As a little girl living in Southeastern Oklahoma I was surrounded by tales of outlaws and hidden caves where they had lived. One of the most memorable for me was a woman named Belle Starr. My mother, Carla Sweet Chlouber, bless her soul, wrote a poem about Belle Starr and I’ve long tried to understand it and come to terms with it and it’s meaning. Now with our 2016 elections over in the United States I think I better understand it, although I haven’t quite come to terms with it. I want to share it, take it for what you will.
BELLE STARR AND JIM
Belle, I have long admired your style.
You were not faint-hearted, and for a while
you ruled an empire of drunkards and thieves,
or so the public now believes.
Hiding in caves, in scrub oak and pine,
you may not have lived like a fine
Ft. Smith lady, but you had tasted
pleasures that on those ladies were wasted.
You knew how to say, “I want. I want
power, money and men–I want…
And most of all I want Jim,
who looks at me when I look at him,
his Creek eyes filled with desire,
lighting in me that old, old fire.”
(Cole Younger was the first–he fathered Pearl,
Belle’s only daughter, her only girl.)
But, Belle, you could not have it all.
Women like you are doomed to fall,
for such power in a woman’s hands
is far worse than in any man’s.
It threatens the order established by God,
and even thieves must have order, by God!
A man like Jim could not live
under a woman’s rule; he could not give
his manhood over to skirts and guns,
to an aging woman who runs
a meager band of robbers and crooks,
hauling their goods in gunny sacks.
And so, Belle, they found you there
somewhere near the Winding Stair
shot in the back and left for dead,
and Jim July, some have said,
was the one who killed Belle Starr,
who left her lifeless body there
to slowly rot in the winter sun,
no longer wanted by any man,
a woman quiet and forever still,
submitting at last to a lone man’s will.
By Carla Sweet Chlouber 1939 — 2011
©chlouber estate 2016
I always trusted my mother’s judgement of people, her intellect and compassion and her astute observations of our world. She would have been very saddened to see so many people turn toward fear, hatred and bigotry. I love you mom, now and forever.