Belle Starr was second only to Jesse James as one of the most notorious outlaws from Missouri. Most accounts say baby Myra Maybelle was born in Carthage, Mo., but the truth is she was born in Washington County, Ark., in 1848. While she was still an infant, John Shirley and the family left Arkansas and moved to Carthage.

Belle Starr was second only to Jesse James as one of the most notorious outlaws from Missouri. Most accounts say baby Myra Maybelle was born in Carthage, Mo., but the truth is she was born in Washington County, Ark., in 1848. While she was still an infant, John Shirley and the family left Arkansas and moved to Carthage.

They prospered in the hotel business at Carthage and young “Belle” was provided with every educational advantage a proper young lady of the mid-Victorian era could be afforded. At The Carthage Academy for Young Ladies she learned the social graces, studied music, mathematics, and classical languages.

The brutality of the Civil War around Carthage was brought home to the Shirley family when Belle’s brother, Edward, was killed by federal troops and their hotel was burned to the ground. Where Belle went wrong is anyone’s guess, but her out-of-control hormones seemed to overtake her moral upbringing and manners. Her folks heartily disapproved of the former Bushwhacker, Cole Younger from Lee’s Summit, when he came sniffing around. That was the beginning of her long downhill slide. Cole did not stick around long, but is believed to be the father of Belle’s daughter, “Little Pearl.”

She married a lazy criminal named John Reed and they opened a livery stable. On the surface it seemed legitimate, but it was actually a front for “laundering” stolen horses rustled from Indian Territory and the lucrative business of robbing stagecoaches.

After Reed was gunned down by deputies, she slept with Cole Younger’s cousin, Bruce, in Kansas for about three years. Then, the legend of Belle Starr was born in the Cherokee Strip near Eufaula, Okla., when she married the outlaw, Cherokee Sam Starr, and joined the family business of rustling horses.

When Sam and Belle were finally arrested, Judge Isaac Parker locked up Sam, but mistakenly sent Belle on her merry way. She didn’t need Sam to rustle horses though, so she slipped across the Indian border into Siloam Springs, Ark., to check out a man named John Hargrove. He reportedly raised the finest thoroughbred horses in the region. Belle discovered he had a black stallion that had never been beaten in a race.

Belle Starr figured her sorrel could beat the stallion and challenged Hargrove to a $500 bet. Soon the crowds began to gather to see the race and wager amongst themselves. Belle hired a young Cherokee boy as a jockey, and knowing her animal could easily beat the stallion, she instructed her jockey to hold the sorrel back and let Hargrove’s horse win by at least one length.

Belle paid off Hargrove and admitted he had a better horse. However, the next day she approached Hargrove again and asked for a rematch, but she wanted the stakes raised to $5,000. Hargrove eagerly accepted and scheduled the race in two days. As race time approached the crowds grew even larger than before.

People came from miles around to see the contest between the notorious Belle Starr and Siloam’s leading citizen. This time Belle told her jockey to let the sorrel to run wide open. As expected, her horse easily outran Hargrove’s black stallion.

In a Hollywood movie, Hargrove probably would have gunned down Belle, but in the embarrassment of reality, he instantly knew that he had been “had,” and being the gentleman he was, Hargrove paid off his bet.

I’m not suggesting it was Hargrove, because there were many who had just cause, but on Feb. 3, 1889, just two days shy of her 41st birthday, Belle Starr was blown from her saddle by a shot gun blast in the back while riding home from an overnight stay with yet another lover.

Reference: The Guns of the Gun Fighters by Doc O’Meara.

In cooperation with The Examiner, Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school groups. These informative and entertaining programs have been well received over the past number of years across the metropolitan area.
To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send e-mails to teddystillwell@yahoo.com or call him at 816-252-9909.