What kind of honeymoon is it if you don’t visit the homes of Old West outlaws, as well as an authentic marshal’s office? Actually, Sweetums and I never intended to visit the homes of Belle Starr and the Dalton Gang; as with many of our discoveries, it just happened.
We were traveling through Missouri on our Route 66 road trip when we stopped at Red Oak II, a fascinating place I will write more about later. The entire “town” was built near Carthage on the property of an artist who used his wealth to buy buildings from his hometown of Red Oak and other ghost towns on the route and preserve them. The town includes a church, general store, school, two gas stations, repair shop, several homes, a marshal’s office, café on a streetcar and a cemetery of tombstones placed on graves where no one is buried. The owner/artist Lowell Davis plans to be buried there when he dies.
Currently, Davis lives in a unique home – half of it is the cabin where Belle Starr was born and the other half is a replica of the home where she lived when she was shot and killed, according to an article on OzarksAlive.com.
Davis also has a small home on the property he says was once a hideout for the Dalton Gang. Amidst all the outlaw abodes, fortunately, is a structure that belonged to Marshal Ralph Hooker, an authentic western sheriff’s office. Hooker, born near Carthage in 1906, had a colorful 60-year history as a lawman.
About Belle Starr
Born Myra Maybelle Shirley in 1848, Belle Starr was not an outlaw of the murdering or train robbing type. She was a horse thief who married often and had numerous affairs. She was born near Carthage, Mo. According to a history on her FindaGrave.com entry, Belle had an early connection with outlaws because her father “became a prosperous innkeeper (where) Frank and Jessie James and the Younger brothers were customers.”
When Carthage was devastated during the Civil War, the family moved to Texas where Belle’ father opened another inn and the Youngers and Jesse James used the Shirley home as a hideout. Her name came from her third husband, a Cherokee named Sam Starr. The pair was convicted of stealing horses and newspapers dubbed Belle “the Bandit Queen,” making her a folk figure.
While living in Oklahoma In 1889, she was ambushed by an unknown shooter who wounded her. She was taken to the cabin where she lived and died an hour later, days shy of her 41st birthday.
According to the history, “The women in the area dressed her in her finest black velvet riding attire with boots and adorned her with her expensive jewelry. A pearl-handled Colt 45, which was a gift from Cole Younger was cradled in her hands.”
She was buried in handmade pine casket near the cabin where she lived and that was replicated at Red Oak II. Her headstone was inscribed:
“Shed not for her the bitter tear,
Nor give the heart to vain regret
Tis but the casket that lies here,
The gem that filled it sparkles yet.”
The grave was later robbed of the gun and jewels but the cabin and gravesite remain at Porum in Muskogee County, OK.