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Belle Starr's Geni Profile

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Myra Maybelle Starr (Shirley)

Also Known As: "Belle Starr"
Birthdate: (40)
Birthplace: Carthage, Jasper County, Missouri, United States
Death: February 3, 1889 (40)
Porum, Muskogee County, Oklahoma, United States (Murdered)
Place of Burial: Porum, Muskogee County, Oklahoma, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of John "Judge" Shirley and Elizabeth 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 Preston Shirley; Charlotte Shirley; John Allison Shirley; Benton Edwin Shirley; Mansfield Shirley and 2 others

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Belle Starr

Myra Maybelle Shirley Reed Starr, better known as Belle Starr (February 5, 1848 – February 3, 1889), was a famous American female outlaw.

Early life

She was born Myra Maybelle Shirley (known as May to her family) on her father's farm near Carthage, Missouri. Her mother was a Hatfield from the infamous Hatfield-McCoy feuding clans. In the 1860s her father sold the farm and moved the family to Carthage where he bought an inn and livery stable on the town square. May Shirley received a classical education and learned piano, while graduating from Missouri's Carthage Female Academy, a genteel institution her father had helped to found.[1] After a Union attack on Carthage in 1864, the Shirleys moved to Scyene, Texas. According to legend, it was at Scyene that the Shirleys became associated with a number of Missouri-born criminals, including Jesse James and the Youngers. In fact, she knew the Younger brothers and the James boys because she had grown up with them in Missouri, and her brother John Alexander Shirley (known as Bud) served with them in Quantrill's Raiders, alongside another Missouri boy, James C. Reed. Her brother served as one of Quantrill's Scouts. Bud Shirley was killed in 1864 in Sarcoxie, Missouri, while he and another scout were being fed at the home of a Confederate sympathizer. Union troops surrounded the house and when Bud attempted to escape, he was shot and killed.[2]

After the Civil War

Following the war, the Reed family also moved to Scyene and she married Jim Reed in 1866, after having had an earlier crush on him as a teen. Two years later, she gave birth to her first child, Rosie Lee (nicknamed Pearl). Belle always harbored a strong sense of style, which would feed into her later legend. A crack shot, she used to ride sidesaddle while dressed in a black velvet riding habit, a plumed hat and carrying two pistols, with cartridge belts across her hips. [3] 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 (Eddie) was born in 1871. Later returning to Texas, Jim Reed was involved with several criminal gangs. In April 1874, despite a lack of any evidence, a warrant was issued for her arrest for a stage coach robbery by her husband and others. Jim Reed was killed in Paris, Texas, in August of that year, while she settled down with his family in Missouri.

Marriage to Sam Starr

Allegedly, Belle was briefly married for three weeks to Bruce Younger in 1878, but this is not substantiated by any evidence. In 1880 she did marry a Cherokee Indian named Sam Starr and settled with the Starr family in the Indian Territory. In 1883, Belle and Sam were charged with horse theft and tried before "The Hanging Judge" Isaac Parker's Federal District Court in Fort Smith, Arkansas. She was found guilty and served nine months at the Detroit House of Corrections in Detroit, Michigan. In 1886, she escaped conviction on another theft charge, but on December 17, Sam Starr was involved in a gunfight with Officer Frank West.[4] Both men were killed, while her life as an outlaw queen abruptly ended with her husband's death, in what had been the happiest relationship of her life.

Unsolved murder

For the last two plus years of her life, she took on a series of lovers with colorful names, including Jack Spaniard, Jim French and Blue Duck, then to keep her residence on Indian land, she married a relative of Sam Starr, Jim July Starr, who was some 15 years her junior. On February 3, 1889, two days before her 41st brithday, the outlaw queen met her own tragic end. She was riding home from a neighbor's house, when she was ambushed while eating a piece of cornbread. After she fell off her horse, she was shot again to make sure she was dead. Her death resulted from shotgun wounds to the back and neck and in the shoulder and face.[5] There were no witnesses and no one was ever convicted of the deadly crime. Suspects with apparent motive included her new husband and both of her children, as well as Edgar J. Watson, one of her sharecroppers because he was afraid she was going to turn him into the authorities as an escaped murderer from Florida with a price on his head . Watson, who was killed in 1910,[6] was tried for her murder, but was acquitted, and the ambush has entered Western lore as "unsolved".

One source suggests her son, whom she had allegedly beaten for mistreating her horse, may have been her killer.[7]

Story becomes popularized

Although an obscure figure throughout most of her life, Belle's story was picked up by the dime novel and National Police Gazette publisher, Richard K. Fox. Fox 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 is still often cited as a historical reference. It was the first of many popular stories that used her name.


Belle's son Eddie was convicted of horse theft and receiving stolen property in July 1889. Judge Parker sent him to prison in Columbus, Ohio. Belle's daughter, Rosie Reed, also known as Pearl Starr, became a prostitute to raise funds for his release. She did eventually obtain a presidential pardon in 1893. Ironically, Eddie became a police officer and was killed in the line of duty in December 1896.

Making a good living in prostitution, Pearl operated several bordellos in Van Buren and Fort Smith, Arkansas, from the 1890s to World War I.

Film - historical fiction

Gene Tierney played the title role in the 1941 Hollywood film Belle Starr. Isabel Jewell was Belle in the 1946 movie Daughter of Belle Starr, and Jane Russell took on the role in 1952's Montana Belle. None made any pretensions to accuracy. In 1960, Lynn Bari played Belle in the series premiere episode, "Perilous Passage", of the NBC western Overland Trail, starring William Bendix and Doug McClure. Robert J. Wilke guest starred in the same episode as Cole Younger. Elizabeth Montgomery portrayed Belle in the 1980 television movie Belle Starr. Pamela Reed portrayed Belle in the 1980 Hollywood film The Long Riders.

Pulp western author J. T. Edson featured Belle Starr in several of his Floating Outfit series of novels, as the love interest of one of the three lead protagonists in the series, Mark Counter. Edson's novel Guns In The Night features Belle Starr's being murdered when pregnant with Mark Counter's child, after which the Floating Outfit teaming up to catch her murderer.

One of the more distinctive adaptations of the legend of Belle Starr was made by the Japanese mangaka Akihiro Itou, who in 1993 created a manga known as Belle Starr Bandits, loosely based on historical figures, facts and events.

She had an appearance in the manga Gun Blaze West from Nobuhiro Watsuki, as one of J.J.'s (Jesse James) Gangmembers. ISBN 3-89885-759-X

In 2007, independent filmmaker Ron Maxwell optioned the film rights to novelist Speer Morgan's 1979 book Belle Starr. In the December 2008 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, Maxwell is mentioned as being the director of the forthcoming film Belle Starr.

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Belle Starr's Timeline

February 5, 1848
Carthage, Jasper County, Missouri, United States
Age 1
District 41, Jasper Co., MO - listed as Myra, 2, born MO.
Age 5
Age 11
Carthage, Jasper Co., MO - listed as Myra, 12, born MO.
September 1868
Age 20
Scyene, Dallas, TX
February 22, 1871
Age 23
Los Nietos, Los Angeles County, California, United States