Aunt Kate, Uncle Laten and Helen came by and Mother and I went to town with them. They had supper here then.
Birth Name: Myra Maybelle Shirley Reed Starr
(February 5, 1848 – February 3, 1889)
Born on her father's farm near Carthage, Missouri, May Shirley received a classical education
and learned piano, while graduating from Missouri's Carthage Female Academy, a private
institution her father had helped to found. She also learned to ride and to shoot.
After a Union attack on Carthage during the Civil War, the Shirleys moved to Texas.
There, May Shirley became reacquainted with Jesse James and the Younger brothers -
her childhood friends turned criminals. Following the war, she married Jim Reed and, two
years later, gave birth to her first child, Rosie Lee (nicknamed Pearl). Jim turned to crime and
the Reeds moved to California, where their second child, James Edwin (Eddie) was born before
they moved back to Texas.
After Jim was killed, Belle (as she then called herself) married a Cherokee Indian named
Sam Starr and settled with him in Indian Territory. There, she learned ways for organizing,
planning and fencing for the rustlers, horse thieves and bootleggers, as well as harboring
them from the law. Belle's illegal enterprises proved lucrative enough for her to employ
bribery to free her cohorts from the law whenever they were caught.
After Sam was killed in a gunfight, gossips and scandal sheets linked Belle to a series of
men with colorful names, including Jack Spaniard, Jim French and Blue Duck, after which,
in order to keep her residence on Indian land, she married a relative of late husband's, Jim
July Starr, who was 15 years her junior.
Two days before her 41st birthday, Belle was killed. She was riding home from a neighbor's
house when she was ambushed. Her death resulted from shotgun wounds in the back and
neck and to the shoulder and face. There were no witnesses and no one was ever convicted.
Belle's story was picked up by the dime novel and National Police Gazette publisher, Richard
K. Fox. Fox made her name famous with his novel Bella Starr, the Bandit Queen, or the
Female Jesse James, published in 1889 (the year of her murder). This novel is still often
cited as a historical reference. It was the first of many popular stories that used her name.