According to legend, Myra Maybelle Shirley—better known as Belle Starr—was larger than life. She supposedly married bandit Jim Reed while on horseback, (the ceremony performed by a gang member), bore Cole Younger’s illegitimate child, and robbed from the rich to give to the poor. However, in reality, her life was far less glamorous.
Myra was born in 1848, near Carthage, Jasper County, Missouri. Her father, John Shirley, was the black sheep of a distinguished Virginia family. After his third marriage he moved to Missouri where he prospered. In fact, with holdings of nearly $10,000, he was one of the wealthiest men in the County.
Myra attended the Carthage Female Academy, and witnessed first-hand the see-saw battle between North and South to win the border state. During the war, Myra gleaned Northern intelligence from her social contacts, and passed them on to her brother, a “bushwacker” working for the South.
After the war, the family moved to Texas where Myra met and married Jim Reed, and became involved with the outlaw Cole Younger. Although many stories are told of Belle’s strapping on guns and riding with the gang, it’s likely that all she ever did was provide a hide-out for her husband and his bandit friends.
Myra’s life ended in violence, when she was shot by an unknown assailant. Although it was never proven, it’s believed she was killed as the result of a financial dispute.
Cole Younger is buried in the historical cemetery in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Belle was buried in Muskogee County, Oklahoma, near where she was killed. I’ve been to Younger’s gravesite – have you ever been to Belle’s?