Belle Starr: Granbury relative shares stories about ‘The Bandit Queen’

Pete Kendall

The Starr family

Belle Starr is neither alive nor interred at Starr Hollow Ranch and Golf Club between Tolar and Lipan.
She’s been dead since Feb. 3, 1889. She’s been in the ground for 115 years. She hasn’t moved or, we presume, been moved from the lot where she lies on the Oklahoma border.
But those researching the life and death of “The Bandit Queen,” as she was known, needn’t drive far up 377 from southwest Hood County to locate her kin.
Stacy Starr resides in Granbury. He’s the old gal’s triple-great nephew. And he’s not bothered by it in the least.
“It’s just part of history,” he said with a shrug. “We have other interesting things in our family, too. My first cousin is married to Vince Lombardi Jr. I sat next to Vince Sr. (Green Bay Packers legend) at the wedding rehearsal dinner.”

No evidence exists that a rehearsal dinner was held in honor of Belle and husband-to-be Sam Starr, who married in 1880. They were likely preoccupied with unrelated events, such as stealing horses and eluding the law.
Belle was Sam’s replacement wife and Sam her replacement husband. Belle’s first spouse, Jim Reed, was blown away by the law in East Texas. Reed had been a member in bad standing of the Cole Younger, Jessie James and Tom Starr gangs.
Sam and Belle had far more in common than a catchy last name. Each, for instance, did time in the Detroit, Mich., House of Corrections, making them forerunners of the modern-day intersectional criminals.

Sadly, the marriage produced no children before Sam was gunned down in 1886. Myra Maybelle Shirley Cain Starr, twice a widow, retained Sam’s catchy name. After a brief period of mourning, she took up with a shady character named Blue Duck and then got hitched to Jim July, a Native American 14 years her junior.
That’s the highly condensed story of Sam and Belle Starr.
Stacy Starr is Sam’s kin by blood and Belle’s by marriage.
You didn’t expect to read about a Starr in Hood County so soon after we wrote about a Starr Hollow Sept. 18 and 21. We didn’t either, frankly, but Granbury resident Lisa Kilpatrick made sure we’d have the opportunity.
She’s a friend of Stacy’s … and a devoted reader of the Hood County News.
“Big Mouth Lisa, I call her,” Stacy said, laughing. “What happened was we were both reading the article in the paper about Starr Hollow and Belle Starr. Lisa said, ‘Well, I’m going to call the paper and tell them there’s kinfolk to Belle Starr right here in Granbury.
“I said, ‘Yeah, sure, Lisa.’ I didn’t believe her.”
Lisa followed through. We followed it up.
“When I got home that afternoon,” Stacy said, “there were two calls on the recorder, one from the Hood County News and one from the gentleman (Scott Dally) in Fort Worth who’s researching the history of Starr Hollow. I don’t know that I can add a lot to that.”
Maybe he can, and maybe he now has.
Dally hopes to confirm that Belle Starr lingered, if not loitered, at what is now Starr Hollow. Stacy Starr discussed that historical factoid with his father, Jack Starr Jr., last week.
“Dad said there was no doubt they (Belle and cronies) were in the Tolar and Lipan area,” Stacy said. “He said they had a hideout down there. He didn’t know exactly where the hideout was. He’d just heard about it.
“They had a route they traveled from this area up to Oklahoma and into Arkansas and back. They went through the Palo Pinto Mountains.”
Jack Starr Jr. is a spry 85 and a resident of Haltom City. He and wife Lynn (Butz) Starr will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in November. Lynn researched the Starr family tree, a twig of which contains Belle. Jack Jr. provided his son with additional background via oral folklore.
“I was born in Fort Worth in 1948 and lived there all my life until we came to Granbury six years ago,” Stacy said. “I heard about the Starr family history from my mother when I was a teenager.
“I also read about it when I was a student at Texas Wesleyan. I’d go to the library after classes. I read a few books about Belle, but there were a lot of contradictions. When I was in my late 20s, mother started the family tree project. It took her two years to research it.”
The Starr family leaf from the 1900 Cherokee Nation census is particularly instructive.
Thomas and Clarissa Starr were the parents of nine children: Samuel, 24; Henry, 20; Katie, 15; James, 13; Lucy, 10; Sophie, 8; Laura and Rachel, 4; and Jack, 2.
Thomas was the nephew of the original Sam Starr, after whom he named his first-born. Thomas’ son Samuel was nicknamed Pony.
Thomas’ last-born, Jack (1898-1944), was Jack Starr Jr.’s father and Stacy Starr’s grandfather.
“When dad was a boy, he and a friend named Tiger went to Van Horn (Texas), where Pony ran a ranch. They spent two weeks herding horses with him,” Stacy said.
Belle was a controversial figure in death as well as life.
Authors of dime-store novels exaggerated her banditry somewhat. They also loudly debated whether she was killed by son, husband, enemy or all three at once.
Belle was murdered near her cabin on the Canadian River. She was allegedly alone on horseback.
Some suspected Eddie Reed, her son by Jim. Eddie had gotten himself in serious trouble with the law and landed in prison. Belle hadn’t lifted a finger to help him, even while she was coming to the financial aid of non-family villains.
Some suspected neighbor Jim Middleton. Some pointed to Edgar Watson, another neighbor with whom she’d had words. Some even suspected Jim July, who was quick to accuse Watson for no apparent reason.
Delightfully informative literature provided by Granbury historian Richard Eakins reveals that July and an accomplice placed Watson under civilian arrest and escorted him to the white man’s court at Fort Smith, Ark., a two-day ride.
Poor Watson was imprisoned for two months while awaiting trial, during which July offered no evidence. Watson, the only person ever arrested and formally charged with the crime, was eventually freed. Eakins passed along the hand-written documentary of Watson’s trial, retrieved from federal records in Fort Worth.
But what about Jim July? Watson later told authorities that July had visited him on the day of the murder and asked to borrow Watson’s shotgun in order to hunt wolves. Shortly thereafter, shots rang out and Ms. Starr was dead.
“Belle was killed by my shotgun,” Watson reportedly informed Deputy U.S. Marshal Bob Hutchins, “but I did not murder Belle Starr. Jim July did.”
Less than a year later, July was shot by Hutchins. July lingered for several days before expiring on Jan. 26, 1890. If there was a deathbed confession, it was never reported.
Lynn Starr’s research confirmed a conclusion reached by other historians: Belle was certainly a woman but not consistently a lady.
“Toward the end, she apparently had a very good relationship with some lawyers who helped get outlaws out of jail a little earlier than they should have,” Stacy said. “One article says she toured with a wild-west sideshow, an Annie Oakley type of thing.
“It’s kind of interesting to have something in your past like that, but that didn’t matter to me when I was growing up. My parents were always very loving.”