Birthday: February 5, 1848
Died At Age: 40
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Also Known As: Myra Maybelle Shirley Reed Starr
Born Country: United States
Born in: Carthage, Missouri, United States
Famous as: Outlaw
Spouse/Ex-: Jim July Starr (m. 1888), James C. Reed (m. 1866 – 1874), Sam Starr (m. 1880 – 1886)
father: John Shirley
mother: Elizabeth Pennington Shirley
siblings: Benton Edwin Shirley, Charlotte Shirley, Cravens Shirley, John Allison Shirley, Mansfield Shirley, Preston Shirley
children: Eddie Reed, Pearl Starr, Rosie Reed
Died on: February 3, 1889
place of death: Briartown, Oklahoma, United States
Myra Maybelle Shirley Reed Starr, better known as Belle Starr, was a notorious American outlaw. From an early age, she had been associated with gangs like James-Younger gang that shaped the course of her later life. Apart from being convicted for a horse theft, she was not directly involved in any other criminal acts. However, due to her association with infamous criminals, she too was considered a rebel and an outlaw. She was made famous by Richard K. Fox, the editor and publisher of the ‘National Police Gazette,’ who wrote a novel based on her life. According to some sources, she was famously known as the 'Bandit Queen.' A woman of strength, she ruled the gangs with her strong will and granted favors to her followers. She was also known for her “Robin Hood” attitude, often taking valuables from the rich and giving them to the poor. She would clean out crooked poker games and strut in the streets with her pistols. She was shot and murdered under mysterious circumstances. While her death remains officially unsolved, several myths and stories surrounding her murder have sprung up.
Childhood & Early Life
Belle Starr was born on February 5, 1848, on her father's farm near Carthage, Missouri. She was named Myra Maybelle Shirley, but her family affectionately called her May.
Her father was John Shirley, who came from a wealthy family in Virginia. However, he was considered a rebel and the "black sheep" of the family. He had been married and divorced twice when he met her mother, Elizabeth "Eliza" Hatfield Shirley.
Her mother Elizabeth Hatfield was a distant relative of the infamous Hatfields of the Hatfield-McCoy feud and the third wife of John Shirley. In 1860, her father moved their family to Carthage, where he bought an inn, a horse barn, and a blacksmith shop.
Belle received a formal education. Apart from that, she also received piano lessons as a part of her training. She studied at Missouri's Carthage Female Academy.
The 1850 federal census data showed that the Shirley family had three children: John Allison 'Bud,' born in 1842; Myra Maybelle, born on February 5, 1848; and Edwin, born in 1850.
Her brother Bud had a considerable impact on Belle and her childhood. He taught her to ride horses and use guns at an early age.
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The Union attacked Carthage in 1864, and Belle Starr's father moved the family to Scyene in Texas. Legend has it that she became familiar with several outlaws like Jesse James and the Younger brothers after she moved to Texas.
She had known about the Youngers and James long before she met them in Texas. Belle had grown up listening to tales about these men in Missouri. Her brother Bud was often referred to as 'Captain Shirley' by the Confederate supporters.
Bud was not listed as a member of Quantrill's Raiders, but the Union supporters referred to the group he was affiliated with as 'partisans' or 'bushwhackers.' In 1864, the Union forces encircled a Confederate house where Bud was staying, and when he tried to flee, they shot and killed him.
In 1866, after the Civil War, she married her teenage crush, Jim Reed. In 1868, she had her first child, Rosie Lee, affectionately called Pearl.
Belle had a unique sense of style that added to her later legend. A fine gunslinger, she dressed in black velvet and rode side-saddled. She wore a feathered headgear and carried two pistols with cartridge belts across her hips.
Her husband, Jim Reed, was a criminal and a fugitive. He was a wanted man in Arkansas, accused of committing murder. They moved to California, where she birthed their second child, James Edwin (Eddie), in 1871.
They later moved back to Texas, where Jim was associated with crime families like the Starr clan, the James brothers, and the Younger brothers.
In April 1874, the authorities issued a warrant for Belle's arrest as her husband was suspected of a robbery. The same year in August, Reed was killed in Paris, Texas.
Marriage to Sam Starr
It is rumored that Belle Starr was married to Charles Younger for three weeks in 1878; however, there is no evidence to back this claim. Some claim that Charles Younger fathered Belle's daughter, Pearl, but Cole Younger in his autobiography dismisses this as a rumor.
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In 1880, she married Sam Starr, a Cherokee, and moved to the Indian Territory with the Starr clan. She was taught how to organize, plan, and fence for the robbers, bootleggers, and thieves.
She also helped the criminals hide from the police, often providing shelter in her home or farmlands. She even bribed the officials whenever her gang members were caught.
In 1883, Bass Reeves arrested Belle and Sam for stealing horses. They were convicted and jailed for nine months in Detroit House of Corrections. In jail, she became a model inmate while Sam became a hardened criminal with no hope for redemption.
In 1886, she was arrested again but avoided conviction. The same year, Sam was caught in a shootout with Officer Frank West; both men were killed in the gunfight. Later, she married Sam’s relative, Jim July Starr.
Family & Personal Life
Belle Starr was married thrice in her lifetime and had two children, Eddie and Rosie.
In July 1889, her son Eddie Reed was sentenced to prison for horse theft and possessing contraband. He was imprisoned in Columbus, Ohio.
Belle's daughter Rosie Reed, better known as Pearl Starr, turned to prostitution to raise money for Eddie's release. She eventually received a presidential pardon for Eddie in 1893.
On February 3, 1889, she was attacked on her way back from Eufaula, Oklahoma, just two days before she turned 41. She was shot on her back, shoulder, and face. It was assumed that she was killed with her own shotgun.
There are several theories related to her murder. According to Frank Eaton, Edgar Watson had asked Belle to dance with him, and when she refused, he followed and killed her. Eaton also mentions that the courts hanged Watson for her murder.
Another legend states that no one was convicted for her death as there were no witnesses, but the main suspects were Jim July Starr, Pearl Starr, Eddie Reed, and Edgar Watson. However, Watson was tried for her murder but never convicted, thus leaving her death unresolved.