Belle of the Starr Hollow

Pete Kendall

Bandit queen Belle Starr

(Editor’s Note: This is Part One of a two-part series.)

Gracious living still appeals to Belle Starr. The old gal is alive and well, along with son Pistol, at Starr Hollow Ranch and Golf Club, a little bit of paradise between Tolar and Lipan.
Belle has mellowed considerably since a scandalous stint as America’s queen of chaos in the 19th century. Her bark these days is worse than her bite. She’ll lick your hand if you call her a dog … perhaps because she is one.
The four-legged Belle is a current resident of the sprawling estate.

The original Belle is nowhere to be found, though many believe she passed through on more than one occasion.
It’s part of the rich folklore surrounding Starr Hollow and among a number of weighty research issues for Fort Worth advertising magnate Scott Dally, who hopes to publish a literary and photographic history of the place.
Myra Maybelle Shirley Starr was born Feb. 5, 1848 to John and Elizabeth Shirley on a farm near Carthage, Mo. Belle, as she was known, was educated in private schools.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, which exhausted her family’s fortunes, Belle took a walk on the wild side. She gave birth to daughter Rosie Lee out of wedlock. She married rapscallion Jim Reed.
Reed took up with the Cole Younger, Jesse James and Tom Starr gangs, which defied authority in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma Indian Territory. You name it, they stole it.
After Reed was killed by a deputy sheriff east of Dallas, Belle cohabitated with Bruce Younger of the sociopathic Younger clan. That didn’t last. Belle then married Native American horse thief Sam Starr in 1880. Sam taught her the tricks of his trade, and Belle instructed him in hers.
Both did time in the Detroit, Mich., House of Corrections. She was all accounts a model prisoner. He was not.
Belle accumulated a lengthy list of professional and personal enemies, some of them kin. On Feb. 3, 1889, an anonymous gunman ambushed and killed her in old Choctaw Nation on the present Oklahoma border. There were, it seems, numerous suspects. Authorities never got around to arresting one.
Belle was reportedly buried in the front yard of her cabin at Younger’s Bend on the Canadian River.
There are those who question such factoids.
Some believe she was buried at Starr Hollow … or at least nearby. In Evergreen Cemetery at Lipan rests someone named “B. Star.” Maybe she wanted to rest in anonymity. It’s one of life’s little mysteries. Death’s, too.
“At this point in my research, I don’t believe she’s buried around here, but I would add that I don’t think my opinion matters very much,” Dally said with a grin. “There are people who know a great deal more about it than I do.”
Belle and numerous others of her ilk traveled widely throughout North Texas. Many hid from pursuers in the Palo Pinto Mountains. Sam Bass Canyon, near Mineral Wells, attracted desperados and coyotes in equal numbers. The coyotes had more scruples.
“There seems to be evidence that Belle had family in the North Texas area,” Dally said. “There is some evidence that she had a brother living in the Palo Pinto Mountains, a hangout for bandits. The land was so rough that lawmen wouldn’t go in after them.
“I’m extremely confident that she was very active on a number of occasions in this area. I’m extremely confident that she was one very rough female who knew how to use her femininity to get whatever she wanted.
“I’m fairly confident she owned and knew how to use firearms. I’m fairly confident there was a great deal of larceny in her heart. I’m very confident that she associated with people who were wanted by the law and who were guilty of all kinds of crimes in this area.
“Having said that, how many banks did she personally rob? How many horses did she personally steal? I don’t know. I don’t have a feel for that. I do feel strongly that she operated livery stables and sold horses and that her last husband did not acquire horses by legitimate means.
“He was like all the other men with whom she associated, a noted criminal.”
He did have a catchy last name.
“That’s where her name Starr came from,” Dally said.

If Belle possessed redeeming traits, researchers such as Dally have yet to unearth them.
“She was very much a female but not so much a lady,” Dally said. “There’s no doubt she hung out with a lot of bandits. The question is how much stuff she did herself.”
Her murder may have been unrelated to any supposed crime.
It may have been a payback for a personal transgression. She committed a few of those.
History states she met her demise while riding down a dusty road on a horse. There were no witnesses.
She was not forgotten.
“Her daughter (Pearl) ended up running a couple of brothels,” Dally said. “With the money she made from that, she was able to pay for Belle’s tombstone … or so the story goes.”
The tombstone inscription reads, reverentially:

Shed not for her the bitter tear,
Nor give the heart to vain regret;
’Tis but the casket that lies here,
The gem that filled it sparkles yet.

As it turned out, Belle was a legend after her time. Her exploits, or supposed exploits, were chronicled by Richard K. Fox in his 1889 novella “Belle Starr, the Bandit Queen, or the Female Jesse James.”
It was Marvin Leonard, a Fort Worth business mogul and golf course builder, who bought Star Hollow Ranch in 1965-66 and added an “r” to the name in remembrance of Belle. The late Mr. Marvin, as he was known, had an eye for history shared by daughters Marty Leonard and Madelon L. Bradshaw. They oversee the golfing and ranching operations now.
The four-legged Belle Starr is highly public. She feels right at home on Starr Hollow’s 3,000-plus acres.
The two-legged Belle Starr might favor seclusion in a Starr Hollow sand trap.
“I don’t think she had any problems with luxury surroundings,” Dally, a Starr Hollow member, said, “but this place might be a little too accessible to the law for her comfort.”
Starr Hollow’s 9-hole golf course might be her greatest comfort zone.
“If Belle put her mind to it, she could probably beat you fair and square at golf,” Dally said. “She was apparently a pretty persistent woman.”

Part Two, Tuesday

Scott Dally wants to hear from anyone with historical information, maps and photographs related to the history of Starr Hollow Ranch. He can be reached at (817) 332-5299 or e-mail

Pete Kendall can be reached at (817) 573-7066, ext. 248, or e-mail

History Makers
(Monday, September 20, 2004
Pete Kendall

(Editor’s Note: This is Part Two of a two-part series.) Marvin Leonard was cognizant of local history when he purchased Star Hollow Ranch in 1965-66. He renamed it Starr Hollow, for “Bandit Queen” Belle Starr, and constructed a challenging 9-hole golf course among the picturesque hills, native grasses and centuries-old trees.
Marty Leonard is her father’s daughter. She’s as intrigued with the history of the 3,000-plus acre estate as Mr. Marvin would have been. And she wants it all on paper.
That’s the story behind the project undertaken by Fort Worth advertising executive Scott Dally, who is collecting literature, maps and photographs related to the history of Starr Hollow, located between Tolar and Lipan.
He plans either a book or booklet … certainly a keepsake for the Leonard family and for visitors to their country paradise.
“I’m not doing this for money,” Dally said. “I’m doing this because it needs to be done and because Marty Leonard had done so many good things for so many people.

“So many people approach Marty, wanting her to give something. I thought it appropriate that I give something back to her.”
Mr. Marvin, who died in 1970, would surely be pleased with the project.
“Daddy was always interested in anything like this,” Marty Leonard said. “That’s what spurs me on to try to find out more history about Starr Hollow.

“I wish we’d done this sooner, when there were more folks still around to tell us, but we’ll still come up with a pretty accurate history of the place, a really good current history from the time daddy bought it.”
Mr. Marvin and brother O.P. Leonard were co-proprietors of Leonard Brothers Department Store, a downtown Fort Worth fixture for most of the 20th century. Adults patronized Leonard’s for clothes, farm implements, furniture, linens, groceries and fishing lures. Kids patronized it first for the escalator, Fort Worth’s best, and then for the M&O Subway.
Marvin Leonard also built golf courses … world-renowned, championship golf courses. He laid out Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth in 1936, sold it to Colonial’s members in 1942, then built Shady Oaks Country Club in Fort Worth in the 1950s.
Mr. Leonard relished the history of Shady Oaks, Marty said. That history included tidbits of a sordid nature.
“When daddy was building Shady Oaks, an older gentleman told him about a hanging tree there. The hanging tree became famous.”
Star Hollow Ranch was famous for any number of things before Leonard bought it … Native Americans, bandits, wooly mammoth bones, rattlesnakes.
“Daddy was a merchant and golf course builder, not a rancher,” Marty said. “But he had a good friend who was a rancher, and they would go places to look at property. This became available. He loved the thought of Belle Starr having been here.
“But he bought it basically because he wanted to build another golf course.”
It’s a golf course to Marty … also a playground with a past.
“I’ve walked the whole perimeter,” she said. “I’ve walked lots of parts of the ranch. I’ve been to what I thought was the site of the last Indian battle in Hood County. Then I found out it was.”
In 1869, a band of seven pesky Native Americans, probably Caddo, robbed settlers of horses and clothing and beat a leisurely retreat in the direction of the Palo Pinto Mountains. Angry settlers engaged them near Robinson Creek. Fighting commenced.
The Native Indians hid behind fallen timber in a small cave-like opening, from where they were no threat to the settlers and the settlers no threat to them. Then the skies opened like a sieve.
“An enormous amount of water fell,” Dally said. “It flooded the cave and washed the Indians into a ravine below the cave. The settlers came around to the ravine side with their guns. When the Indians came up for breath, that was the end of the Indians.”
Historian Lance Clapp told Dally about the site. He even supplied pictures.
“I had interviewed Mr. Clapp about the Indian battle, and then I’d gone back to my office,” Dally said. “I remembered something else I wanted to ask and called back. I got my information.
“Then he said, ‘You know that Indian battle I told you about? I have pictures of that site if you’d like to see them.’ I said, ‘Holy smokes.’ I jumped in my car and went back and got the pictures.”
One of the photographs shows colorful J.D. Sargent posing by a pickup truck, presumably Mr. Sargent’s.
“That was taken in 1993,” Dally said. “He’d called Mr. Clapp and asked if Mr. Clapp would like to go see the site of the last Indian battle.”
The settlers collected souvenirs after their triumph over the Native Americans.
“They scalped the Indians and divided up the scalps,” Dally said. “It was pretty uncommon for a settler to scalp an Indian. Normally, the reverse was true. The hatred that developed between the settlers and Indians was not unwarranted. They had reason to hate each other.”
The settlers weren’t a well-oiled machine when they cornered the Indians on Robinson Creek.
“They weren’t that well organized,” Dally said. “Everybody had a different opinion on how to go in and get the Indians. Some had differing opinions on whether or not they should be sober when they went in.”
The Native Americans believed in orderly cohesion at home and on the job, Dally pointed out.
“The story I heard is that there were six bucks and one squaw at the battle. The bucks always traveled with a squaw because they needed somebody to do the hard work. So not only were the women smarter, they also worked harder.”
Marty Leonard has encountered no bucks or squaws. But she’s not averse to looking for them.
“When I walk the ranch,” she said, “I always wonder about who lived here and who was on the property. I wonder what it was like 100, 200, 300 years ago.”
These days, a historian is apt to find a golf ball quicker than an arrowhead. That’s okay, too. Time passes, and so do people.
“I took up golf about five years ago as a hobby,” Dally said. “About three years ago, a Starr Hollow member brought me down. He started telling me about it on the drive. I fell in love with the place and joined.
“I’ve brought clients here who’ve played Scotland, Ireland, Pebble Beach, Augusta, all unbelievable places. They say they’ve never seen anything like Starr Hollow.”
Maybe they’re familiar with the tales of buried gold at Starr Hollow … spoils of robberies perpetrated by the Younger, James and Starr gangs, fine folks all.
“That’s intriguing, of course,” Marty Leonard said with a chuckle. “I guess that would be the real gold, not the liquid gold from the ground.”

Scott Dally wants to hear from anyone with historical information, maps and photographs related to the history of Starr Hollow Ranch. He can be reached at (817) 332-5299 or e-mail