In my dissertation there's a chapter on Belle Starr and the various fictional and biographical representations of her--the biographies are mostly fiction as well, except for Glenn Shirley's Belle Starr and Her Times. As part of my research, I spoke with her granddaughter, who confirmed my sense that the outlaw queen was a highly intelligent and complex woman, one who was well aware of the differences between who she was and who people thought she was.
OUTLAW QUEEN BELLE STARR REFLECTS UPON HER DEATH
They printed my obituary right there on the front page
of the New York Times and everything in it was wrong
except the date of my death
and the spelling of my name.
The life I had was not the life I wanted.
But by the time I realized that, it was too late.
It would have been easier if I’d been a man.
Men fight, and they may ride for the wrong side,
or say or do things in anger, but women forgive them,
and men forgive each other, at least sometimes.
But men do not forgive women, not for what they do
nor for what people say they do, and women are even worse,
so if someone calls you a whore or a thief or a killer
—even if it’s not true, or only partly true—
then a whore or a thief or a killer is what you are
in the eyes of the world to your dying day and beyond.
It’s not as if I didn’t see it coming. My assassination.
People often remarked on how I sat up so straight in the saddle.
You can see it, how alert I look
in that one photograph that’s in all the books.
Perhaps I was bracing myself all along for that blast from behind,
which, when it finally came, was no surprise.
But oh, it was such a long, slow fall to the ground
where I lay on my back in the mud, staring up into the sky.
I cannot begin to tell you the pain of those first moments,
but it lessened, and then I felt myself flowing out of myself
and into the earth, my blood into the mud.
I was so afraid of never seeing the sky again,
of never seeing another person, not even my killer,
who had not even stayed to gloat.
I would have welcomed even him, then,
just so I didn’t have to lie there in the mud alone.
The neighbor women washed me up and tried
to make me look respectable. Me. Respectable.
How those women must have wondered,
when they saw it naked, what sorcery of lust
had drawn men to that tired, sagging body.
I had wondered that myself.
It was a strange funeral.
Nobody preached, nobody prayed, nobody sang.
It’s true I was not religious, but lord knows
I could have used some prayers. My Cherokee neighbors
dropped cornbread in my casket and some of them cried.
Maybe that was prayer enough.
It was the music I missed most. I loved music,
chose my name for the music of it, and I’d had lessons as a girl.
Back when I was respectable.
Jim Starr got me a piano, had it hauled all the way out
to Younger’s Bend during those few years when we were happy.
If just one of the mourners had started off a hymn while they stood there,
others would surely have joined in after a few notes,
even without a piano.
I wish there had been music when they laid me in the ground.
--draft by Victoria Stefani