For some reason lately I’ve been fascinated by outlaws of old. I wonder at what motivated them, what, why and how they did what they did.. Probably because I live in Winslow, one that always comes to mind is Belle Starr. Not that she hasn’t already been written to death, but still here’s my take on this much publicized rough and tumble woman.
This week I have more than a good reason to publish this. I’m involved in writing a western series, a continuation of one begun by my best buddy and friend, Dusty Richards. I have added to his lineup of characters a bounty hunter and I’ve based her loosely on the Starrs in this blog. She is the daughter of a woman who ran a house with ladies of the night in Ft. Smith. You’ll see the resemblance when you read the Texas Lightning and Texas Furies, my addition to the series. So let’s go western this week and have a rip roaring time learning some little known facts about Belle and Pearl Starr.
Homer Croy, author of the Last of the Great Outlaws: The Story of Cole Younger, wrote of Belle: “She is the most famous bandit woman America has produced. She’s unbelievable, but there she is and you can’t pooh-pooh her. She is more than herself; she is an embodiment of the time and the era.”
Most of the time outlaws of yesteryear are romanticized far beyond the truth. But Croy went on to praise Edwin P. Hicks, who wrote Belle Starr and Her Pearl, which was published in 1963. A good writer friend was kind enough to give me a copy of this book he’d picked up at a used book store, and it is autographed by Hicks. Only another author could know how thrilled I am to have been the recipient of this book. Not only does it tell stories not told anywhere else, but it is chock-full of photos of the Fort Smith of Belle’s time, of Belle and her Pearl, and of Belle’s environs.
About ten years ago I wrote what I had learned about Belle and Pearl, but I didn’t have this book. Hicks, a native of Fort Smith, dug up so much more than was ever before published about these two women, and Belle’s life as well. He interviewed people who had actually known both women, and has given me so much more fodder for another article. Where his writing is used in this story, he will receive credit.
I want to concentrate on Belle and her first love, Cole Younger, because from that union came daughter Pearl. From her youngest Myra Belle Shirley was outgoing and fearless. She was not a pretty girl, but she made up for that lack with her audacious personality. She could deal with the roughest of men, be they Quantrill’s raiders or other wild outlaws of the day. From the first day she met up with Cole Younger, who rode up to her father’s farm in Scyene, Texas with a bunch of raiders when she was a slip of a girl, she was entranced. The feeling was reciprocated, and she teased and flirted with the well known, tall and handsome bandit. The Civil War was over, and the hills were filled with outlaws, many mean and unsociable
The personable Cole remained a long while at the Shirley ranch, and of course so did his impatient brothers, Bob and Jim. Belle was the better horseback rider, Cole the better shot and they traded what they knew. Soon they were inseparable, riding the countryside together.
Hicks wrote, “The way she sat a horse, sitting primly side-saddle fascinated Cole. And Younger appreciated her spirit, she was as wild as the prairie, as wild as the winds which swept across the prairie, and the wail of the coyotes at night. She was all dash and go and a spark of flame. . .”
As was bound to happen, Belle was soon with child by this man. This shocked Bible reading Cole Younger, and he couldn’t have a pregnant woman by his side while he ran wild robbing banks, so he began to treat her like a prostitute. Early in 1867 Pearl Younger was born, and her mother loved her dearly. The baby was hers alone, and the resentment she’d felt toward Younger for his treatment of her vanished beneath the adoration she poured upon this beautiful little girl.
Unlike her mother, Pearl was a beauty. And Belle remembered only the good things about Pearl’s father. How much in love they had been . . . all the rowdy times they’d had when he’d treated her as an equal. Later she would fall back in with Cole and his ways, but she continued to be independent and took up gambling to support her Pearl. For a while she had returned to school under her father’s insistence, but the wild life was her way and she could not leave it for long. Living with the leader of the gang that had committed the first bank robbery in America must have been exciting to this girl who would rather run with the men.
Hicks wrote, “She was a mite of a girl afraid of no one wearing pants.”
Continued later will come
the rest of the story.