It was near dark on Feb. 3, 1889, when Belle Starr was murdered as she rode her horse home along the Canadian River near Hoyt, south of Muskogee in Haskell County.
Starr (Myra Belle was her given name) had gone from being a rich little girl in Missouri to being a convicted horse thief with the unofficial title of outlaw queen. In the 125 years since her death, no one has ever come close to challenging her for that title.
Starr’s murder, two days before her 41st birthday, was never solved. But Dr. Ron Hood, a Tulsa orthopedic surgeon who owns the property where Starr lived, believes that her death should be remembered because it is such an important piece of the history that shaped Indian Territory.
The 125th anniversary of her murder will be remembered with a special trail ride Feb. 2. It will follow much the same route as Starr followed that day. For the last half mile or so, the procession will be led by a riderless horse wearing Starr’s old side saddle and carrying what is believed to have been Starr’s rifle.
Hood, who has restored Starr’s grave on the property, said she was a woman whose life was “wracked by tragedy.” She had been reared at Carthage, Mo. Her parents were fairly wealthy, and she had gone to finishing school. She spoke Latin and played classical piano.
“She was used to some of the finer things in life,” he said.
Even before the Civil War, Carthage became a lawless place, and Starr’s family moved to Texas, where things might not have been much better, Hood said.
Eventually, she married James Starr and settled at what is now known as Younger’s Bend between Whitefield and Porum.
She and James Starr were both convicted of horse theft. Belle Starr served her time in the Detroit women’s prison, where she worked as a secretary to the warden and established a literacy program for the inmates. She was released early for good behavior.
She came home and started the first school at Younger’s Bend — Belle Starr School. She regularly attended church and was known as a very cultured lady, Hood said.
She also became known for her riding and shooting skills and frequently was one of the main attractions at fairs in Fort Smith, Ark., and in Muskogee, he said.
Starr was a legal white resident of Indian Territory because of her marriage to James Starr, a Cherokee Indian.
Despite “Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker’s hard-line reputation, Belle Starr convinced her husband that he would be better off to face Parker, who had shown her some favor over the years, rather than risk his fate to the Cherokee court in Tahlequah, Hood said. James Starr was wanted for horse theft. The Tahlequah court had a whipping post, and it was just as likely that those tried in that forum would end up in a grave as that they would end up in jail, Hood said.
So one morning, the Starrs set out on horseback for Fort Smith. She went halfway with him. They spent the night at the Nail farm on San Bois Creek.
The next morning, she started the ride back home.
She stopped at King’s Store in Whitefield, where she reportedly had a dark sense of foreboding and gave the store owner a piece of the scarf she wore.
Back on her horse, she stopped about 4 p.m. at the Rowe home, where a number of people had gathered for a visit. She ate a piece of cornbread before resuming her ride home. As she got to the river’s bend about 5:30 p.m., she was shot twice, first in the back and then in the front.
A neighbor, Edgar Watson, was charged but never convicted of the murder.
If you go
WHAT: Belle's Last Ride Memorial Trail Ride commemorating the 125th anniversary of the murder of outlaw queen Belle Starr.
WHERE: Near Hoyt, at Younger’s Bend.
WHEN: 10 a.m. Feb 2.
SIGN-UP: Mick Lunt (918) 830-4210) or Orville Taylor (918) 618-2482.
INFORMATION AND REGISTRATION: Younger’s Bend Facebook page.