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Odd Wisconsin Archive

The Spy Who Died in the Dells

After the Civil War, Belle Boyd was as famous as Paris Hilton and Britney Spears are today. Boyd was a Virginia teenager when the war broke out, and her sympathies naturally lay with her homeland. Union troops soon occupied her town and tried to raise the stars and stripes over the Boyd family home. Her mother protested, and when one of the soldiers treated her rudely, 17-year-old Belle shot him dead.

Her beauty and... non-verbal communication skills... allowed her to repeatedly gain the confidence of Union officers, whom she then successfully betrayed to the Confederates. She was more than once captured by federal troops and imprisoned, and even sent into exile, but nevertheless managed to carry on her espionage. All the while her fame increased, until she became a symbol of the Confederacy rather like Wisconsin's war eagle, Old Abe, was a symbol of the Union. You can read her memoirs, Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison, (written when she was only 21) online.

When the war was ending Boyd took to the stage. Over the next three decades she married, outlived or escaped from various husbands, and traveled the nation as a celebrity. While performing in Wisconsin in 1900 she died and was buried in Wisconsin Dells. You can learn more about her career in this newspaper story from our online collection of Local History & Biography Articles.

:: Posted in Odd Lives on May 15, 2008
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