1848?–89, American outlaw, b. near Carthage, Mo. Her original name was Myra Belle (or Maybelle) Shirley. Her family members were Confederate sympathizers, and her father was a farmer who later operated a tavern in Carthage, where she spent her childhood. The Shirleys subsequently (1864) moved to Scyene, near Dallas, Tex. Early in her life Belle met Cole Younger
, with whom she was long (and probably falsely) rumored to have had a child. She also became close to Jesse James
and his gang, the rest of the Youngers, and other outlaws, many of whom, like her brother, had served with Quantrill
's raiders during the Civil War. In 1866 she married the outlaw Jim Reed. After he was killed she wed (1880) Sam Starr, a Cherokee outlaw, and went to live in the Indian Territory
(now Oklahoma). Her home there became a retreat for outlaws, for whom she operated mainly as a
with the legal authorities. In 1883 she and Starr were convicted of horse-stealing and briefly imprisoned. Starr's reputation as a notorious horse thief and murderess was greatly magnified in Richard K. Fox's popular novel Bella Starr, the Bandit Queen; or, the Female Jesse James
(1889), written after she was shot to death by an unknown assailant.
See biographies by B. Rascoe (1941), E. P. Hicks (1963), C. W. Breiham (1970), G. Shirley (1982), and P. W. Steele (1989).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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