a trapper, hunter, and sharpshooter simply to put food on the table. Yet her genius with the gun eventually led to her stardom in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show during the latter half of the nineteenth century. The archetypal western woman, Annie Oakley urged women to take up shooting to procure food, protect themselves, and enjoy healthy exercise, yet she was also the proper Victorian lady, demurely dressed and skeptical about the value of women’s suffrage. Glenda Riley presents the first interpretive biography of the complex woman who was Annie Oakley.
272 pages, University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.

Bull’s-Eye: A Photobiography of Annie Oakley
by Sue Macy
      At last, National Geographic’s award-winning photobiography of Annie Oakley bursts into paperback. This stirring story of an enduring American heroine has won widespread acclaim and was named a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.
      Annie’s amazing life comes sharply into focus in a compelling narrative, period photography, and in her own words. Two historical maps and a chronology ground the legend in time and place.
      Readers ride through a life filled with adventure. Annie grows up in the backwoods of Ohio, hunting game to feed her family. Discovered by Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, she wows crowds with target shooting and daring horse riding.
      Annie’s hardships are examined too, as is her inspirational status as a role model for women.
64 pages, National Geographic Children’s Books; First edition, 2006.

The Gentle Tamers: Women of the Old Wild West
by Dee Brown
All aspects of western feminine life, which include a good deal about the western male, are covered in this lively, informal but soundly factual account of the women who built the West. Among those whose stories are included are Elizabeth Custer; Lola Montez, Ann Eliza Young, Josephine Meeker, Carry Nation, Esther Morris, and Virginia Reed.
335 pages, Bison Books, 1981.

The Doctor Wore Petticoats: Women Physicians of the Old West
by Chris Enss
“No women need apply.” Western towns looking for a local doctor during the frontier era often concluded their advertisements in just that manner. Yet apply they did. And in small towns all over the West, highly trained women from medical colleges in the East took on the post of local doctor to great acclaim. In this new book, author Chris Enss offers a glimpse into the fascinating lives of ten of these amazing women.
144 pages, TwoDot; First edition, 2006.

The Women (Old West Time-Life Series)
by Joan Swallow Reiter & Editors of Time-Life Books
Text and illustrations present a portrait of the industrious women who helped settle the West.
240 pages, Time-Life Books; Revised edition, 1978.

Daughters of the West
by Anne Seagraves
An entertaining romp through the trials and struggles of women who formed the West; the cowgirls, the Highway women, the actresses. It is amazing how our world has changed for better (women were incarcerated for adultry) because all these sisters were in the world, in our history, living out their lives and leaving indelible marks on our own.
176 pages, Wesanne Publications; First Edition, 1996.

High-Spirited Women of the West
by Anne Seagraves
Loved these series of books. Love the author, love the non-fiction books. Makes maybe unappealing facts very appealing. Wish I knew the women portrayed in all these books. They would have been exciting women to know. We think Billy Jean was special because she played tennis with the first man…..these pioneer women did it all. And some even led their lives as men, these books are a must read for any serious ‘women’s libers’.
174 pages, Wesanne Publications, 1992.

Women of the Sierra
by Anne Seagraves
I read Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West by this same author and truly enjoyed it. I wanted to read some more books by author Anne Seagraves so I found Women of the Sierra, it was hardly a disappointment. This book tells the stories of the experiences of many different kinds of women. It was a great way to read about a variety of women and how they came to be in the west. I can’t wait to get the rest of her books!!!
176 pages, Wesanne Publications; 3rd revised printing edition, 1990.

Belle Starr and Her Times: The Literature, the Facts, and the Legends
by Glenn Shirley
      Who was Belle Starr? What was she that so many myths surround her? Born in Carthage, Missouri, in 1848, the daughter of a well-to-do hotel owner, she died forty-one years later, gunned down near her cabin in the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. After her death she was called “a bandit queen,” “a female Jesse James,” “the Petticoat Terror of the Plains.” Fantastic legends proliferated about her. In this book Glenn Shirley sifts through those myths and unearths the facts.
      In a highly readable and informative style Shirley presents a complex and intriguing portrait. Belle Starr loved horses, music, the outdoors-and outlaws. Familiar with some of the worst bad men of her day, she was, however, convicted of no crime worse than horse thievery. Shirley also describes the historical context in which Belles Starr lived. After knowing the violence of the Civil War as a child in the Ozarks, She moves to Dallas in the 1860s and married a former Confederate guerilla who specialized in armed robbery. After he was killed, she found a home among renegade Cherokees in the Indian Territory, on her second husband’s allotment. She traveled as far west as Los Angeles to escape the law and as far north as Detroit to go to jail. She married three times and had two children, whom she idolized and tormented. Ironically she was shot when she had decided to go straight, probably murdered by a neighbor who feared that she would turn him in to the police.
      This book will find a wide readership among western-history and outlaw buffs, folklorists, sociologists, and regional historians. Shirley’s summary of the literature about Belle Starr is as interesting as the true story of Belle herself, who has become the West’s best-known woman outlaw.
324 pages, University of Oklahoma Press; Reprint edition, 1990.

Pearl Hart Arizona Bandit – Stage Robber [Kindle Edition]
by Pearl Hart
Kindle version of vintage magazine article originally published in 1899. Contains lots of great info and illustrations seldom seen in the last 112 years.
File Size: 250 KB; Print length: 12 pages
history-bytes, 2012.

Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West
by Anne Seagraves
Soiled Doves tells the story of the grey world of prostitution and the women who participated in the oldest profession within the early West. Illustrated with rare photos. Bibliography; sources, included.
175 pages, Wesanne Publications; First Edition, 1994.

A Photo Gallery of Western Women:
Period Photographs and Captions of Women of the Old West and Their Times

This gallery represents an illustrated history in period photographs, complete with captions, of western women and the times in which they lived.

Annie Oakley
“Little Sure shot”

Annie Oakley’s Life and Career

by Bess Edwards, grandniece of Annie Oakley

The incredible woman who called herself Annie Oakley overcame poverty, prejudice, physical setbacks and her inner modesty to become a star shooter and a woman who broke barriers for other women in the entertainment industry, and in the trapshooting, sport hunting and self-defense arenas. She believed in and campaigned for women’s rights to hold paid employment, earn equal pay, participate in sports, and defend themselves in their homes and on city streets.

Born near Greenville, Ohio on August 13, 1860, Phoebe Ann Mosey learned to shoot while hunting game for her widowed mother and her brother and sisters. After she met and married shooter Frank Butler, she chose the professional name of Annie Oakley and began to tour the vaudeville circuit. Between 1885 and 1901, she starred in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. As the first female wild west star, she helped open both wild west shows and rodeos to women. She also proved herself an outstanding athlete in trapshooting competitions and shooting exhibitions. As the first well-known woman sport shooter, she opened shooting ranges and matches all across the nation and Europe to women competitors.

Annie set an example for women and helped change the American public’s mind regarding what were appropriate sports and activities for women. She also argued for a woman’s right to bear and use firearms, both for sport shooting and for self-defense. She coached more than 2,000 women in firearm safety and shooting. As a public service she traveled the Eastern coast, at her own expense, demonstrating the safe and effective use of firearms for World War I soldiers.

Her philanthropic work, quietly done, was often overlooked by biographers. She helped orphans, widows, and young women who wanted to further their education. She gave benefit exhibitions in addition to making her own financial contributions for these causes. There is evidence to show that she funded college and professional training for at least 20 young women.

Annie continued to set records into her 60’s even after suffering a debilitating automobile accident that caused her to wear a steel brace on her right leg. She died November 3, 1926, at the age of 66. her memory lives on in hundreds of articles, numerous biographies, dramatizations and films, private collections and several museum displays.

Educators consider her a positive role model for young people today because of her outstanding accomplishments and strength of character. She helped to break barriers for women in society while maintaining a wholesome image for women.

Pearl Hart
“The Bandit Queen”

Pearl Hart (November 13, 1876 – December 28, 1955) was born as Pearl Taylor in the Canadian village of Lindsay, Ontario. She was an outlaw of the American Old West who committed one of the last recorded stagecoach robberies in the United States; her crime gained notoriety primarily because of her gender. Many details of Hart’s life are uncertain with available reports being varied and often contradictory.

To read more about the life and times of Pearl Hart click on these links:

Martha Jane Canary
“Calamity Jane”

Martha Jane Canary (May 1, 1852 – August 1, 1903 age 51), better known as Calamity Jane, was an American frontierswoman, and professional scout known for her claim of being an acquaintance of Wild Bill Hickok, but also for having gained fame fighting Indians. She is said to have also exhibited kindness and compassion, especially to the sick and needy. This contrast helped to make her a famous frontier figure.

Elizabeth Bacon Custer

Elizabeth Bacon Custer (April 8, 1842 – April 4, 1933) was the wife of General George Armstrong Custer. She spent most of their marriage in relatively close proximity to him despite his numerous military campaigns as a commanding officer in the United States Cavalry. After his death, she became an outspoken advocate for her husband’s legacy through her popular books and lectures. Largely as a result of her endless campaigning on his behalf, Custer’s iconic portrayal as the gallant fallen hero amid the glory of ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ was a canon of American history for almost a century after his death.

Julia C. “Jule” Bulette
“Darling of the Comstock Lode”

Julia C. Bulette (1832 – January 20, 1867), was an English-born American prostitute and madam in Virginia City, Nevada. After her violent death, she has been described as proprietor of the most elegant and prosperous brothel in the City and various films and books took inspiration of her real or purported biography. She was said to be the first unmarried white woman to arrive in the mining boomtown following the Comstock Lode silver strike in 1859, but that is highly unlikely; she probably arrived in 1863. Bulette was a popular figure with the miners, and the local firefighters made her an honorary member of Virginia Engine Company Number 1. She was murdered by John Millain, a French drifter and jewel thief, in 1867.

To read more about the life and times of Julia Bulette click on these links: