A Historical Inquiry

Myra "Belle Starr" Shirley
My "I AM" person is Myra Belle Shirley, more commonly known as Belle Starr. I had never heard of this lady before my research, but her pretty quirky name and the fact that she is considered an American outlaw (during the popularized Wild West period) made me want to find out more about her.

So far, I've found out some facts about her early life and her family, like how she was born in Missouri in 1848 to a fairly wealthy family, how she learned and enjoyed riding horses and handling guns ever since she was a girl, and how the beginning of the Civil War caused the death of her brother and the relocation of her home. I know that she became involved with the James-Younger gang of outlaws when they used her home for a temporary hideout, and that this was how she came to meet Jim Reed, her first husband. The facts are quite shaky and inconsistent after this, but it is reported that she began to lead a life involving horse theft, robbery, and rustling, that ended with her violent and mysterious death.

Researching the facts is difficult, because her life story has been twisted and exaggerated so much over the years that nobody really knows for sure what is true and what is not. For example, she was made a celebrity by the newspapers in her time, who called her "the Bandit Queen", and "a female Robin Hood and Jesse James"... but who knows for sure exactly how much of an outlaw she really was? Did she really do all the things the newspapers and sensation stories say she did? What kind of person was she like to her close friends and family? What was she like as a mother to her two children? Are any of her relatives still alive? What kind of inspiration or influence did she have over writers, artists, or entertainers? How was her life different from the lives of typical women back then? Who murdered her and why?

Out of all these questions that I still have about this mysterious figure, I think the most intriguing one is:

How did Belle Starr fulfill her role as a mother to her two children?

Timeline of Belle Starr's Life (CircaVie)

Primary Sources


- "I am a friend to any brave and gallant outlaw." > Belle Starr to a Dallas newspaper reporter
- "I regard myself as a woman who has seen much of life." > Belle Starr to The Fort Smith Elevator one year before her death


- Belle Starr pictures

Secondary Sources


- Dallas newspaper articles (1886 - 1943) including articles written by Belle's granddaughter, Flossie

- Obituary in Dallas County Archives

- Belle Starr: "The Bandit Queen" (biography by Burton Rascoe) --- select pages