Sunday, February 28, 2021

After Mass Outlaws - Belle Starr


Belle Starr on Venus

Talk after Mass at mission #2 turned naturally to famous Bosque County outlaws, and I learned something. The famous Bandit Queen, Belle Star, née Myra Shirley, owned a 160 acre ranch not far from the church, in what became Fairview.

This would have been in the 1870s, in the turbulent years following the War, and the ranch served as a hideout for Belle, then Myra, her first husband Jim Reed and assorted outlaws. These could well have have included members of the James and Younger gangs, former Confederate raiders turned horse thieves and bandits.

Wild West Show?

The Bandit Queen knew these men because she'd served as a scout(?) with Quantrill, "Bloody Bill" Anderson and other guerrillas during the Missouri-Kansas border war. Her brother Bud served as a raider and taught Belle to ride and shoot. 

After Bud was killed in action in 1864, Belle's family, the Shirleys, moved to Texas, northeast of Dallas, where they continued their relationship with the very irregular cavalry.

Jim Reed was shot in 1874 in Paris, Texas, and Myra moved to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) where she set up on the South Canadian River with a Cherokee outlaw, Sam Starr, her second husband. Starr was shot by lawman Frank West at a Christmas party and Belle went on to marry another Cherokee horse thief, Bill July, who she renamed Jim Starr.

Belle Starr

Belle was ambushed, shot and killed in 1889, at the age of 40. Suspects included Edgar Watson, a neighbor and horse thieving associate, her son Ed and possibly her third husband Jim. But I won't bang on, here's Belle:

My home became famous as an outlaws' ranch long before it was visited by any of the boys who were friends of mine in times past. Indeed, I never correspond with any of my old associates, and was desirous my whereabouts should be unknown to them. Through rumor, they learned of it. Jesse James first came in and remained several weeks. He was unknown to my husband, who never knew until long afterward, that our home had been honored by Jesse's presence. I introduced Jesse as one Mr. Williams from Texas. But, few outlaws have visited my home, notwithstanding so much has been said. The best people in the country are my friends. I have considerable ignorance to cope with, consequently, my troubles originate mostly in that quarter. Surrounded by a low down class of shoddy whites, who have made the Indian country their home to evade paying tax on their dogs, and, who I will not permit to hunt on my premises, I am the constant theme of their slanderous tongues. In all the world, there is no woman more peaceably inclined than I.



You can just say I am a friend to any brave and gallant outlaw, but have no use for that sneaking, coward class of thieves who can be found in every locality, and who would betray a friend or comrade for the sake of their own gain. There are three or four jolly, good fellows on the dodge now in my section, and when they come to my home, they are welcome, for they are my friends, and would lay down their lives in my defense at any time the occasion demanded it, and go their full length to serve me in any way.


Belle Starr, an excellent horsewoman, see Venus, who often rode side saddle, was a crack shot with two revolvers which she called her "babies," served less than a year in a Detroit jail, acted in a Wild West show where she robbed a stagecoach and... became a legend in her lifetime. 

She had, to my mind,  a hardbitten look by the time she married July, and no wonder. You can imagine her running hospitality for killers like the James and Younger brothers.

For my part, I'll remember her when I drive down 56 past Fairview on the way to Valley Mills. And rumors that some of our people are part Cherokee and out of Bonham are just that, vicious, unfounded rumors.

Ride on, and ride fast. Or slowly if you've busted your hip,



RHT447 said...

Reminds me of a book title--

Well Seasoned Fool said...

Not as prominent or famous, the Northwest corner of Colorado had an outlaw queen.
Some ancestors were contemporaries and, perhaps, "associates". My father at age 15 delivered mail to the Browns Park (Hole) ranches on horseback in the winter and Model A in the summer. Various ranchers would feed him and give him lodging including the Bassetts. His winter route took four days.

A family friend wrote a book about the region titled<"Where the Old West Stays Young".

Kid said...

No shortage of colorful characters in those days.

You might enjoy Mustang's blog Old West Tales

SgtBob said...

The top picture I believe was taken at Fort Smith, Ark. Mrs. Starr's revolver appears long enough to be a Smith & Wesson.

On another note, you and I might be neighbors of a historic nature. My first Texas ancestors
-- Jeremiah and Nancy Ward -- arrived in what was to become Fannin County in 1837. They took land north of Ladonia, nor far from Bonham.

Quantrill's force wintered in Bonham in 1862 or 1863.

LSP said...

Great book, RHT!

LSP said...

That's fascinating, WSF, I didn't know about the Bassetts. They seem pretty similar to Starr, though maybe less hardbitten?

Thanks for that.

LSP said...

I like Mustang's blog, Kid. Need to visit it more...

Chas S. Clifton said...

Second photo: the phrase "rode hard and put up wet" comes to mind.

LSP said...

We could well be neighbor's, Sgt., interesting.

The Bonham/Fannin side of the family were Prestons, George Preston marrying Katherine Jagoe (early Denton settler/landowners). The Jagoes might have known the Wards, contemps, and the Prestons too, though I think they were 1870/80 arrivals.

Quantrill's crew caused a bit of a stir in Bonham and Sherman. Wild, and fun reading.