Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Belle Starr

By Kathy Otten
While researching hotels for the hero and heroine of Lost Hearts to stay, I discovered the Elk House, in McAlester, Indian Territory. This popular hotel was one of the businesses started by Ed Sittle and his family, immigrants from Germany.

Inside was a piano that was played by the famous female outlaw, Belle Starr, whenever she was a guest. She was a gifted pianist who learned to play the piano while she was a young girl attending the Carthage Academy for young ladies, in Carthage, MO.  There she learned arithmetic and algebra and excelled in Latin, Greek and Hebrew.

While smart and talented, Belle was not a pretty girl. Known as “The Lady Desperado,” “The Bandit Queen,” and the Petticoat Terror of the Plains,” Belle was considered a trollop and attracted to some of the worst “bad boys of her time.”

Myra Belle Shirley was born February 5, 1848, to a well-off family in Washington County, AK.  After Myra’s brother was killed in the Civil War, the family moved to Scyene, TX. There Myra met the ex-Quantrill guerilla, Coleman Younger.

When Myra was twenty she became reacquainted with an old childhood sweetheart from Carthage, James Reed, who ran with the infamous Tom Starr. After a pregnancy and a quick marriage, Myra raised their daughter while Reed rode with Tom Starr. During this time Reed killed a man named Shannon, which forced him to take his family to CA.  Reed provided for his family by committing highway robberies and Myra gave birth to a son in 1871.

To avoid arrest for stage robbery the family moved back to Scyene where they opened a livery. Myra tended the business, leaving James to steal horses in Indian Territory. In 1874, James was killed by Deputy Sheriff J.T. Morris near Paris, TX.

Myra sold the livery, left her children with relatives and headed to Dallas, where she worked as a Faro dealer and became acquainted with Jesse James. In 1877, Myra moved north to Galena, KS and became the common law wife of a gambler named Bruce Younger, who was a cousin of Cole.

In 1880 she married Tom Starr’s son, Sam. They moved to Sam’s ranch near Eufaula in Indian Territory and they named the ranch Younger Bend. It became something of a robbers’ roost for stock thieves and killers to hideout from the law.

At one time there was a reward posted, of ten thousand dollars in gold for Sam and Belle Starr, dead or alive. They were arrested by Deputy United States Marshals and brought before the “Hanging Judge,” Isaac Parker. They received light sentences and were back at their ranch in the fall of 1883.

Once home Belle became involved with a twenty-three year old outlaw who frequented the ranch, a man named Blue Duck. After Blue Duck ended up in the state penitentiary in 1886, Belle began a new relationship with John Middleton, who was wanted for the murder of Sheriff J.H. Black. Before she and Middleton could leave the ranch, Middleton was found dead a few miles south, from a shot gun blast to his face.

Then in December 1886, Sam Starr was shot in a dance hall brawl. In 1888, Belle took up with one of Tom Starr’s nephew’s, Jim July. In 1889 Belle convinced July to turn himself in. She accompanied him as far as San Bois. July continued alone to Fort Smith and Belle headed back to Younger Bend.

A shot gun blast threw Belle from her horse and left her dying by the side of the road. The name of her killer is unknown and she was buried in the yard of Younger Bend.

The piano is now in the home of a direct descendent of Ed Sittle, the owner of Elk House where Belle once played it so beautifully.


  1. What a great post! Love these types of history snippets. Interesting "lady."

  2. I've always heard of Belle, of course, but I had no idea she'd been involved with so many men! LOL Thanks for catching me up on Belle's history, Kathy.

  3. Nice post, Kathy. Belle certainly cut a swath through male friends, didn't she? Her life story makes me wonder what event set her on the wrong road.

  4. Hi P.L.,
    Thanks for stopping by. Belle Starr was an interesting lady. I wish I had lots more room to include everything I found.

  5. Hi Stacy,
    I also wondered how she ended up with so many men. She sure didn't have the looks. Iguess she must have good in bed.

  6. Hi Caroline,
    I suppose Belle started down the wrong road when she was a young girl and met Cole Younger.

  7. What a fabulous story--and what a lot of lovers she had! Wow.

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  9. Sheesh, I wanted to edit not delete the post. Okay here I go again.

    Wow! What a busy lady!
    I want to know if she took up with them for love, money, or security. Women were scarce in the west so that makes sense the men would take her in, but what was her motives?

    Great post!

  10. Hi A.D. and Paty,
    I'm not sure what her motives were. Her family was well off, but maybe Cole Younger's wild and carefree life held an an allure that drew Belle in. She abandoned her kids to follow the outlaw life. But Bruce Younger must have mattered to her because she named the ranch Younger Bend.

  11. I love learning more about this outlaw gal. Thanks for the wonderful post. One of my favorite movies of all time, The Long Riders, has a story line of her with Cole, and Sam. Never realized before this what a "busy" girl she actually was.

    Great info here!

  12. Hi Tanya,
    I never saw Long Riders. Sounds like something that should go on my list of movies to watch. When I was looking for pictures of Belle I found lots of photos of actresses who played her in movies. They were all pretty. I don't recall seeing any from the Long Rider though.

  13. Hi Kathy, the Long Riders is kind of an oldie but a goodie from the 70's. It was renowned because it starred real life brothers for the Jameses (Keach),Youngers (Carradine), Millers (Quaid), and Fords (Guest). I know they were all horrible LOL but I just love this movie.

  14. Hi Tanya,
    I'll have to look for this movie. I recognize all the actors names you mentioned and they are all good.

  15. I've heard of Belle, but not all the men she was associated with. Goodness, she was one busy gal.

  16. Kathy--I'm late. But your post was so good. Belle Starr was a real character, and it's intersting that while she wasn't pretty at all, she really well with the men. Like we used to say in high school, "she has a good personality." And truly, she was a real personality.
    Good post, and thanks!


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