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Subject: The Women In Western Legends: Belle Starr rss

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Katie Aidley
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Katie's Game Corner blogging about wargames and eurogames.
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Another amazing Women in Western Legends, Belle Starr.

A colorful women with an equally colorful life, Belle Starr, was a notorious outlaw. Belle associated with the James–Younger Gang and other outlaws. She was convicted of horse theft in 1883. She was fatally shot in 1889 in a case that is still officially unsolved.

Her story was popularized by Richard K. Fox—editor and publisher of the National Police Gazette—and she later became a popular character in television and movies.

Belle Starr was born Myra Maybelle Shirley on her parents farm near Carthage, Missouri, on February 5, 1848.

She received a classical education and learned piano, while graduating from Missouri's Carthage Female Academy, a private institution that her father had helped to found.

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.

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 and a plumed hat, carrying two pistols, with cartridge belts across her hips.

Later returning to Texas, Jim Reed was involved with several criminal gangs. While Jim initially tried his hand at farming, he would grow restless and fell in with bad company—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. In April 1874, despite a lack of any evidence, a warrant was issued for her arrest for a stagecoach robbery by her husband and others. Jim Reed was killed in August of that year in Paris, Texas, where he had settled down with his family.

In 1880 she married a Cherokee man named Sam Starr and settled with the Starr family in the Indian Territory. There, she learned ways of organizing, planning and fencing for the rustlers, horse thieves and bootleggers, as well as harboring them from the law. Belle's illegal enterprises proved lucrative enough for her to employ bribery to free her cohorts from the law whenever they were caught.

In 1883, Belle and Sam were arrested by Bass Reeves charged with horse theft and tried before "The Hanging Judge" Isaac Parker's Federal District Court in Fort Smith, Arkansas; the prosecutor was United States Attorney W. H. H. Clayton. She was found guilty and served nine months at the Detroit House of Corrections in Detroit, Michigan. Belle proved to be a model prisoner and during her time in jail she won the respect of the prison matron, while Sam was more incorrigible and was assigned to hard labor.

In 1886, she escaped conviction on another theft charge, but on December 17, Sam Starr was involved in a gunfight with Officer Frank West. Both men were killed, while Belle's life as an outlaw queen—and what had been the happiest relationship of her life—abruptly ended with her husband's death.

For the last two-plus years of her life, gossips and scandal sheets linked her to a series of men with colorful names, including Jack Spaniard, Jim French and Blue Duck, after which, in order to keep her residence on Indian land, she married a relative of Sam Starr, Jim July Starr, who was some 15 years younger than she was.

On February 3, 1889, two days before her 41st birthday, Belle Starr died. She was riding home from a neighbor's house in Eufaula, Oklahoma, when she was ambushed. 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. Legend says she was shot with her own double barrel shotgun.

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Kira Peavley
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Awesome post, Katie! Love Belle Starr!
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Aj Lambeth
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Springfield
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Amazing write-up Katie! I didn't know that Belle Starr was from Carthage, MO which is really close to my hometown. I'll have to look for a Belle Starr museum next time I'm in the area.
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Kira Peavley
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That is pretty awesome
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