Around the world, people know the name of Belle Starr, the famous bandit queen. They do not always realize that Belle had a daughter named Pearl who spent most of her life in Fort Smith as the owner of a bordello.
Rose Pearl Reed was born in 1868 in Rich Hill, Missouri. She was the first child of the Belle and Jim Reed, the first husband of Belle and a known thief and murderer.
Growing up, Pearl was subject to the upheaval caused by her parents' lives of crime, moving around the country before settling in Indian Territory. Her father died in a gunfight when Pearl as six and her mother was murdered when she was twenty-one.
Pearl left Indian Territory after Belle's death and established herself as a prostitute in Van Buren, Arkansas. Capitalizing on the dime novel fame of Belle, she changed her name to Pearl Starr at this time.
After securing sufficient capital, Pearl moved across the river to Fort Smith, Arkansas and established her own bordello. Located on "the Row," Fort Smith's water front street of gambling halls, saloons and bordellos, the house was clearly identified with a bright red star surrounded by lighted pearls. The parlor featured a talented piano player, good whiskey and the "most beautiful girls west of the Mississippi." Business prospered and Pearl purchased additional houses, and invested in saloons and other property.
The only time Pearl was implicated in a crime was in 1911. After a burglary at a general merchandise store in Fort Smith, police found several of the stolen items hidden at Pearl's Winslow home. She was found guilty of robbery and sentenced to a year in the Arkansas State Penitentiary. Posting $2000 bail, Pearl's attorneys appealed the case to the Arkansas Supreme Court which overturned the verdict.
In 1916 the city of Fort Smith began enacting ordinances making prostitution illegal. For a few years, Pearl's activities were overlooked but she was eventually arrested. The charges were dropped with the understanding that Pearl would leave the community. In 1921, at age 53, she left Fort Smith for Arizona, where she died in 1925.
This sketch is part of a series, “Fort Smith Minutes,” originally developed by the park staff to provide one minute long public service announcements for local radio stations. These sketches provide a light and entertaining glimpse into the complex history of Fort Smith.