Belle Starr Takes Her Place in History
Source: "Dallas Morning News"
July 28, 1929
By Fred E. Sutton
[Transcribed for Genealogy Trails by K. Torp]
A Statue of the Queen of Bandits Soon to Be Erected in Oklahoma Recalls Her Mad, Romantic Career
Some Little Quirks in the Character of This Wayward Lady Who, Although She Liked to Sing "Jesus, Lover of My Soul" to Little Children, Nevertheless Shot Like a Man, Rode Her Prancing Mare Down the Streets of Dallas and, Generally Surrounded Herself With an Atmosphere of Glitter and Fame, Told by a Man Who Once Knew Her.
Belle Starr, queen of the bandits, lawless heroine of the old bloodstained frontier, is at last to take her place among, the historic characters of Oklahoma. Labeled "The Outlaw Queen," a statue of Belle, with other heroic figures, "The Indian Chief," "The Cowboy" and "The Indian Squaw," has been executed by the noted sculptor, Jo Mora of California, and soon will be placed in Marland Park at Ponca City, Ok. Mr. Mora was commissioned to make these four statues by E. W. Marland, whose home is in Ponca City.
The late George Miller of 101 Ranch posed for the cowboy statue a short time before his death. The figure of the outlaw queen has been made from photographs of Belle Starr and from information gathered from the few old-timers now living who knew this strange woman, her home, her habits and her erratic and romantic life. The writer had the privilege of contributing to this jumble of information from which Mr. Mora has made a good likeness of the noted woman. The statues are now being cast in bronze and are soon to be shipped to Ponca City, where they will be viewed by posterity for ages to come.
Of all the characters of bad repute that infested the Southwest in the early days, Belle Starr came nearest to surrounding herself with the atmosphere of romance from which arc drawn the heroes of the old and bloodstained border. With an education far in advance of her surroundings and with a natural sagacity that enabled her quickly to separate the spectacular from the commonplace and use same to her advantage, she acquired a reputation for banditry that is still vivid after the lapse of nearly half a century, however threadbare were the facts on which this reputation was founded. She had the love of admiration common to women, and being a woman undoubtedly gave prestige to her career. A sentimentalism common to the South prior to the Civil War, joined to more than ordinary vanity, led Belle Starr to affect and imitate the ways of cheap melodrama.
I know of no absolute proof that she ever killed anyone in a personal encounter or held up a train or stained her hands with human blood. Yet in some localities in Missouri, Arkansas, Texas and the Indian Territory, her name was connected with many of the major crimes of that day. Even at this date, the few old-timers who saw her on parade, seeking the spotlight, "shake" their heads or give a wink to anyone asking about her.
This picture was made in 1858
"While not pretty," says the writer, who saw her in Muskogee. , "Belle was a fine-looking woman. Her movements were lithe and graceful and it was easy for her to vault from the ground to her horse when equipped with a man's saddle."
Snapped While Quarreling
In an old town in the Indian Territory, an old photographer who lived for a long time in Fort Smith was asked if he had a photograph of Belle Starr. He smiled and said he made one once and lost it. Then he told this story: "One day I heard a big racket in the street, and upon looking out, I saw Belle on her favorite saddle mare, Venus, with a forty-five in her belt and a rifle across her lap, cussing out a bunch of policemen, and daring them to try and arrest her.
I knew her well and stayed in my studio until the storm blew over. While it was at its height, I sneaked up to the window and snapped a picture of her. This is the one I lost, and the only other one I know of was made for Dr. W. F. Carver, who was greatly smitten with the outlaw queen."
Sheriffs Didn't Fear Her.
This estimate of the prowess of Belle Starr is characteristic of those who saw only the tinsel that she wore when seeking notoriety. There are still old officers who laughed at her and looked her in the eye when she began her bluffing and took her six-shooters from her, and told her that the fact that she was a woman often saved her a good beating and a trip to the lock-up. This, or course, always took place when she was off her range and alone. These persons knew her to be merely a harborer of outlaws at her home on the South Canadian River, and that she received a share of the booty for hiding them.. They knew her to be a steady friend always faithful to "her man." They even had a sort of sympathy for her, for she was human to the heart, and in the scarcely settled region where she lived, no one was more generous to the sick and unfortunate. She never refused food or shelter to anyone who asked it, and when the women of the neighborhood were sick and unable to care for their folks, Belle always dropped everything and took care of them until they died or got well.
Sang to the Children.
Belle loved children and was fond of telling them stories. Many boys and girls living at Porum or In Younger's Bend, now grown to middle age, remember her as playing the guitar and singing such songs as "Jesus, Lover of My Soul," or "There Is a Fountain Filled With Blood." Like most women, she often sought relief from care and worry in a flood of tears. One time a deputy and posse went to her house looking for stolen property and found her absent. In hunting they found a peddler's pack in which were a number of pairs of spectacles, and Bill Vann, one of the deputies, put three or four pairs on his nose. As Belle came in he looked at her through the glasses and asked. "Are you Mistress Belle Starr?" while his comrades looked on and laughed loudly at the joke." Belle looked at her home all topsy-turvy and her eyes flashed with rage as she dropped her hand to her gun only to be told she was covered by a deputy behind her and that a move meant death. She seemed unable for the moment to speak, and covering her face with her hands, she burst into tears.
A Lady, Except When Angry.
"The Outlaw Queen" was a fine-looking woman, though not pretty. She was 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighed 145 pounds. Her movements were quick, lithe and graceful, and it was easy for her to vault from the ground to her horse when equipped with a man's saddle. She danced well and was especially fond of all the old-time square dances of the cowboys. Her voice was soft and pleasant and her manners polite when she was in a good humor. She was neither vulgar nor profane, except when angry. Her deep tan and long midnight hair often caused her to be taken for an Indian. Her hands were too large to be pretty, but her feet were her pride, very small and neat, and she wore only the very best of covering for them.
Owns Her Gun.
I saw her once in Muskogee, dressed in a man's suit of fringed buckskin, a large cowboy hat and a pair of hand-painted kid boots worth $100. In her belt was a large six-shooter that at her death fell into the hands of Jackson Ellis, a Deputy United States Marshal under Leo Bennette at Muskogee. In the holster on her saddle hung the Winchester carbine, a forty-four that she always carried, and which had her name in brass on one side of the stock and on the other side a brass star. This gun I now own, as it was given to me by James Bowles (a posseman under United States Marshal Tiner Hughes), who was one of the first on the scene when Belle was killed.
The Belle Starr Saddle.
She usually rode a side saddle, and it was of such excellent workmanship that it was known throughout Indian Territory and Texas as the Belle Starr saddle. This saddle is now owned in Kansas City, Mo., by a half-breed Indian woman, who at one time was a member of Belle's guns of long riders. She has frequently shown it at county fairs, but of late years she is too old to do so, although she is very bright and loves to talk of Belle and Pearl Starr.
Good Girl With Bad Start.
Belle Starr was unexcelled as a rider, and upon one occasion was a competitor for a prize as a fair and cowmen's convention held at Muskogee. She won the prize by her horsemanship, but it was not awarded to her, on account of her reputation. She was born of good parentage, but got a bad start in life. Her father was Judge John Shirley, who kept a good hotel in Carthage, Mo., where Myra Belle Shirley was born Feb. 5. 1848. During the war Judge Shirley sympathized with the South, and when Quantrell began scouting in Southwest Missouri he soon found a haven in the Shirley home, and he was joined by Belle's twin brother, who was later known as Captain Shirley and who was killed during the war. Belle then became a spy for Quantrell and made many daring raids in his service. It was during these raids that she met and made lifelong friends of Frank and Jesse James and Cole Younger. After the war they moved to Texas, and in 1868(?) Belle married Jim Reed, the son of a fine farmer at Rich Hill, Mo. Bill Anderson, the noted guerilla, was best man at the wedding.
Refuge With Tom Starr.
Her marriage to Reed undoubtedly shaped the course of her life. He had the inclinations of a "bad man," and it was not long until he was a fugitive from justice, charged with murder. He found his way to the home of "Uncle Tom" Starr, on the South Canadian River, in what is now Haskell County, Oklahoma, and here, he was protected. Starr was a Cherokee Indian, and one of the most desperate men who ever infested the Indian Territory. In his day he killed enough men to fill a small graveyard. He took life without compunction if he felt his cause was just, and in those days men would quarrel over a plug of tobacco and settle the dispute with a forty-five.
Belle came occasionally on horseback to visit Reed. In 1869 she gave birth to a girl baby whom she named Pearl, and in 1871 to a boy, Ed Reed, who was killed in 189? while shooting up a saloon in Claremore, Ok. For the sake of a reward. Jim Reed was killed by his partner, John Morris, at a farmhouse near McKinney, Texas, in 1871.
Cutting a Wide Swath In Dallas.
Her life with Reed had led Belle into devious paths. She became a woman of the world, frequenting race tracks with her horses and came into conflict with the law on various occasions. After Reed's death she came to Texas, raced her thoroughbred horses in Dallas, rode them dashingly, and received her friends at her home near Scyene. At times she attired herself in men's clothes and posed as a man.
One on Willie.
It is told that one night in a little Texas town two strangers occupied the same bed. One of them, a young man from the East, asked many questions about Belle Starr, and said it seemed she had all the United States Marshals "scared of her," and they would not try to arrest her, but he (showing a tin star usually seen on corresponding school detectives) was here for the purpose of earning a reward and fame by taking her to the Federal Jail a prisoner. To gain this end, the detective rose early the next morning, and "while he was eating breakfast his partner of the night also rose. As the officer with his horse and new saddle at the door prepared to mount after carefully adjusting a nice, new and shiny .32 pistol in a nice, new belt and holster, reached out a hand to say good-bye, he was caught by the coat collar and given about a dozen kicks where they would do the most good, after which his pretty pistol was taken from him and thrown into the brush, and he was addressed by his companion of the night as follows:
"Willie, you had better run home to mamma now, and when you get there tell her you talked too much around Belle Starr, And don't come back here any more, for some of my boys might get hold of you and treat you rough."
Back to Tom's.
With her children Belle left Texas about 1879 and went to old Tom Starr's, and from, then on Indian Territory was her home.
Starr had several sons, one of whom, Sam, was marked for a stormy career. The Starr family was one of the largest in the Nation of the Cherokees, and among them are many fine citizens of Oklahoma. Uncle Tom, however, always had a regular rip-saw edge. When Belle appeared on the South Canadian, one of Starr's kinsmen rode 100 miles to make this suggestion:
"Uncle Tom, It's this way. If you let that woman stay around here she will ruin your boys. I've been thinking the matter over, and I think you ought to kill her; yes, sir, kill her, and save your sons lots of trouble."
A New Husband.
Sam Starr was a handsome man with pearl white teeth, black hair and eyes, and the form of an athlete. Belle was soon deeply in love with him. Even now it is said around the old home that she persuaded Sam to run off with her. They were married by Judge Abe Woodall. They lived for a time in a little cabin two miles south of the little town of Porum. Then they went to what became the most notorious lair of outlaws, ever known in the Southwest, down on the lonely South Canadian, deep in the dense wilderness, walled in by rugged and inaccessible hills. A place of twilight canyons and gloomy forests, this region was very sparsely settled.
The house was built of cedar logs half a hundred years ago by a man named Dempsy Hannell and was long occupied by an old Cherokee, Chief Big Head, who died without telling where he had buried $14,000 in gold that he was known to have had. Bella and Sam spent much time in trying to find the fortune, but to no avail.
A Refuge In The Wilderness.
The home was near the old Briartown-Eufa?? trail and stood on a little hill facing south. The one room was some fifteen feet square with a large stone fireplace on the west side. The roof was scarcely eight feet from the floor of dirt. On the north was a lean-to with two rooms under which was a cellar. Two lookout holes let in a little light and sunshine. Across the entire front was a wide porch which was only a few steps from the dense timber. To the west a short way lay the always dangerous South Canadian with its yellow water writhing and swirling among its quicksands. To the immediate east, coming from the north to the river was a great dark and deep canyon. It was three miles in length and so high and deep that one could not carry a wagon over it. In time a grape vine corral was built to hold the stolen stock. Water was carried from a spring two hundred yards away at the foot of the hill near the creek now known as Belle Starr Creek.
All Tracks Led to Belle's
On the other side of the Canadian, great precipices towered to the sky, and there in perfect safety, the outlaws that were Belle Starr's friends lodged by day and kept watch over all the surrounding country. A record of the names of the men who found their way to this place during the ten years that the Starrs lived there, would be without parallel in the annals of crime in this noted territory.
At this time if an armed stranger appeared anywhere in the Indian Territory, sooner or later the tracks of their horses led to the Starr stronghold.
Belle Starr gave the name of Younger's Bend to the big elbow of the river, but she denied that the Youngers were ever there. Her daughter, Pearl Starr, went by the name of Younger.
Belle and Sam were moving about the country much of the time, but never left the territory. They stole horses right and left, and occasionally Sam took part in an important robbery. The robbery of Walt Grayson, an old, Choctaw, of $33,000 in gold, in which Sam participated, was before Belle and Sam made their home in Younger's Bend.
TheDance at Surratt's
A year after they were married, they stole a gray mare from Sam Campbell, and a bay horse from Andrew Crane, for which they were sent to the Federal house of correction at Detroit, Mich, for a year, by Judge Parker at Fort Smith. They were prosecuted by W. H. H. Clayton.. Imprisonment did not reform them, and Sam was soon scouting again, and was shortly ambuscaded by the United Stales Marshals who shot his horse from under him and slightly Sam who escaped capture This fight, however, cost him his life. Among the officers was Frank West. Starr always blamed him for killing his horse. One winter night there was a dance at home of Lucy Surratt on the south side of the Canadian River, near the old postoffice of Oklahoma, now called Whitefield. The boys and girls warmed themselves by a big log fire in the yard. Frank West was there, and during the night Sam and Belle arrived on their way home from Fort Smith. Sam was drinking and West was ordered to keep an eye on him. West was sitting alone when Sam and Belle came from the house, Belle in front. Sam came up and accused West of killing his horse and wounding him, but West denied it. Belle moved quickly to one side and slipped behind Sam. The latter drew his gun and fired. West managed to pull his gun from his overcoat pocket and returned the fire. Both men died in a few seconds and within reach of each other.
Again a Bride.
Bella was soon searching for another man, and this time her affections were bestowed upon a full-blood Cherokee, Bill July whose name Belle changed to Jim Starr. July was a common thief and coward and would rather run than fight.
One day a man giving his name as Edgar A. Watson, moved into their part of the country and rented a farm some six miles west of the Starr home. Mrs. Watson was a refined woman and her husband appeared to be a good man, but it was soon learned that he was charged with murder in Florida, and was here to hide from the law. It was natural that Watson should fall in with Belle Starr, and it was her practice to learn the secrets of those who might help or harm her, and use the knowledge according to her needs. She gained Watson's confidence and learned his history. There are several stories as to what started the trouble between them. One is that they quarreled over land: another is that Watson and July were stealing together, and that Watson did not divide fairly and this caused Belle to threaten to betray Watson to the officers.
Paid Account In Full.
On his way to Fort Smith to appear in court for horse stealing, July and Belle stopped at what was known as the King Creek store and gin, on Feb. 2, 1889, where they paid in full their account of $75. The store was on the south side of the river not far from where they lived. Belle said she was going part way with July and would stay all night at the home of Mrs. Nail on San Bois Creek, twenty miles east of Whitefield, and would return the next day, which would be Sunday.
She got back to the store about 11 o'clock, fed her horse and ate dinner with the proprietor, who lived with the men who rented his farm. Belle seemed sad and worried about something and while at dinner said she feared she would be killed by some enemy.
"Pshaw, Belle! Thunder and lightning couldn't kill you," said the merchant.
Taking a silk handkerchief from her pocket, she cut it in two with a pair of shears, and gave half of it to the renter's wife as a keepsake. She laid aside a coat with $50 in it and asked that it be kept until she called for it, if she ever came back. She left the store at 1 o'clock in the afternoon, riding her favorite mare, Venus. At the home of a man named Barnes, shs stopped to get some sour dough which Mrs. Barnes was noted for making. When she rode in, Watson was standing in the yard with his shotgun in his hand. He left at once, going in the direction Belle was traveling. Belle stayed a while, talking to the Barnes family and left at 3 o'clock. That was the last time any one ever told of seeing this noted woman alive.
Murdered in Cold Blood.
Frog Hoyt had just ridden off the Canadian ferry at 4 o'clock, when he heard a horse running, and looking up he saw Belle Starr's mare riderless, leap into the river and swim across where she was caught by Deputy United States Marshal James Bowles. Hoyt rode rapidly in the direction from which the mare had come and soon came to the lifeless body of the Outlaw Queen. She was lying on her side with blood covering her face. She had been shot from behind with a double barreled shotgun and she was filled with shot from her hips to the crown of her head. More than sixty shot had entered her body. At the point where the fell the road curved and there was a large tree behind which had stood her murderer as was shown by his tracks.
Marshal Bowles took from the saddle a Winchester carbine and then turned the mare loose. Her running home frightened Belle's daughter, Pearl, who leaped into the saddle and ran down the road until she came to where her mother lay staring vacantly at the sky.
Men who lived there then and some who still live there have no doubt that Watson was her murderer as the tracks led from his farm to the tree. The day after the funeral, July had Watson arrested and taken to Fort Smith. Watson's neighbors had confidence in him, and through their influence Judge Parker turned him loose. The truth is that many people thought that if Watson had done the killing, he had done a good thing for the country and should not be punished ofr it. He would later be sent to the penitentiary for another crime, and in trying to escape he was killed by a guard.
While under indictment for horse stealing, July fled from his bondsmen and was overtaken in the Choctaw Nation, and in a gun battle he was killed by Marshal Bud Trainer.
Burial of a "Queen."
The women of the neighborhood prepared Belle's body for burial. A rude coffin was made of rough boards and her grave dug close to the door of her old cedar house. There was no preacher, and without a prayer the clods were heaped above all that remained of that colorful and wayward woman. Belle Starr, the scourge of the Indian Territory.
In the year 1931, the writer rode through the hills to Younger's Bend. Early summer was on and the Cherokee country looked beautiful in the sunshine. There were grazing herds of fat cattle. Birds were singing the joy of life. The roads grew rough and the hills grew steeper until the wilderness swallowed all. The country became somber and forbidding. One felt as if he were looked at by eyes unseen, peering out from hidden places. An uncanny stillness seemed to grip the traveler. Leading into a canyon through which flowed a lazy stream was a dim trail, long abandoned, washed with rains and overgrown with weeds.
A Rose at Her Grave.
"That," said the driver, "is the old Belle Starr Trail. I used to think her ghost could be seen riding along here at night. We are getting close to her old home."
UJp from Belle Starr Creek our horses clambered to a level plot where stood two Cherokee women doing their washing over a camp fire. "Nearby, inclosed by a brush fence was a spring, the Belle Starr spring, welling up from the roots of a tree that had been killed by lightning. The road wound up around a rocky hill, and the old house of cedar logs came into view; The gate hung between two fine old trees that were set out by Belle Starr when she came there with her children and Sam Starr. A step more and we came to a little house built of rough stone. It was the grave of the Queen of Younger's Bend. At one corner of the grave grew a blood red rose. Far overhead a buzzard floated lazily. From a blasted tree near the treacherous Canadian flew a screaming hawk. In this solitude, the writer remembered how Belle Starr from the porch of her log house jibed and laughed at a posse of Marshals when she found them skulking in the timber, spying on her home at daybreak.
She Was Right, Too.
"How many of you devils are there?" she asked of one officer whom she knew.
"Just two of us," came the reply from the brush.
"You're a liar," she screamed, "For I know you two wouldn't dare come here by yourselves."
The grave looks to the west. The headstone, firmly set in mortar, had been chipped by souvenir hunters until it was about ruined. It was made by Joseph Dailey, a stonecutter, shortly after Belle was killed. At the top is the image of her favorite mare, Venus, with a brand on her shoulder B-S: a star suspended above and in front of a belt At the bottom is a clasped hand filled with wild flowers.
[Picture from findagrave.com]
On the stone is this Inscription:
Born at Carthage, Missouri
Feb. 5, 1848.
Died Feb. 3, 1889.
Shed Not for me the bitter tear,
Nor give the heart to vain regret;
Tis but the casket that lies here,
The gem that filled it sparkles yet.
The writer has the Winchester carbine that was taken off Belle Starr's horse (when she was killed) by Marshals Jim Bowles and Tiner Hughes. On one side of the stock is Belle Starr's name, and on the other side a brass star. Instead of being notched as is some-times the case, there are seven brass tacks driven into the front end of the stock. What do they mean? Who knows? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps . . .
Belle Starr was buried at Younger's Bend near the Lake Eufaula Dam on a wooded hill on her ranch. The grave is on the land of Mrs. Ada Hamilton and is open to the public for a small charge.
Younger's Bend was the center of much of Belle Starr's adult life. She and Sam Starr settled on about 1000 acres (or less) in a bend of the Canadian River near Briartown on the McIntosh-Muskogee County border, which is a beautiful, rugged, hilly country covered with trees and shrubs, and tall grass, and now overlooks the Lake Eufaula Dam Belle often shopped in Whitefield, crossing the Canadian River on the Tom Starr or the Frank West Ferry. The road to Fort Smith went east from Whitefield. There was also a ferry across the North Canadian from Belle's property operated by Abner Brassfield.
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