This article originally appeared in the Garland/Mesquite section of The Dallas Morning News  on August 18, 1995.


By Michael R. Hayslip

Myra Belle Shirley, later known as Belle Starr, was a local girl who probably made the 10-Least-Wanted List of visitors on many farms during the early days in northeast Dallas County.

Bob Robinson of Mesquite still remembers the grisly tales of his great-grandfather, W. T. Moore, an early settler in the Pleasant Mound community near the intersection of Scyene Road and Buckner Boulevard, who was familiar enough with Ms. Starr to keep a respectful distance and stay out of her sight. His great-grandfather claimed that farmers ducked for cover behind their plows whenever the notorious outlaw rode into view. “Sensible people were convinced that Belle Starr would just as soon shoot you as look at you,” said Robinson.

Born in 1848 in Carthage, Missouri, Belle grew up during the strain of pre-Civil War divisions there, laying foundations for a folklore mystique in which fact becomes blurred with fiction. Amidst the frequent clashes of Confederate guerillas and Federals, in one of which her brother was killed, she is credited with daring exploits to aid the Confederates. She is also supposed to have developed a passion for Cole Younger.

To escape the difficulties in Southwestern Missouri, and perhaps to thwart the two lovers, Belle’s father moved the family to Texas in 1863. Although her older brother had already settled near McKinney, the other Shirleys moved onto a farm at Scyene, now Mesquite, where Belle soon gave birth to a daughter. John William Rogers in The Lusty Texans of Dallas suggests that the child may have been Younger’s, but refuses to speculate on her legitimacy, since all but one of Belle’s marriages seem to be legally suspect. “At any rate,” Rogers concludes, “Cole Younger passed out of the picture and she became known as the wife of Jim Reed, by whom she had a second child, a son.”

For entertainment, the young mother frequented Dallas hot spots and left her parental responsibilities with family members back home in Scyene. She became a singer and an entertainer in a dance hall, later dealing poker and faro as a professional gambler. Frequenting saloons, where she always stepped up to the bar like a man, Belle customarily wore two revolvers, high-topped boots and a Stetson hat with an ostrich plume to complement her tight black jacket, chiffon waists and velvet skirts. She always attracted attention with her dashing appearance while riding her horse either side-saddle or astride, and was considered both a crack shot and an excellent horsewoman.

In his book Belle Starr, Burton Rascoe writes this account: “When the mood struck her, she shocked the women and more respectable citizens of Dallas by (donning Buffalo-Bill-type outfits and) riding at breakneck speeds through the streets of the town, scattering everyone to the sidewalk. The constabulary and the whole town were afraid of her; and she gloried in being pointed out as the Bandit Queen. She had nothing to fear as long as there was no warrant for her arrest.”

After Reed was killed near Paris, Texas in 1874, Belle ran a livery stable and was reported to prefer the steady company of outlaws, for whom she was presumed to have marketed stolen stock and provided refuge in times of trouble. But apparently she had also stolen horses herself in her spare time. The 1927 Garland News local retrospective of Mrs. George W. “Kate” James includes her own memory of Belle, probably from the early 1870s, as “one of the most daring and boldest horse thieves ever infesting this community.”

Due in part to the scarcity of law enforcement officers, the stealing of horses and cattle was prevalent, and none was covered by any insurance; consequently, livestock owners in the area formed vigilante committees to deal with the thieves by suspending them from a stout limb of the nearest tree. Mrs. James, who lived at the time in the Duck Creek community where Duck Creek crosses Forest Lane, remarked that “This method had good affect and lessened stealing perceptibly. We wonder,” she continued, “if that plan would stop some of the auto stealing today (1927).”

But Belle was never apprehended by the local vigilantes, and perhaps they were relieved.  Her demise came instead in 1889 after she had moved out to Indian Territory. According to historian A. C. Greene in Dallas USA, “she married into the notorious Starr gang, made a criminal haven of her farm, Younger Bend, and was later killed from ambush, possibly through accident by her own son.”