Belle Starr was born Myra Belle Shirley in a log cabin near Carthage, Missouri on February 5, 1848, to “Judge” John Shirley and his third wife, Elizabeth Pennington. Her father was the black sheep of a well-to-do Virginia family who had moved west to Indiana, where he married and divorced twice. His third wife, Eliza, was on the Hatfield side of the feuding Hatfield and McCoy families.
After they married, the Shirleys moved to Missouri in 1839, where John prospered raising wheat, corn, hogs, and horses in Jasper County. Myra’s older brother, John Allison “Bud” was born to the Shirleys in 1842, and a younger son, Edwin, in 1850. The next ten years were a financial success for the Shirleys who had two more sons.
In 1856, they sold their land and moved to Carthage, Missouri where they built an inn, a tavern, livery stable and blacksmith shop—their businesses taking up almost an entire city block. John Shirley had become a respected member of the burgeoning county seat of Carthage.
At first, Myra Belle lived the life of a spoiled, rich girl, attending the Carthage Female Academy, where in addition to the basics, she was taught music and classical languages. She was a bright student, with polite manners, and a talent for playing the piano. However, she also liked to flaunt her status as a “rich girl” and liked having an audience. She also loved the outdoors, where she spent many a day roaming the countryside with her older brother Bud, who taught her how to ride a horse and handle a gun.