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The Outlaw Henry Starr
While the James-Younger and Doolin-Dalton Gang were stealing headlines there was another outlaw who robbed more banks than both of the gangs combined. His name was Henry Starr.
If the last name sounds familiar, it should. Henry was the nephew of famed outlaws Sam and Belle Starr. Nothing irritated Henry so much as reading he was the son of Belle Starr. She was a cousin by marriage. His father and Sam Starr, Belle's husband, were brothers. He claimed he never knew her, which may be true, for he was only 15 when Belle was killed.
During his 32 years in crime Henry netted over $60,000 from more than 21 banks. He started out on horseback in 1893 and ended up robbing his last bank in a car in 1921… making him the first bank robber to use an automobile in a bank robbery.
The occupation of outlaw just seemed to naturally run in the Starr family. Henry was born near Fort Gibson December 2nd 1873 in Indian Territory. His parents were George “Hop” Starr and Mary Scott. George was a half-breed Cherokee and Mary was Irish and one-quarter Cherokee. Henry's grandfather was Tom Starr, also a well known outlaw.
Starr at 19
Starr is described by some as being all-Indian. Others say he was more white than red. But facts indicate the only white blood he inherited from his father was the Scotch-Irish strain.
Henry grew up in the northeastern corner of Indian Territory frequently called the "Land of the Six-Gun" and the "Robbers' Roost." The terrain there provided excellent hideouts for thieves, murderers, and other outlaws.
Henry's father died in 1886, however, within a few months she remarried to a man by the name of C.N. Walker. There was bad blood between Walker and Henry from the start. Walker was abusive and he and Henry could not get along. Within a few months Henry left home.
At sixteen, Henry was working as a cowboy on a ranch near Nowata, in Indian Territory. It was here Starr had his first confrontation with the law. Two deputy marshals caught him driving a wagon with whiskey and arrested him for "introducing spirits into territory." Though he plead guilty he maintained his innocence. His story was he had borrowed the wagon without any knowledge of the illegal contraband…which they didn’t believe for a minute.
Starr returned to Nowata and resumed his work as a cowboy, but it wasn't long before he was in trouble with the law again. In December 1891, he was arrested for stealing a horse and locked up at Fort Smith, Arkansas. He was bailed out by a cousin and Starr immediately made a run for it. A warrant for Starr's arrest was issued and two U.S. Deputy Marshals, Henry C. Dickey and Floyd Wilson, were quickly in hot pursuit. Wilson was shot and killed by Starr. Starr was now wanted for murder.
Henry met up with two other characters of questionable morals, Ed Newcome and Jesse Jackson. They formed a gang with Starr as the leader and began robbing stores and railroad depots. Their first target was the Nowata Depot where they made off with $1,700 in July 1892. In November 1892, they robbed Shufeldts Store at Lenapah in Indian Territory appropriating $300 and later the same month robbed Carter's Store in Sequoyah, making off with $180.
Henry's Gang now became bolder and started robbing banks. On March 28, 1893 they hit the bank in Caney, Kansas and then the bank in Bentonville, Arkansas. By this time authorities were on the alert so Henry and another acquaintance, Kid Wilson, took off for California. However they were captured in Colorado and returned to Fort Smith to stand trial.
Henry stood trail for the murder of Floyd Wilson before “Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker. Starr claimed self defense, because he didn't know Wilson was a marshal with a warrant for his arrest. But his plea fell on deaf ears and he was sentenced to hang.
However, his attorney appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court which overturned Parker's decision and granted Henry a new trail. Henry was guilty a second time and again sentenced to hang. His attorney once again appealed and won him a new trail. At the third trial Henry plead guilty to manslaughter, and was received a 25 year sentence.
It was during his stay in jail at Fort Smith, awaiting trial Starr gained some socially redeeming value. Another prisoner, the feared “Cherokee Bill,” attempted a prison break with a gun smuggled him by a trustee. A gun battle between Bill and the prison guards ensued and one of the guards was killed. The situation quickly became a Mexican standoff. Henry knew Bill and told the guards he would get Bill to surrender if they promised not to kill him. They agreed and minutes later Henry emerged with the big Cherokee unarmed. For his efforts, Henry had his sentence reduced by President Theodore Roosevelt. Henry was released in 1905.
After his release, Henry returned to Tulsa and worked in his mother's restaurant. It was here he met and married his first wife, Miss Ollie Griffin, some say he married a girl named Mary Jones, a Cherokee mix-blood.
Henry stayed out of trouble until 1908, when Oklahoma became a state. He was afraid the State of Arkansas would extradite him for the bank robbery in Bentonville Arkansas. He made tracks for the Osage hills and fell in with his old partners.
On March 13, 1908, Henry and his gang crossed the Kansas border and robbed the bank at Tyro. With the law hot on their heels they fled Oklahoma heading west. They robbed another bank in Amity, Co. Henry then headed for Arizona, where he was captured and returned to Colorado to stand trial.
Henry plead guilty to the Amity, Co. bank robbery and was sentenced to 7 - 25 years in the Canon City Prison. At Canon City Henry worked as a trustee and studied law in the prison library. He also wrote his autobiography, Thrilling Events, Life of Henry Starr. On September 24, 1913 he was paroled by the governor and free again.
In the autumn of 1914, a rash of bank robberies occurred in Oklahoma. Between Sept. 14, 1914 and Jan. 13, 1915 a total of 14 banks were robbed. Starr was identified as one of the bandits from a photograph. A $1000 reward was offered the governor of the state, for Henry. The reward was payable "Dead or Alive".
Then on March 27, 1915, Henry and six other men rode into the town of Stroud, Oklahoma and robbed the community’s two banks. However citizens had been alerted and quickly armed themselves. Henry and another bandit named Lewis Estes were wounded and captured in the gun battle. The rest of the gang escaped with $5,815.
On August 2, 1915 Henry plead guilty to the Stroud robbery, and was sentenced to 25 years in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. On March 15, 1919 he was paroled and released from prison.
Henry returned to Tulsa, where friends urged him to enter the motion picture industry. He produced and starred in the silent movie A Debtor to the Law, a movie about the double bank robbery in Stroud, Ok. It was an immediate success. It was around this time Henry met and married his second wife, Hulda. They were married February 22, 1920 and moved to Claremore, Oklahoma.
However, for some reason Starr couldn’t resist pulling off a good bank heist. On February 18, 1921, Henry and three cohorts drove into Harrison, Arkansas in a high powered touring car. Entering the People's State Bank they robbed it of $6000. But Henry’s string of luck ran out. He was shot in the back by a former bank president. His partners managed to escape.
Doctors removed the bullet while Henry proudly boasted "I've robbed more banks than any man in America." but on Tuesday morning, February 22, 1921, Henry died from the wound. His wife Hulda, his mother, and his 17 year old son were at his side.
Although Henry Starr died without penniless, he was not buried in a pauper's grave. He had previously made arrangements with a local undertaker in Tulsa for his burial. "Someday you'll read in the paper that Henry Starr has been killed” he told him. “When you do, give me a decent burial." The agreement was honored and Starr's body was brought to Tulsa and given a Christian funeral and burial.
It was the end of the era of outlaws on horseback.