As the once home of Belle Starr, known in the dime novels as the “Bandit Queen” and the “Petticoat Terror of the Plains,” Younger’s Bend saw its share of outlaws and lawmen riding through its wooded grounds near the Canadian River in the 19th century. It’s also Belle Starr’s final resting place, where she was buried after being mysteriously shot in the back while riding her horse nearby.
Belle Starr was a woman whose relationships were populated by outlaws, but whose own lawbreaking legend has been widely exaggerated, although her fierce independence throughout her life cannot be denied. She wore a black velvet skirt and carried a six-shooter while riding her horse across the plains. After leaving her outlaw husband Jim Reed for cheating on her, Belle got involved with another lawless, but handsome, man named Sam Starr in 1880. A member of the Cherokee tribe, Starr had an allotment of land north of the Canadian River where they set up their home and called it Younger’s Bend. Some sources say Younger’s Bend was named for the man she claimed as her first love: Cole Younger, a cohort of Jesse James (although he claimed he’d had no such relationship with her), other sources have it being a tribute by Tom to the wild Younger Gang. Either way, in the 1880s the Indian Territory home was something of a haven for outlaws who needed to get out of sight. Belle was quoted in the Dallas Morning News in 1886, as saying: “I am a friend to any brave and gallant outlaw,” and that she would welcome them to her home.
When Sam Starr was killed in a shootout in 1886, the Cherokee officials weren’t keen on Belle staying on the land, but she had a ready solution and got married to another Starr: Bill July. She would live at Younger’s Bend until she was killed by an unknown enemy on February 3, 1889. She was buried in front of her cabin, but hadn’t been buried a month before someone robbed her grave, stealing not just her jewelry but the gun with which she had been interred. Her daughter Pearl, who’d become a prostitute and then a brothel owner, paid for a protective structure of sandstone to be built over Belle’s grave, and a new marble headstone carved with a horse, bell, star, and this poem: “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.”
No maintenance was done on the grave for decades, its headstone broken, graffiti scarring its stones, and eventually chainlink encircling what remained. (The land owner at that time was more interested in looking for buried outlaw treasure.) However, a new owner took an interest in the place’s history and rebuilt the grave in 2011 with a reconstructed headstone, inviting the public to visit the final resting place of the legendary Belle Starr during daylight hours.
Know Before You Go
Take State Highway 71 from Porum toward Eufala Dam for five miles and look for the cedar sign. A trail leads to the gravesite. The land is private property, so all visitors enter at their own risk.