The Story of Cole Younger – 23 Belle Starr

western town imageOne of the richest mines for the romancers who have pretended to write the story of my life was the fertile imagination of Belle Starr, who is now dead, peace to her ashes.

These fairy tales have told how the “Cherokee maiden fell in love with the dashing captain.” As a matter of fact, Belle Starr was not a Cherokee. Her father was John Shirley, who during the war had a hotel at Carthage, Mo. In the spring of 1864, while I was in Texas, I visited her father, who had a farm near Syene, in Dallas county. Belle Shirley was then 14, and there were two or three brothers smaller.

The next time I saw Belle Shirley was in 1868, in Bates county, Mo. She was then the wife of Jim Reed, who had been in my company during the war, and she was at the home of his mother. This was about three months before the birth of her eldest child, Pearl Reed, afterward known as Pearl Starr, after Belle’s second husband.

In 1871, while I was herding cattle in Texas, Jim Reed and his wife, with their two children, came back to her people. Reed had run afoul of the Federal authorities for passing counterfeit money at Los Angeles and had skipped between two days. Belle told her people she was tired roaming the country over and wanted to settle down at Syene. Mrs. Shirley wanted to give them part of the farm, and knowing my influence with the father, asked me to intercede in behalf of the young folks. I did, and he set them up on the farm, and I cut out a lot of the calves from one of my two herds and left with them.

That day Belle Reed told me her troubles, and that night “Aunt Suse,” our family servant, warned me.

“Belle’s sure in love with you, Cap’n Cole,” she explained. “You better be careful.”

With that hint I thereafter evaded the wife of my former comrade in arms.

Reed was killed a few years later after the robbery of the stage near San Antonio, and Belle married again, this time Tom Starr or Sam Starr.

Later she came to Missouri and traveled under the name of Younger, boasted of an intimate acquaintance with me, served time in state prison, and at this time declared that she was my wife, and that the girl Pearl was our child.

At this time I had no knowledge of any one named Belle Starr, and I was at a loss as to her identity until the late Lillian Lewis, the actress, who was related to some very good friends of our family, inquired about her on one of her tours through the southwest. Visiting me in prison, she told me that Belle Starr was the daughter of John Shirley, and then for the first time had I any clue as to her identity.

Her story was a fabrication, inspired undoubtedly by the notoriety it would give her through the Cherokee nation, where the name of Younger was widely known, whether fortunately or unfortunately.

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