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Belle Starr, the Bandit Queen

Belle Starr, also known as the Bandit Queen, was born in Missouri in 1848. Her birth name was Myra Belle Shirley and as a young child she moved to Texas with her family. She was in her early teens when she began associating with ne’er-do-wells in her neighborhood. It wasn’t long after that that she met a couple of troublemakers named Frank and Jesse James. During the next few years, Myra found herself in a relationship with a member of the James gang in Cole Younger and even had a child with him. Myra was now a full fledged member of the outlaw community. She eventually moved on from Cole Younger and hooked up with a notorious horse thief named Jim Reed and had a son with him. It wasn’t long after that when tragedy befell the couple and Reed was killed in a gunfight. She then moved into the Indian Nation and married a Cherokee Indian named Sam Starr. During this marriage, she officially called herself Belle Starr.

The couple formed a gang and Belle was the brains of the outfit. Their hide out was up by the Canadian River and Belle planned every criminal move they made from rustling, horse stealing and bootlegging whiskey to the Indians and the illegal business was very lucrative for the couple. So lucrative that she was able to bribe most law officers to release any gang member that had gotten himself arrested. If payola didn’t work, then she used her “womanly wiles” to get them free and that worked more often than not. There was one man who wanted her in jail very badly and that was Judge Isaac Parker, the famed “Hanging Judge” of Fort Smith. Fort Smith was the closest settlement to the Starr hide out. Several times, Judge Parker sent his deputies to arrest her and every time she was released due to a lack of evidence. Finally she was caught red-handed trying to steal a neighbor’s horse and Judge Parker was finally glad that he had something on her that would stick and sentenced to a year in jail of which she served nine months. She was released for good behavior.

In 1886, she suffered another tragedy. Her husband Sam Starr was killed by his cousin Frank West. West was a deputy Indian Sheriff. He came to a Christmas party to arrest Starr but Starr drew his gun and shot Frank. Frank then pulled his gun and shot Sam Starr. The cousin’s died within minutes of each other. In 1889, Belle married a third time to a man named Jim July. Their marriage was stormy at best and offered a two hundred dollar bounty to an accomplice but the accomplice didn’t want to do it. July said that he would do it himself then and keep the money for whiskey. Belle Starr, at the age of 41, was gunned down and killed by an ambush on a country road. The inscription on her grave stone read:

Belle Starr
Born in Carthage, Missouri,
February 5, 1848
Died February 3, 1889.

Shed not for her the bitter tear
Nor give the heart to vain regret,
'Tis but the casket that lies here,
The gem that fills it sparkles yet.

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