The Shirley family was one of the earliest families to help settle this area, arriving in Carthage in 1851. John and his wife Elizabeth Pennington moved into town from a large farm near Medoc where he raised grains and pure bred horses. John was born in Virginia in 1794 to a prominent family, moved to Indiana when he was young, came to southwest Missouri in 1839 and while he would live here only 13 years he and his family would leave a legacy that endures today.
While in Indiana, John married his first 2 wives, both marriages ended in divorce on the grounds of adultery. His third wife was Elizabeth Pennington.
The Shirleys bought almost all the lots on the north side of the Carthage square and began to build an inn, livery stable, corral, tavern and blacksmith. By 1860 the family was prospering, respected for his business acumen and her seamstress skills, and the family was quite popular in Carthage. John was owner of three slaves, 2 that helped at the inn and stables and one that helped Eliza. His sympathies were known to lie with the Confederacy.
1863 found him struggling with problems that just worsened when his holdings on the Square were burned by Kansas guerillas while the family was away. The Shirleys had been living in another house John owned. Many of their troubles stemmed from their Southern leanings, and that their son Bud rode with Quantrill’s Raiders. Many families were changed by the tragedy of war and certainly the Shirleys lives were also.
The Union soldiers got a tip from a neighbor of a woman near Sarcoxie that had seen Bud Shirley and a friend of his stop for supper with the woman, rushed to the house, saw Bud running through the back yard to the woods and shot him dead. The next day Eliza and her daughter Belle went to bring the body home.
Belle had attended an academy for young women, knew Greek, played the piano beautifully but her recreation had been riding with her brother Bud, and learning to be a deadly shot. The family not only lost a son that day but saw their daughter change into the outlaw Belle Starr.
John and Eliza left Carthage and moved to Scyene, Texas where they lived out the remainder of their lives. John died in 1876 and Eliza in 1894 and both are buried there.