Western Heroine: Belle Starr Part 1

About the western heroine Belle Starr suspected robber and friend of outlaws, a real cowgirl, her biography and place in United States history.

BELLE STARR (1848-1889).

Legendary western heroine.

Horse thief, cattle rustler, suspected robber of stagecoaches, perennial concubine, and protector of desperate criminals, she was born Myra Belle Shirley in Carthage, Mo. As with most of the legendary figures of the Old West, the facts known about her life are few, though fictionalized accounts of her activities could fill several volumes.

Young Myra Belle 1st became involved in questionable activity while still in her early teens through her brother, Ed Shirley, who was a member of the infamous Cole Younger-Jesse James gang in Missouri. During the Civil War, the members of this lively group were able to indulge their taste for violence as "Confederate Partisans," participating in such escapades as the raid on Lawrence, Kans., in 1863, during which 182 citizens of this town were murdered. When the War ended, however, these high-spirited young people were unable to adjust to a country at peace. In February, 1866, the James gang pulled off its 1st bank robbery in Liberty, Mo., and this was to be followed by a long and notorious series of robberies and murders.

But now young Myra Belle decided to part from her brother and the James boys. She made her way south and west until she reached the vicinity of Dallas, Tex. There she set up a "ranch" of dubious reputation. In 1868, when Cole Younger was forced to flee from the law, he came to Myra Belle for refuge. She had recently turned 20, and apparently Younger was struck by the way in which his old friend's kid sister had developed since their earlier days in Missouri. At any rate, Myra Belle was soon the mother of Cole Younger's illegitimate child, a daughter she named Pearl.

In 1870, Jim Reed, another member of the James gang, followed in Younger's footsteps, going underground for several months at Myra Belle's. The result was another illegitimate child, this time a boy she named Ed.

Between lovers, Myra Belle supported herself through various activities including horse stealing, cattle rustling, and (it was rumored) occasional ventures into prostitution. As far as robberies were concerned, it is thought that Myra Belle organized these forays but that she seldom participated personally, although she was an excellent horsewoman.

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