Texas Traveler: Robber's Cave

This week Texas Traveler is crossing the border. No, not that border. About two and a half hours north of the Red Rover (about eight hours north of Houston), stands a strange little state park with a history steeped in Southern folklore. Its name is Robber's Cave.

Nowadays the park is known as a popular venue for rappellers. But in the late 1800s it was nothing more than a patch of wilderness used to shelter outlaws who roamed the great American West. That is, if you believe the stories.

This much is known for sure: In 1866, Belle Starr, then a widow known better by the name of May Shirley, married her high school sweetheart, Jim Reed. The couple lived in Scyene, Texas, now a neighborhood of Dallas, where legend says they befriended the criminal Jesse James, leader of the James-Younger Gang, whom Starr had known as a child in Missouri. During that time, Jim Reed got into a bad way with some Cherokee Indians. Reed was killed in the summer of 1878.

Afterwards, Shirley moved north to Indian territory, where she met and married a Cherokee named Sam Starr, who taught her how to hide cattle rustlers from the law. Over the years, she fought convictions, other rustlers and even nature until her husband was killed in a shootout. The entire time, Starr made her name by taking in those who were fleeing the law westward and seeking shelter in the hills of the Ouachita Mountains. Whether or not Starr ever harbored Jesse James, as the rumor says, is up for question. But the cave near her home, in the foothills of the mountains, sports outlaw graffiti from as old as the 1800s.

Texas Traveler stayed at a cabin in the state park, not far from the start of the hiking trails, for about $75 a night. Our place sat on a large boulder-covered hill overlooking a lake. It has grills outside and a cozy fireplace inside, with enough room for six people to sleep. Just down the road was the boy scout camp that was home to the infamous experiment by Muzafer Sherif on the nature of discrimination and stereotype.

Hiking and rock climbing are of course THE THINGS but it's also pretty cool to sit in the cave, stare of the dozens of wall carvings and wonder what life must have been like 100 years ago. Once you're done finding yourself, take a ride just south to Talimena Drive, one of the country's most popular motorcycle byways.

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