Brought up in Carthage after the family sells the farm and moves to the city to run an inn and livery stable on the town square, Myra receives a classical education and learns to play the piano, graduating from the prestigious Carthage Female Academy (a private institution her father helps found). Sadly though, like millions of Americans, the Shirley Family will have their lives turned upside-down by the Civil War.
Arkansas - 1886 - Belle at Left
Fleeing the 1864 Union attack on Carthage, the Shirley Family moves to Scyene, Texas, and it is there that as a result of her brother's riding with Confederate guerrillas that she meets (John "Bud" Shirley will be gunned down by Union troops back in Missouri in 1864), and becomes friends with the southern raiders that roam the area, including future outlaws, Frank and Jesse James, and the Younger Brothers. A crack shot able to hit her targets while riding side saddle in a black velvet riding habit crowned by a feather plumed hat, accessorized by two pistols and a bullet laden cartridge belt wrapped around her hips, she draws the attention of frontier thug, Jim Reed (wanted for murder in Arkansas, he also dabbles in stage robbery, running whiskey into the Indian Territory, cattle rustling, and horse thievery), and in 1866 the pair begin playing house together. Not surprisingly, the marriage ends in 1874 when Reed is killed by a posse near Paris, Texas.
In 1880, she begins morphing into the legend she becomes, going by the name of Belle she marries Sam Starr, another gunman with a taste for robbery and murder ... crimes that Belle's name will be linked to (in 1883 she will be found guilty of horse rustling in the Fort Smith Federal courtroom of Isaac "The Hanging Judge" Parker, a crime for which she will serve nine months at the Detroit House of Corrections in Detroit, Michigan). Marriage #2 ends very much like the first did ... in 1886, Mr. Starr is gunned down by a lawman seeking to bring him in on robbery charges.
Parker - 1874
Seeking a new husband, Belle spends the last years of her life romancing a series of outlaws, with outlaw names ... Jack Spaniard, Blue Duck, Jim French, and others ... finally hooking up with a younger relative of Sam Starr, Jim July Starr (there is a 15-year age difference between the bandit and his outlaw queen bride), so she can keep her home on Indian land. And sure enough, Belle's third marriage also ends due to lead poisoning ... this time though the victim is Belle herself.
Blue Duck & Belle
Killer unknown (suspects include her latest husband and both of her children, and a sharecropper named Edgar J. Watson), on February 3,1889, Belle is ambushed returning to her home from a neighbor's house near Eufaula, Oklahoma. Blown off her horse by a shotgun blast, the killer makes sure of his work by putting another load of buckshot into her face (caught with killing blasts of lead pellets, Belle is made into a dead mess by shotgun wounds to her back, shoulder, neck, and face). Adios ... Belle is only 40-years-old when she does the mortal coil shuffle and becomes a legend.
"A Wild West Amazon"
as portrayed in the National Police Gazette
Never convicted of any major crimes and bearing a face only a mother could love (or a love lorn outlaw) ... for public consumption of penny dreadful tales, Belle is turned into an outlaw beauty that could shot and fight on a par with Jesse James, Billy the Kid, and Butch Cassidy. Complete bologna ... as is Hollywood grabbing the legend and making Belle's life into a major release of 1941 for 20th Century Fox featuring beautiful Gene Tierney as the bad lady (and succeeding with that charade, Elizabeth Montgomery, the beautiful witch of Bewitched, will play Belle in a 1980 television movie)!
The Movie Version
Tierney as Belle
Happy Birthday Miss Shirley ... and Rest In Peace!