Year
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.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones debuts

On this day in 1996, “A Game of Thrones,” an epic fantasy novel by George R.R. Martin, is released. The book was the first in Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, about feuding medieval noble families on an imaginary continent called Westeros. Although not initially a ...read more

First draft of Constitution debated

In Philadelphia, delegates to the Constitutional Convention begin debating the first complete draft of the proposed Constitution of the United States.The Articles of Confederation, ratified several months before the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781, provided for a loose ...read more

First execution by electric chair

At Auburn Prison in New York, the first execution by electrocution in history is carried out against William Kemmler, who had been convicted of murdering his lover, Matilda Ziegler, with an axe.Electrocution as a humane means of execution was first suggested in 1881 by Dr. Albert ...read more

Andy Warhol is born

Andy Warhol, one of the most influential artists of the latter part of the 20th century, is born Andrew Warhola in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A frail and diminutive man with a shock of silver-blond hair, Warhol was a major pioneer of the pop art movement of the 1960s but later ...read more

Green Berets are charged with murder

The U.S. Army announces that Colonel Robert B. Rheault, Commander of the Fifth Special Forces Group in Vietnam, and seven other Green Berets have been charged with premeditated murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the summary execution of a Vietnamese national, Thai Khac ...read more

Johnson signs Voting Rights Act

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act, guaranteeing African Americans the right to vote. The bill made it illegal to impose restrictions on federal, state and local elections that were designed to deny the vote to blacks.Johnson assumed ...read more

Isaac Hayes is born

It’s a long way indeed from the performing onstage at the Academy Awards to portraying a cartoon chef, but that’s the singular journey traveled by the late Isaac Hayes in a remarkable career that included hugely successful work as a singer, songwriter, record producer and actor ...read more

Lucille Ball born

On this day in 1911, Lucille Desiree Ball, one of America’s most famous redheads and beloved comic actresses, is born near Jamestown, New York.At age 15, Ball went to New York City to attend drama school and become an actress. However, she received little encouragement and was ...read more

“Breakfast Club” director John Hughes dies

On this day in 2009, John Hughes, one of the most influential American filmmakers of the 1980s, dies of a heart attack at the age of 59 in New York City. Hughes was best known for the coming-of-age hit movies “Sixteen Candles,” “Pretty in Pink,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris ...read more

Planes crashes in Guam jungle

A Korean Air Boeing 747 crashes in Guam, killing 228 people on this day in 1997. An inexperienced crew and poor air-traffic policies on the island territory contributed to the disaster.Flight 801, carrying 254 passengers and crew members from Seoul, South Korea, came in toward ...read more

Dutch Schultz is born

Arthur Flegenheimer, who will go on to become one of New York’s most feared criminals under the name “Dutch Schultz,” is born in the Bronx. Thirty-three years later, his life came to a violent and bloody conclusion when he was shot down in the men’s room of the Palace Chophouse ...read more

Atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima

The United States becomes the first and only nation to use atomic weaponry during wartime when it drops an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Though the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan marked the end of World War II, many historians argue that it also ignited the ...read more

Confederate ship blown up by crew

The C.S.S. Arkansas, the most feared Confederate ironclad on the Mississippi River, is blown up by her crew after suffering mechanical problems during a battle with the U.S.S. Essex near Baton Rouge, Louisiana.The Arkansas‘s career lasted just 23 days. In August 1861, the ...read more