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Belle Starr and Her Times: The Literature, the Facts, and the Legends

by Glenn Shirley

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Who was Belle Starr? What was she that so many myths surround her? Born in Carthage, Missouri, in 1848, the daughter of a well-to-do hotel owner, she died forty-one years later, gunned down near her cabin in the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. After her death she was called "a bandit queen," "a female Jesse James," "the Petticoat Terror of the Plains." Fantastic legends proliferated about her. In this book Glenn Shirley sifts through those myths and unearths the facts. In a highly readable and informative style Shirley presents a complex and intriguing portrait. Belle Starr loved horses, music, the outdoors-and outlaws. Familiar with some of the worst bad men of her day, she was, however, convicted of no crime worse than horse thievery. Shirley also describes the historical context in which Belles Starr lived. After knowing the violence of the Civil War as a child in the Ozarks, She moves to Dallas in the 1860s and married a former Confederate guerilla who specialized in armed robbery. After he was killed, she found a home among renegade Cherokees in the Indian Territory, on her second husband's allotment. She traveled as far west as Los Angeles to escape the law and as far north as Detroit to go to jail. She married three times and had two children, whom she idolized and tormented. Ironically she was shot when she had decided to go straight, probably murdered by a neighbor who feared that she would turn him in to the police. This book will find a wide readership among western-history and outlaw buffs, folklorists, sociologists, and regional historians. Shirley's summary of the literature about Belle Starr is as interesting as the true story of Belle herself, who has become the West's best-known woman outlaw.… (more)
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Shirley sets out to gather all the sources for this biography. His intent is to sort through the legends and myths and come up with a definitive biography of the notorious female outlaw. His first chapter analyzes the many books, articles, and movies that have been produced about Starr. In doing so, he illustrates how many authors continue the myths and misinformation written by some predecessor. Shirley includes many photos and copies of documents. His end notes are often more interesting then the main text for they contain many interesting side lights to Starr's story or Shirley's research to obtain that story. ( )
  lamour | May 23, 2011 |
For nearly a century, Belle Starr has been a favored subject of popular writers interested in the American West. Books, articles, poems, songs, and movies have described her as a "bandit queen" or as a "female Jesse James."

She was neither.

In Belle Starr and Her Times, a book that is likely to become the standard reference on this subject, noted western writer Glenn Shirley examines the extensive popular literature surrounding Belle Starr and compares it to the historical record. Shirley does a good job of sorting out the numerous disagreements between the two. Belle Starr emerges from Shirley's detailed analysis as a tough, independent woman who lived in an unsettled and difficult time. She associated with western outlaws, and was herself convicted once of horse theft. For this conviction she spent nearly a year in prison. Even though her activities were notorious in Arkansas and Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) they hardly justified the nickname "bandit queen" coined by newspaper writers and journalists.
  spec1963 | Oct 30, 2006 |
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Who was Belle Starr? What was she that so many myths surround her? Born in Carthage, Missouri, in 1848, the daughter of a well-to-do hotel owner, she died forty-one years later, gunned down near her cabin in the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. After her death she was called "a bandit queen," "a female Jesse James," "the Petticoat Terror of the Plains." Fantastic legends proliferated about her. In this book Glenn Shirley sifts through those myths and unearths the facts. In a highly readable and informative style Shirley presents a complex and intriguing portrait. Belle Starr loved horses, music, the outdoors-and outlaws. Familiar with some of the worst bad men of her day, she was, however, convicted of no crime worse than horse thievery. Shirley also describes the historical context in which Belles Starr lived. After knowing the violence of the Civil War as a child in the Ozarks, She moves to Dallas in the 1860s and married a former Confederate guerilla who specialized in armed robbery. After he was killed, she found a home among renegade Cherokees in the Indian Territory, on her second husband's allotment. She traveled as far west as Los Angeles to escape the law and as far north as Detroit to go to jail. She married three times and had two children, whom she idolized and tormented. Ironically she was shot when she had decided to go straight, probably murdered by a neighbor who feared that she would turn him in to the police. This book will find a wide readership among western-history and outlaw buffs, folklorists, sociologists, and regional historians. Shirley's summary of the literature about Belle Starr is as interesting as the true story of Belle herself, who has become the West's best-known woman outlaw.

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