From Refined Southern Belle to Bloody Bandit
Belle Starr was not as bloody as Bloody Mary, but she was bloody and fearsome enough. Born in 1848 into a wealthy Missouri family, she attended a female academy, where she was taught the day’s feminine refinements. In her early years, she was a polite young lady who played the piano. Unlike typical Southern belles, however, Belle loved the outdoors, and liked to ride and shoot with her brother Bud. Belle’s father, John Shirley, had married and divorced twice, before he wed Belle’s mother Elizabeth Hatfield, a relative of the Hatfields of the Hatfield and McCoy feud. Growing up in Missouri, Belle became acquainted with future outlaws Frank and Jesse James, and the Younger brothers Cole, Jim, John and Bob, who went on to form the infamous James-Younger Gang.
In the Civil War, Belle’s family were Southern sympathizers. Her brother, a Confederate guerrilla, was killed in 1864. Between that and the constant danger as rival forces crisscrossed Missouri, Belle’s family upped stakes and moved to Texas. In 1866, her childhood acquaintances the James and Younger brothers, now joined together in the James-Younger Gang, robbed a Missouri bank and fled to Texas. There, Belle’s father often sheltered such fugitives in his house. Among their number was a former pro-Confederate guerrilla turned horse thief named Jim Reed. An associate of the James and Younger brothers, Reed had been Belle’s teenage crush in Missouri. Soon after they renewed their acquaintance in Texas, the duo wed and had two children. They eventually fled to California to avoid an arrest warrant for Reed because of an Arkansas murder.