26. A Dangerous Wild West Fence, Bootlegger, and Protector of Fugitives
Belle Starr and her husband Sam lived in a ranch north of the Canadian River that she named Younger’s Bend, in honor of her childhood friend, the notorious outlaw Cole Younger. In the Indian Territory, Belle finally came into her own as a dangerous outlaw. She bootlegged illegal whiskey to Indians, exhibited a talent for the organization of cattle rustling and horse stealing raids, and mastered the intricacies of fencing the goods stolen by other outlaws. When fugitives were on the run from the law, Belle often arranged shelter for them until the heat died down. Jesse James was among those whom she harbored under her roof.
Belle’s growing wealth from her criminal ventures enabled her to bribe officials to look the other way, and to free her associates whenever they were caught. That corruption caught the attention of the straitlaced “Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker in nearby Fort Smith. He grew determined to lock her up, and had her hauled up before him on various occasions to face various charges. In 1883, she and her husband were tried in Judge Parker’s court on horse theft charges, were found guilty, and received a nine month sentence behind bars.