LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,
I GIVE YOU THE ONE AND ONLY
FULL NAME: Myra Belle Shirley
BIRTH DATE: Feb. 5, 1848.
BIRTHPLACE: Carthage, Mo.
EDUCATION: Attended the Carthage Female Academy, where she excelled in
reading, spelling, grammar, arithmetic, deportment, Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and music-learning to play the piano. Father John Shirley was a wealthy Carthage innkeeper, mother Elizabeth "Eliza" Hatfield Shirley was descended from the Hatfield end of the infamous Hatfield and McCoy family . As a teenager during the Civil War, Belle Shirley reported the positions of Union troops to Confederacy. One of her childhood friends in Missouri was Cole Younger, who served in Quantrill's guerillas with Jesse and Frank James. After the war these men (and later Cole's three brothers, among others) turned to outlawry, primarily that of robbery of banks, trains, stagecoaches, and people. In their flights from lawmen they would sometimes hide out at the Shirley farm. In 1866, Belle married James C. "Jim" Reed, a former guerilla whom she had known since her childhood . Their daughter Rosie Lee "Pearl" (who was later rumored to be Cole Younger's child) was born in 1868 and their son James Edwin "Ed" was born in 1871. While Jim initially tried his hand at farming, he would grow restless and fell in with bad company in that of the Starr clan, a Cherokee Indian family notorious for whiskey, cattle, and horse thievery in the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), as well as his wife's old friends the James and Younger gangs. Then in 1869, Jim shot in cold blood the man who supposedly accidentally shot his brother in a quarrel. Wanted by the law, he fled to California with Belle and Pearl in tow.
In November 1873, Jim Reed with two other men robbed Watt Grayson, a wealthy Creek Indian farmer in the Indian Territory, of $30,000 in gold coins. Belle was named as an accomplice, however, there was very little proof of her involvement. She wore buckskins and moccasins or tight black jackets, black velvet skirts, high-topped boots, a man's Stetson hat with an ostrich plume, and twin holstered pistols. She spent much her time in saloons, drinking and gambling at dice, cards, and roulette. At times she would ride her horse through the streets shooting off her pistols. This wild behavior was among what gave rise to her rather exaggerated image as a pistol-wielding outlaw. The young widow of an outlaw, Belle left Texas, put her children in the care of relatives, and took up with the Starr clan in the Indian Territory west of Fort Smith, Arkansas. Here Belle immersed herself in outlawry: organizing, planning and fencing for the rustlers, horse thieves and bootleggers, as well as harboring them from the law. During this period she married Samuel Starr, a member of the infamous Starr clan, in 1880.
Judge Isaac C. Parker, a.k.a., "The Hanging Judge," of Fort Smith became obsessed with bringing Belle Starr to justice, but she eluded him at every turn. Then in 1882, charges of horse theft were brought against Belle and Sam by one of their neighbors in the Indian Territory. The jury returned a guilty verdict for each and in March 1883, Judge Parker sentenced Belle and Sam to a year in the House of Correction in Detroit, Mich. During her prison term Belle proved to be a model prisoner and won the respect of the prison matron, whereas Sam was more incorrigible and was assigned to hard labor. Nevertheless, they were both released after nine months and returned to the Indian Territory. In fact Belle proved not to have been reformed at all by prison for she-as well as Sam-almost immediately returned to their villainous ways. A particularly memorable such arrest was in 1886, when Belle was charged with robbing a post office while dressed as a man. That same year Sam Starr was killed by a longtime family nemesis. Shortly afterward Belle provided the legal counsel for Bluford "Blue" Duck, a Cherokee Indian indicted for murdering a farm hand. To Judge Parker's ire, the death sentence he imposed was commuted to life imprisonment. And in 1888, when her son Ed was arrested for horse theft, her lawyers contacted President Grover Cleveland, who overturned Judge Parker's seven-year prison sentence with a full pardon.
The notoriously unlawful life of Belle Starr came to a violent end on Feb. 3, 1889, two days short of her forty-first birthday. While riding from the general store to her ranch near Eufaula, Okla., Belle was killed by a shotgun blast to the back. Suspects included Edgar Watson, with whom Belle had been feuding over the land he was renting from her (Watson was a fugitive and Belle had been told by the authorities that she would lose all of her land if caught harboring fugitives and for once she was obeying), her lover a Cherokee named Jim July with whom she had recently had a quarrel, and her son Ed, with whom she had had a strained relationship. However, the identity of the murderer of Belle Starr was never identified. Belle Starr was buried on her ranch with a marble headstone on which was engraved a bell, her horse, a star and the epitaph written by her daughter Pearl which reads:
"Shed not for her the bitter tear,
Nor give the heart to vain regret;
'Tis but the casket that lies here,
The gem that filled it sparkles yet."
DATE OF DEATH: Feb. 3, 1889, age 40 (shot to death).