August 6

This Day in History

Old West

Aug 6, 1874:

Belle Starr's first husband slain

Law officers kill Jim Reed, the first husband of the famous bandit queen Belle Starr.

Reed's main claim to fame came from his marriage to Myra Maybelle Shirley, better known today as Belle Starr. Belle's family had once been prosperous, but the Civil War destroyed her father's business in Carthage, Missouri. The family moved to Texas when Belle was 16 years old, and it was there that the young girl fell in love with Jim Reed, a family acquaintance from Missouri who had served as a Confederate guerilla. Belle married Reed in 1866 and returned to Missouri with him.

Reed quickly proved to be a poor choice for a husband. He was more interested in horse racing and gambling than in farming, and he eventually became involved with a ruthless Cherokee outlaw named Tom Starr. Starr led a brutal band of rustlers and thieves, and he liked to wear a rawhide necklace strung with the rotting ears of the men he had killed. Under Starr's tutelage, Reed became involved in rustling and whiskey running, and he may have taken part in several murders.

Belle, who by 1871 had given birth to two children, apparently approved of her husband's career in crime. She assisted in several robberies, began dressing in fancy velvet skirts and plumed hats, and embraced the role of a "bandit queen." As Reed became more notorious, the couple tried to lay low, and in 1873, they retreated to an isolated farm in Texas with their children. Reed seemed unable to settle down for long, however. In April 1874, he joined a small gang in holding up a stagecoach, again attracting the attention of the law.

Bounty hunters eager to win the sizeable reward offered for Reed's capture-dead or alive-soon tracked him down. Reed managed to elude his pursuers, but on this day in 1874, a treacherous member of his own gang killed him for the reward money. Two years later, Belle married Sam Starr, the handsome son of Reed's old Cherokee partner. Sam Starr, too, eventually died in a gun battle. Belle lived for three more years before finally following her two husbands to a violent death, shot in the back by an unidentified enemy.

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