Starr, Belle

Starr, Belle,

1848?–89, American outlaw, b. near Carthage, Mo. Her original name was Myra Belle (or Maybelle) Shirley. Her family members were Confederate sympathizers, and her father was a farmer who later operated a tavern in Carthage, where she spent her childhood. The Shirleys subsequently (1864) moved to Scyene, near Dallas, Tex. Early in her life Belle met Cole YoungerYounger, Cole
(Thomas Coleman Younger), 1844–1916, American outlaw, b. Jackson co., Mo. After the Civil War he joined the outlaw band of Jesse James, with whom he had served as a Confederate guerrilla under William C. Quantrill.
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, with whom she was long (and probably falsely) rumored to have had a child. She also became close to Jesse JamesJames, Jesse (Woodson),
1847–82, American outlaw, b. Clay co., Mo. At the age of 15 he joined the Confederate guerrilla band led by William Quantrill and participated in the brutal and bloody civil warfare in Kansas and Missouri.
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 and his gang, the rest of the Youngers, and other outlaws, many of whom, like her brother, had served with QuantrillQuantrill, William Clarke
, 1837–65, Confederate guerrilla leader, b. Canal Dover (now Dover), Ohio. In the Civil War his band of guerrillas was active in Missouri and Kansas. He was given the rank of captain in the Confederate army. On Aug.
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's raiders during the Civil War. In 1866 she married the outlaw Jim Reed. After he was killed she wed (1880) Sam Starr, a Cherokee outlaw, and went to live in the Indian TerritoryIndian Territory,
in U.S. history, name applied to the country set aside for Native Americans by the Indian Intercourse Act (1834). In the 1820s, the federal government began moving the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Choctaw, and Chickasaw) of the Southeast to
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 (now Oklahoma). Her home there became a retreat for outlaws, for whom she operated mainly as a "fixer" with the legal authorities. In 1883 she and Starr were convicted of horse-stealing and briefly imprisoned. Starr's reputation as a notorious horse thief and murderess was greatly magnified in Richard K. Fox's popular novel Bella Starr, the Bandit Queen; or, the Female Jesse James (1889), written after she was shot to death by an unknown assailant.


See biographies by B. Rascoe (1941), E. P. Hicks (1963), C. W. Breiham (1970), G. Shirley (1982), and P. W. Steele (1989).

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Starr, (Shirley) Belle (b. Myra Belle)

(1848–89) bandit queen; born at or near Carthage, Mo. Her brothers were killed while fighting with Quantrill's Raiders in the Civil War and in gunfights. She was romantically linked with Thomas Coleman Younger, James H. Reed, Sam Starr, a Cherokee, and Jim July, also a Cherokee. She was rumored to be the "leader of a band of horse thieves" and was convicted once by “Hanging Judge” Parker (1883). On other occasions, she defended herself and her companions with great legal skill. She was shot and killed—allegedly by a man wanted for murder and who inevitably feared she might turn him in—and she was immortalized in popular literature.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.