Belle Starr, also known as the "Bandit Queen" and the center of much speculation in infinite myths and legends, was born Myra Maybelle (Belle) Shirley on February 5, 1848, near Carthage, Missouri, one of six children of John and Elizabeth Shirley. Within a few years, the Shirleys moved into Carthage, where they were living when the Civil War started. The Shirleys were sympathizers with the southern cause and supporters of Confederate irregulars such as the raider William Clarke Quantrill. They were proud when their oldest son, John (or Bud), joined a squad of bushwhackers in bloody reprisals along the Missouri-Kansas border. Many have specultated whether John's death in his bloody postion may have influenced Belle Starr with her direction in life.
By 1864, after Carthage was burned, the Shirleys had moved to Scene, Texas, near Dallas. Cole, Jim, Bob, and John Younger and Jesse James, Missouri outlaws who had ridden with Quantrill, used the Shirley home as a hideout in July of 1866. Belle Shirley's relationship with Cole Younger is the subject of many legends and rumors, it is often claimed that her daughter Rosie Lee, or Pearl Younger, was his child. Cole Younger disclaimed the rumors; the more plausible father was outlaw Jim Reed, whom Belle had been involved with in Missouri. Myra Maybelle Shirley became Myra Maybelle Reed on November 1, 1866.
Rosie Lee was born in 1868. The Reeds lived with another outlaw, Tom Starr (a cherokee). Later, Jim Reed was charged with murder and the family moved to Los Angeles, where they had their second child, son James Edwin (Ed) on February 22, 1871. The Reeds moved back to Texas when Jim Reed's murder charges caught up with him later in 1871. After their homecoming, Reed became involved with the Younger, James, and Starr gangs, which killed and looted throughout Texas, Arkansas, and Indian Territory.
Belle Reed's activity in these gangs is questionable. A few claim that she disapproved of Reed's actions; more suggest that she operated a livery barn in Dallas where she sold the horses Reed stole. She and her children did move out to live with relatives at one point though. There is apparently no record that Belle Reed was ever involved in any murders, the robberies, or in cattle rustling. Jim Reed robbed the Austin-San Antonio stage in April 1874, and though there was no evidence that Belle Reed participated, she was named as an accessory in the indictment. Jim Reed was killed by a deputy sheriff at Paris, Texas, in August 1874.
There is a legend that Belle refused to identify Jim's body so that the sheriff would not get a reward for the bounty. There is an account that claims that in 1878 Belle Reed married Bruce Younger in Coffeyville, Kansas. If this was true, their relationship did not last long because she married Sam Starr in the Cherokee Nation on June 5, 1880. And so came Belle Starr. The Starr lived a bandit lifestyle and found it very lucrative. Anytime a member of their band was in trouble, Belle could bribe and charm them out of the hands of the authorities.
The only time the gang was nearly grounded was when they were in Fort Smith. The local judge, Isaac Parker or "the hanging Judge" became set on seeing Belle behind bars. He got lucky in the fall of 1882 when she was caught in the act of trying to steal a neighbor's horse. She was sentenced to two six-month terms, but got off in nine months for good behavior. She was charged again in 1886 but by this time she had developed finely tuned legal skills and escaped conviction. After Sam's death, Belle had a chain of lovers including Jim July (or Jim Starr), Blue Duck, Jack Spaniard, and Jim French.
On February 3, 1889, while Starr was living in the Choctaw Nation, near the Canadian River, she was shot to death by an unknown assassin. Although many killers have been specultated, two men remain the primary suspects in the murder. One, Edgar Watson, could have killed her for threatening to turn him in to authorities for murder. The second was Belle Starr's son, Ed, with whom she had a very strained relationship. No murder was ever convicted.
Belle Starr was not know outside the Cherokee Nation, Dallas, and the parts of Arkansas when she died. Soon, however, newspaper reports of her death were picked up by Richard K. Fox, the publisher of the National Police Gazette. When he published Bella Starr, the Bandit Queen, or the Female Jesse James (1889), a twenty-five-cent novel based loosely around her life. So the legends began, and live to this day. Belle Starr was buried at Younger's Bend, a remote place on the Canadian River where she often lived.
Her daughter later erected a headstone engraved with a bell, a star, and a horse, purchased with earnings she made in a brothel. Although Belle Starr is listed as one of many famous Oklahoman's, she was not born in the state, nor did she do much for it. She is linked commercially, however, to the lake Eufaula area. She named "Younger Bend" and had all the maple trees planted in that area in order to beautify it. She also had the Younger Bend School built, so that her daughter Pearl would receive a strong education.
All these contributions can still be seen today. I chose Belle Starr because she sounded interesting. Outlaw stories have always interested me, so the "Queen of the Outlaws" definetly caught my eye. She lived a crazy life and it was fun to learn about. I wanted to choose someone who was not typical, who was off the beaten path. She was not a great contribution to Oklahoma, she just lived her life the way she wanted but still became famous for it, even if the bigger fame came post humorously..