Belle Starr was a legendary figure in the American Old West. Born in 1848 to a wealthy family in Missouri, Belle moved to Oklahoma at age 18 and began her criminal career by robbing stagecoaches with her first husband.
She later married Sam Starr, becoming known as “The Bandit Queen” of the Indian Territory. Her love life was tumultuous and controversial, but she gained notoriety throughout the region due to her criminal activities.
Although she died young at age 41 in 1889, her legacy continues to this day with books and films depicting her story being released regularly.
In this article we will provide an overview of Belle’s childhood, move to Oklahoma, criminal activity during that period, love life, and lasting legacy through the present day.
Belle Starr’s childhood was far from ordinary. Belle, who was born Myra Maybelle Shirley on February 5, 1848, was the daughter of John Shirley and Elizabeth Hatfield Shirley on their family’s farm near Carthage, Missouri.
Belle’s father leased the farm in 1866 and moved his family to Carthage where he bought a livery stable and blacksmith shop. Belle received a classical education during her time there as well as instruction in piano.
Belle also had a close connection to the infamous Hatfield family as her mother was a distant relative of theirs. She undoubtedly lived an eventful childhood with exposure to both her family’s rural roots and the bustling atmosphere of town life.
Move to Oklahoma: 1866-1880
The late 1860s saw an influx of settlers in Oklahoma as the area opened for settlement in 1866. Seeking land to farm, homesteaders from a variety of states were drawn to the region, especially with the rich soil and flat terrain that made it suitable for agriculture.
Along with farming, ranching quickly grew to become a major part of Oklahoma’s culture and economy.
By 1880 over 75,000 people called Oklahoma home, bringing with them new ideas and opportunities that would shape the territory’s future.
Criminal Activity: 1880-1888
Belle Starr is credited with a long list of criminal accomplishments between 1880 and 1888. During this period she ran in the same outlaw circles as legendary figures such as Jesse James and Cole Younger.
Belle was known to be involved in robberies, though some accounts say that her involvement was only financial, with Belle lending money to help finance the bank thefts conducted by her male counterparts. Her notoriety for stealing horses led to her arrest in 1886, when two associates of Belle’s were caught stealing horses belonging to US Marshalls.
Convicted of misdemeanour horse theft, Belle served nine months in jail awaiting trial before being released without a trial because of a lack of evidence against Belle.
However brief, these criminal acts echoed what Belle later called her “rebellious spirit”, something that gained Belle even more notoriety and fame than she already had amongst other criminals.
Love Life: 1888-1889
Belle Starr’s love life of 1888-1889 was a turbulent one. Belle had been married to Jim Reed as early as 1866, but their relationship was rocky at best. Belle’s attention instead shifted to Sam Starr in 1888, a man described as a notorious outlaw and Belle’s first cousin once removed.
Belle and Sam obtained the necessary permits from Belle’s former husband in order to be legally married. The couple ran an inn together for several months until their union dissolved. Following her separation from Sam, Belle eventually formed a romantic relationship with another criminal by the name of Blue Duck in 1889.
Blue Duck deeply respected Belle and reportedly used his considerable influence to guard her against any harm or legal repercussions that might have befallen her due to her daring behavior.
Legacy: 1889 – Present
Belle forged her own legacy through a life of alleged crime and even outlawed rodeos. Starting from 1889 onward, Belle settled in Indian Territory with her celebrated outlaw husband Sam Starr.
Eventually, Belle would establish a ranch near present-day Eufaula where she operated a saloon and riding school and hired men to work on her land. Belle’s wealth and outlaw ways eventually caught the attention of law enforcement, leading some to assert that she provided shelter for horse thieves and bank robbers.
Despite or perhaps because of Belle’s notoriety, she remains an important figure in the history of the 1889 era.
Belle Starr’s legacy has endured for more than a century, and her life serves as an example of how one person can make their mark on history through outlaw activities. She was notorious for her criminal behavior but also respected by those who knew her for the loyalty she showed to them.
Her time in Oklahoma Territory brought with it opportunities that allowed Belle to cultivate relationships and business ventures that made her famous beyond the borders of the state.
Today we remember Belle Starr as a symbol of courage and resilience – qualities which no doubt served her well during both good times and bad.