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Outlaw Belle Starr – The Bandit Queen of the Wild West – was arrested by the legendary Bass Reeves

Nick Knight

Belle Starr is the most famous Wild West female outlaw and earned her notoriety in the mid-1800’s. She was eventually arrested by Bass Reeves.

Belle started out life quite differently; she was highly educated in the classics and was an extremely good pianist. She seemed sure to be heading towards a path to middle-class life; comfortable and respectable. However, this path was disrupted by the start of the Civil War. This War destroyed the business of her father, an innkeeper, and took her brother’s life (Edwin). Belle and her family were destroyed by these events and moved from Missouri to Texas to begin a new life.

A studio portrait of Belle Starr probably taken in Fort Smith in the early 1880s.

A studio portrait of Belle Starr probably taken in Fort Smith in the early 1880s.

In Texas Belle began to associate with men of character that were questionable; it’s stated that it was in these times that her family became associated with Jesse James and the Younger brothers. In fact, though, Belle had known both the Younger brothers and Jesse for far longer, having grown up with them whilst in Missouri.

Some people say that Belle was married briefly to Charles Younger (Cole Younger’s uncle) in 1878 however this has never been proven. Other claims state that belle’s daughter, Pearl Reed, was actually offspring from this marriage. Cole Younger’s biography denies this and tells of what he knew of Belle. She was married, in 1880, to Sam Starr (a Cherokee man) and settled down with him and his family in Indian Territory.

Once in this territory, she began to learn ways of planning, organizing and fencing for all the horse thieves, bootleggers, and rustlers; she also helped to harbor these men from the law. Belle’s enterprises were illegal but earned her enough money to use bribery where needed to free her associates whenever they were captured by the law.

Both Belle and Sam were arrested, in 1883, by Bass Reeves and were charged with horse theft. They were sent to be tried before Isaac Parker’s (‘The Hanging Judge’) Federal District Court at Fort Smith in Arkansas. US Attorney W. H. H. Clayton was prosecutor and Belle was found to be guilty and sent to serve nine months in Detroit at the Detroit House of Corrections. Belle was a model prisoner whilst here and quickly won over the highest respect from the prison matron. Sam was not so much a model prisoner and found himself assigned to very hard labor.

Belle Starr, Fort Smith, Arkansas, 1886

Belle Starr, Fort Smith, Arkansas, 1886

Belle escaped a further conviction in 1886, another theft charge, but on December 17th Sam was killed whilst in a gunfight with Officer Frank West (who also lost his life). Belle’s outlaw life ended with the death of her husband.

In the last several years of Belle’s life, she was linked to numerous men with dodgy reputations, including Jim French, Jack Spaniard, and Blue Duck but then married Jim July Starr (a relative of Sam’s who was 15 years younger than her) so that she could remain on Indian land.

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Belle Star, "A Wild Western Amazon"

Belle Star, “A Wild Western Amazon”

Two days before Belle’s 41st birthday, February 3rd, 1889, Belle was killed whilst riding home from the home of a neighbor in Oklahoma. She was ambushed and shot again after she fell from her horse; she died from gun wounds to her shoulder/face, neck and back. The legends tell that she was actually shot with her own double-barreled shotgun.

Her death was due to certain circumstances, claims Frank ‘Pistol Pete’ Eaton; he claims Belle had attended a dance when an intoxicated Edgar Watson had asked if he could dance with her. Belle declined and so he followed her home and shot her when she stopped to water her horse. Frank claims that Watson was tried, convicted and also executed for this murder (was hung).

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Another version of events state there were no witnesses to the murder and that nobody was ever found guilty of it; though there were plenty of suspects. Her son was named as a possibility as she has beaten him for mistreating her horse. Her son, Eddie Reed, was later convicted of receiving stolen property and horse theft in July of 1889. He went on to become a deputy in Fort Smith and was killed on December 14th, 1896.

Belles’ daughter, Rosie Reed, was also known as Pearl Starr and operated several bordellos from the 1890’s through to World War 1.