6 Famous Outlaws of the Wild, Wild West


Belle Starr

Belle Starr
Belle Starr, sitting side saddle and sporting a pearl handled revolver, stares down one of the Roeder brothers, who were photographers in Fort Smith, Arkansas. On the horse beside her is Deputy U.S. Marshal Benjamin Tyner Hughes who, along with Deputy U.S. Marshal Charles Barnhill, arrested her in May of 1886 at Younger's Bend, Oklahoma, where she would later be murdered. Wikimedia Commons

Was Belle Starr really the "Queen of Outlaws," the "female Jesse James," the "Bandit Queen," "the Petticoat Terror of the Plains"? For more than 100 years, books and movies have stoked the legend of her outlaw life.

Myra Maybelle Shirley was born in Missouri in or around 1848. At the Carthage Female Academy, she mastered reading, spelling, grammar, arithmetic, deportment, Greek, Latin, Hebrew and piano. Her parents were wealthy and prominent denizens of Carthage, Missouri where they ran a hotel. But then the U.S. Civil War unleashed chaos. In its wake Maybelle moved to Dallas, Texas, where she wed a Confederate vet named Jim Reed, who made a career out of armed robbery. Together they had a daughter named Pearl and a boy named Eddie. The occupational hazards of Jim's work earned him an early death and Myra, who had re-dubbed herself Belle, eventually found refuge in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) where she married a man named Sam Starr.

Belle and Sam were arrested twice for horse-thieving and Belle served time in Detroit. Later, after Sam and a lawman killed each other in a gunfight, Belle successfully proposed to Sam's adopted brother, Jim July Starr, who was 15 years her junior. Jim July was part Cherokee and together they farmed land in Oklahoma's Indian Territory. Belle was 41 in the winter of 1889, when she was blasted off her horse by a shotgun. Whoever pulled the trigger did so again at close range to make sure she was dead. Her murderer was never caught and nobody has ever learned why she died.