Belle Starr was nibbling on a piece of cornbread as she left the home of friends to return to her home at Younger’s Bend in February of 1889. Just as she guided her horse onto the river road, a shotgun blast to her back catapulted her out of her saddle and onto the road. She tried to push herself up from the road, but a second blast to her shoulder and face ended her life. Her murderer was never brought to justice.
Belle Starr, born Myra Maybelle Shirley, was born on a farm near Carthage, Missouri on February 5, 1848. One of six children born to John and Elizabeth Shirley, Belle was the only girl. The Shirleys were a wealthy family. And their home was also a hideout for outlaws.
Belle attended the Carthage Female Academy where she learned to be a proper lady according to the rules of etiquette at that time. She studied the classics, and learned to play the piano, a skill which she enjoyed throughout her life. Belle’s older brother, John Allison, nicknamed Bud, taught her to ride a horse and shoot both pistol and rifle. And Belle was a crack shot. She won many awards for her marksmanship.
Before setting out to find Belle Starr’s grave, I visited the Three Rivers Museum in Muskogee, Oklahoma, to learn a little more about the Outlaw Queen of the Old West. There, in a glass showcase I found photos of Belle, a pistol, a rifle and a side saddle that had belonged to Belle Starr. In addition, two chunks of stone are all that’s left of the original headstone marking Belle Starr’s grave. It seems that souvenir hunters took chips of the previous stones as a piece of history to keep.
The photos in the case from left to right: Belle’s grave is shown to be about 20-feet from the front door of her three-room cabin at Younger’s Bend. The house was demolished in 1933.
Belle, always fashionable, is shown in her black velvet riding jacket, a hat sporting a large plume, and draped with cartridge belts. She is holding a pistol, and posing for the photo. Also in the center of the table is a photo of the headstone marking Belle Starr’s grave. Belle Starr was buried about 20′ from the front porch of her cabin.
And finally, Belle is shown sitting side saddle, which is how she often rode her favorite mare, Venus.
Then I was ready to find the legendary Belle Starr’s grave hidden away somewhere on a wooded hillside near Younger’s Bend on the Canadian River and close to present day Eufaula, Oklahoma.
Younger’s Bend is approximately 1.1 miles east of the Lake Eufaula dam driving from the dam on HWY 71. You will want to watch carefully for the short road to Younger’s Bend. It can be difficult to see from the highway.
*Also, be aware that Belle Starr’s grave is on private property.
Carved in the face of the headstone are three symbols related to Belle Starr: a star, a bell, and Belle’s favorite mare, Venus. The current headstone is about the fourth one placed on Belle’s grave. Visitors chipped away the first three stones taking the chips away to keep as
souvenirs of the Bandit Queen. Coins litter the base of the headstone, empty gun shells scatter the ground in front of the grave, and flowers placed at the base of the headstone are all left by recent visitors. I have to admit that I left a few coins myself.
Born at Carthage, Missouri
Feb. 5, 1848.
Died Feb. 3, 1889.
Shed Not for me the bitter tear,
Nor give the heart to vain regret;
Tis but the casket that lies here,
The gem that filled it sparkles yet.
Written by Belle Starr’s daughter, Pearl Reed
Belle Starr was buried in a homemade pine board casket, dressed in her black velvet riding jacket, jewelry, and holding her pearl-handled Colt 45. Sometime later the grave was robbed, the pistol and Belle’s jewelry were taken. When she learned of her mother’s disturbed grave, Belle’s daughter, Pearl hired a stonemason to build the stone enclosure around the grave.
Belle Starr married more than once, but is believed to have taken many lovers over her lifetime. On November 1, 1866, Belle married Jim Reed. The couple had two children, Rosie Lee Reed (called Pearl) born in 1868; and James Reed born in 1871. When Jim was killed in 1875, Belle married Sam Starr, who was killed in 1886.
It was only after her death that the legend of Belle Starr was created in newspapers, magazines and popular dime novels.
Belle Starr took many secrets to her grave. She lived, died and was buried on a quiet wooded hillside near Younger’s Bend on the Canadian River in the Cookson Hills of Oklahoma.
Belle Starr and Her Times: The Literature, the Facts, and the Legends. By Glenn Shirley
Belle Starr: The Bandit Queen. By Burton Roscoe. Introduction by Glenda Riley