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Belle Starr Biography, Early Life, Marriage, Family Tree, The Legend of Belle, Death

Belle Starr Biography|Who is Belle Starr

Belle Starr was a familiar infamous outlaw in the western edge of the expanding United States in the second half of the 1800s.

She associated with famous outlaws, like Frank and Jesse James. she was arrested several times. However, historians have gathered pieces of information that suggest that she committed far fewer criminal acts than her legend would suggest, with the men in her life being the main purveyors of illicit acts.

Belle Starr Family Tree

  • Daughter of John “Judge” Shirley and Elizabeth Pennington Shirley
  • Wife of Jim Reed; Bruce Wilson-Younger and Samuel Starr
  • Partner of Thomas Coleman “Cole” Younger; Bluford “Blue” Duck (outlaw) and Jim July
  • Mother of Sam A Younger; Pearl Starr and James Edwin Reed
  • Sister of Sarah “Sallie” Hatfield; Charlotte Shirley; John Allison Shirley; Benton Edwin Shirley; Mansfield Shirley; Cravens Shirley and Preston Shirley

Belle Starr Early Life

Myra Maybelle “Belle” Shirley, who later became known as Belle Starr, was born on February 5th, 1848, in Carthage, Missouri.

She was the daughter to John Shirley and his third wife, Elizabeth Hatfield Shirley.
Belle grew up in a household with her parents and their other children, including much older half-siblings from her father’s first marriages.

In the year 1860, Belle’s father sold the farm that they stayed and settled at Carthage, where he bought an inn, livery stable and blacksmith shop on the town square.

Belle received a classical education and she learned piano while graduating from Missouri’s Carthage Female Academy, a private institution that her father had helped to found.

Her elder brother John Addison, who was familiar as Bud, influenced her greatly, as did the fact that she grew up in the years leading up to the Civil War in the contested Missouri territory. Though Belle received her education from a girl’s academy, Bud taught her to use firearms and ride horses.

 Life in Scyene, Texas

After a Union attack on Carthage in 1864, the Shirley family moved to Scyene, Texas. It was at Scyene that the Shirleys became associated with a number of Missouri-born criminals, including Jesse James and the Younger brothers.

In fact, she knew the Youngers and the James boys because she had grown up with them in Missouri. Her brother, John A.M. “Bud” Shirley, was called Captain Shirley by local Confederate sympathizers.

He does not appear on any list of Quantrill’s Raiders but rode with a group who were called partisans by some and bushwhackers by Union sympathizers.

Bud got killed in 1864 in Sarcoxie, Missouri while he and another scout were eating at the home of a Confederate sympathizer. Union troops had surrounded the house, and when Bud attempted to escape, he got shot and killed.

Following the war, the Reed family also moved to Scyene and May Shirley married Jim Reed in 1866, after having had an earlier crush on him as a teenager. Two years later, she gave birth to her first child, Rosie Lee, nicknamed Pearl.

Belle always harboured a strong sense of style, which fed into her later legend. A crack shot, she used to ride sidesaddle while dressed in a black velvet riding habit and a plumed hat, carrying two pistols, with cartridge belts across her hips.

The fleeing

Jim turned to crime and was wanted for murder in Arkansas, which caused the family to move to California, where their second child, James Edwin, nickname Eddie, was born in 1871.

After returning to Texas, Reed was involved with many criminal gangs. While he initially tried his hand at farming, he would grow restless and fell in with bad company-the Starr clan- a Cherokee Indian family notorious for whiskey, cattle, and horse thievery in the Indian Territory, now known as Oklahoma and his wife’s old friends James and Younger gangs.

In April 1874, despite a lack of any evidence, a warrant was issued for her arrest for a stagecoach robbery by her husband and others. Jim Reed was killed in August of that year in Paris, Texas, where he had settled down with his family.

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Belle Starr Marriage|Sam Starr

In 1880, Belle married a Cherokee man named Sam Starr and settled with the Starr family in the Indian Territory. There, she learned ways of organizing, planning and fencing for the rustlers, horse thieves and bootleggers, as well as harbouring them from the law.

Her illegal enterprises proved lucrative enough for her to employ bribery to free her cohorts from the law whenever they were caught.

In 1883, Belle and Sam were arrested by Bass Reeves, charged with horse theft and tried before “The Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

The prosecutor was United States Attorney W.H.H. Clayton. She was found guilty and served nine months at the Detroit House of Corrections in Detroit, Michigan.

Belle proved to be a model prisoner, and during her time in jail, she won the respect of the prison matron. In contrast, Sam was incorrigible and assigned to hard labour.

In 1886, she eluded conviction on another theft charge, but on December 17, Sam was involved in a gunfight with an officer, Frank West. Both men were killed, and Belle’s life as an outlaw queen, and what had been her happiest relationship suddenly ended with her husband’s death.

The Legend of Belle

Throughout her adult life, Belle regularly associated with criminals. Reed and his family fled from the law numerous times before he was killed in 1874.

Legend has it that Belle joined in on her husband’s nefarious activities, but there is little evidence to suggest that she did. Rather, some historians suggest that Belle wanted to live a life of quiet domesticity.

Although she was an obscure figure outside Texas throughout most of her life, Belle’s story was picked up by the dime novel and National Police Gazette publisher Richard K. Fox, who made her name famous with his novel Bella Starr, the Bandit Queen, or the Female Jesse James, published in 1889 (the year of her murder). This novel still is cited as a historical reference. It was the first of many popular stories that used her name.

In 1941 a movie, “Belle Starr”  also called “La Reine des Rebelles” was made based on her life. It starred Randolph Scott as Sam Starr and Gene Tierney, a notable star of her day, as Belle Starr. An accessory collection, Belle Starr Accessories, takes its name from this notable rebel.

Belle Starr Death

Belle got ambushed and got killed on February 3, 1889, while riding home from a neighbours house. She was shot in the back, neck the shoulder and face.

she is thought to have been shot with her own double-barrel shotgun after she fell off her horse.No one was ever convicted of the murder,although there were a number of suspects including her husband Jim July and both of her children, it is said that her son Eddie whom she had beaten for mistreating her horse, may have been her killer.

Edgar J. Watson, one of her sharecroppers was as well a suspect because he was afraid she was going to turn him in to the authorities as an escaped murderer Edgar Watson was tried for Belle’s murder but was acquired.