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Posted on: April 14, 2021

"Bandit Queen" put men and the law through meatgrinder

How infamous lady outlaw Belle Starr won the Game of Thrones in the Wild Wild West.

Belle Starr really knew how to get out of a jam.Belle Starr Image 1

Born a southern aristocrat, she became a scout for the ruthless Bill Quantrill’s guerillas in the Civil War. 

She had an illegitimate child with a roving brigand before “settling down” with another who would later be shot for bounty. When asked to ID the body so her husband’s killer could claim his reward, she told an ice-cold lie that it was the body of a stranger. He was buried in a potter’s grave and his killer never received his bounty.

Meanwhile Belle Starr had gained a position as Queen of the Bandits, “The Petticoat Terror of the Plains.”

Throughout her life she added to her pantheon of outlaw lovers, who only seemed to get younger and more handsome as she aged, and were rumored to include an incestuous relationship with her own son.

Of the many times Belle was arrested for stealing horses and charmed her way out, she once eloped with the deputy. He returned to Dallas after a month confessing he had been worked to the bone with house chores and romance. He later found an embarrassing note affixed to his coat that said, “Returned because found unsatisfactory.”

Belle and was once bailed out by a wealthy rancher who sold cattle paid her $2,500 at her request. It turned out that the fine was only $10. Belle spent an evening with her savior but refused to return her $2,490 profit. Despite advice to sue her, the rancher is rumored to have said, “Hell, let her keep it! I reckon with what she’s had to put up with she’s earned every cent of it.”

She eventually “settled down” again with Sam Starr, son of notorious Cherokee bandit Tom Starr. They were eventually both tried in court for horse stealing. According to a local paper, the fact that Belle was “the leader of a band of horse thieves and wielding a power over them as their queen and guiding spirit” packed the stands. 

She was sentenced to nine months, which she passed pleasantly by weaving cane chair-bottoms and making friends with the warden and his wife. She was released early on good behavior, while Sam served his full sentence with hard labor.

It is said that when while scouting she was captured by Major Eno, who detained her so that she would not ride back to Carthage to warn her brother. They eventually let her go after it seemed too much time had passed for her to arrive in time. She rode hard, stopping only to cut new switches for her mount. When Eno’s soldiers arrived to capture Bud, they were greeted by his teenage sister they had just left behind, who politely informed them that Bud had left half and hour ago.

It is said that when Bud’s casket was returned from the Confederate front, she shouted “You damned blue-bellies will pay for this!” and grabbed her brother's revolver from his holster, taking aim at the troops and pulling the trigger. The ammunition had been removed, otherwise she would have avenged her brother’s death on the spot, against his brothers-in-arms.

Did she blame them for leading him into battle? For not protecting him? For sowing seeds of violence and glory in his imagination? I rather think she was prone to such fancies herself, and the troops were just easy targets for her legendary anger.

Let the women of the West take you on a wild ride. Their stories and scholarship about them, including Belle Starr and many more fascinating females, can be found in books available here in the online Museum Store.

Books on Women of the West
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