Terror on the Prairie: Belle Starr

by Grace Ann

Oklahoma’s past is riddled with complicated and sometimes colorful characters, including the now infamous Belle Starr.

Born Myra Maybelle Shirley Reed Starr and sometimes called the “Bandit Queen” the woman we know as Belle Starr was Born in Southwest Missouri but raised in Texas and she lived, at first, a life of luxury.

Michael Williams, the director of the Oklahoma Territorial Museum said Belle Starr wasn’t necessarily a major outlaw, but was more of an outlaw’s wife having married three different outlaws. In addition, Starr often ran with the James and Younger gang from Missouri.

“She comes up with the name Starr by marrying into the Starr family of the Cherokee nation, her husband was Sam Starr. They lived in modern-day Eufaula and she was a fence for stolen property,” Williams said.  

Hidden away in rural northeast Oklahoma is one of Belle Starr’s hideouts. She had several and one of those is a cave located just west of Tulsa.

Hiding in caves was not uncommon for outlaws in Oklahoma who were looking to avoid public places. 

Belle Starr was never convicted of a crime and went on to star in a Wild West show.  Historians disagree over whether or not she ever truly turned her back on the life of crime

After Sam died, Belle married again and this marriage to another bandit would prove fatal.

“She was ambushed on the way to her house, around Briartown in Mideastern Oklahoma. Someone shot her off her horse and killed her,” Williams said.

The violence and mystery of her death led to her fame growing.

Suspects ranged from her new husband who had once offered to hire someone to kill her – or perhaps a neighbor or even her own son.  No one was ever arrested for the death of the Bandit Queen.

“Nobody knows who killed her, they suspect it was her sun seeing that he was one of the main suspects, but to be honest nobody knows who shot her,” Williams said.

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