E.W. Floyd, the nine-term sheriff of Sequoyah County, took many stories with him to his grave in 1970, but a few that have risen to the surface include his early encounters with Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.
Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, E.W.'s big brother, had gotten the word out around Cookson Hills to not harbor the Texas duo. But the Floyd family was known to never turn down someone in need. Even if it was Bonnie and Clyde.
Despite being on the run for more than a year, the infamous Depression-era love birds were not invincible. They still needed clothes, and food. And sometimes medical attention. E.W. Floyd’s wife, Beulah, and a local midwife are also said to have helped Bonnie Parker recover from burn wounds on her legs when holed up at a Fort Smith tourist camp on Midland Avenue in June 1933.
The sport coat
A story that was handed down through E.W. Floyd’s son, Dale Floyd, to Bobby Needham of Fort Smith is one about a sport coat Barrow wears in the photographs known as the “Joplin rolls.” Needham’s wife Robyn is the great-niece of Pretty Boy through her mother, Phyllis Hill, the daughter of Pretty Boy’s sister Ruth Floyd. Phyllis Hill of Vian passed away Nov. 9 at the age of 84.
The sport coat story is connected to the April 13, 1933, shootout in Joplin, Missouri, that propelled Bonnie and Clyde to the forefront of the nation’s attention. Before then, most of the nation had not seen photos of the notorious bandits.
Bonnie and Clyde had rented an apartment on 34th Street in Joplin with Clyde’s brother Buck, plus his wife Blanche in late May 1933. She had a little white dog named Snowball. The Joplin police thought the Barrows were bootleggers and went in for a raid on April 13. In no time, there were two officers down and four outlaws on the run.
They left behind most of their clothes, guns, jewelry, and two undeveloped rolls of film. The dog was thought to have run off when the shooting started. The Joplin Globe developed the film and exposed the world to what became iconic images of Bonnie and Clyde.
A June 2017 Times Record article based on a 1933 FBI report linked Bonnie and Clyde to the robbery of a Fort Smith tailor’s shop for suits. W.D. "Deacon" Jones, who got picked up in Dallas in November 1933, told the FBI they took eight suits: “Clyde took a blue suit which he used himself and gave Jones the suit with the wide stripe throwing the other six suits away,” the FBI reported based on Jones' interview.
H.A. Slack, manager of the Monroe Store in Fort Smith, listed the stolen merchandise in a Southwest American newspaper report: “Eight men’s suits; nine pairs of men’s shoes, four men’s shirts; several pairs of men’s underwear; nine women’s house dresses; nine silk dresses; and a quantity of women’s underwear.”
Without seeing the date of the article, it was theorized the suits Barrow and Jones wore in the “Joplin rolls” came from Fort Smith. Following the article’s release, Needham informed us of another possibility.
Dale Floyd, now deceased, told Needham at a family reunion many years ago that his father, E.W. Floyd, had given Clyde Barrow the sport coat worn in the “Joplin rolls.”
“Dale also told me that his dad told him that Clyde was rather guarded and kept his distance in the house,” Needham said, alluding to the outlaw’s skittishness.
Jeff Hill later found the date on the article detailing the burglary of the Monroe Store at 803 Garrison Ave. in Fort Smith, the current location of Arlie Mucks bar. It was April 16, 1933, a few days after Bonnie and Clyde hightailed it out of Joplin.
While the suits stolen from Fort Smith April 14-15 could not have been worn by the Barrow gang in the pictures developed from the Joplin rolls, it’s not out of the realm of possibility they got them after the Joplin raid. It was the next day and they needed clothes. Also, Fort Smith is only a couple hours down the road from Joplin on U.S. 71.
Less than a week prior to the Monroe Store “skylight burglary,” the Queen Quality Jewelry store at 920 Garrison Ave., was entered in the same fashion and about $500 worth of merchandise was taken. The Southwest American called it the “skylight burglary” because entry was made through a tin wall at the end of the skylight on the roof of the building. They left through a rear door.
Needham recalls being told by Dale Floyd that Clyde Barrow really liked the jacket E.W. gave him because it fit just right.
Beulah Floyd, wife of E.W. Floyd, also told Needham the story about accompanying a midwife to tend to Bonnie’s leg burns in 1933 in Fort Smith. Needham called the Rev. James Ogden in Pocola recently to freshen his memory on that story from June 1933, which was also around the same time that Buck Barrow and W.D. Jones were in a shootout near Alma that killed City Marshal Henry Humphrey.
Bonnie Parker’s burns were received in a car wreck in near Wellington, Texas, that summer. Ogden said the woman who helped Beulah Floyd tend to Bonnie's burns at the Dennis Motel Tourist Camp on Midland Avenue in Fort Smith was Oma Howe. Coincidentally, Clyde went to Howe’s Drug Store on Midland for bandages and medicine. That store is now Larry’s Appliance, 2123 Midland Ave., a mile or so away from where the tourist camp once stood at what is now Midland and North 50th Street.
Alma-native James Knight, author of "Bonnie & Clyde: A 21st Century Update" points out that in Blanche Barrow's memoirs "My Life With Bonnie & Clyde," edited by John Neal Phillips, Blanche Barrow says Clyde and Buck and Bonnie tried to contact Charley Floyd "again" through Floyd's mother in mid-May 1933.
"This seems to imply an earlier attempt - maybe back in March when they were on their way to Joplin," Knight writes. "Phillips and others also say that Clyde tried to contact Floyd after Bonnie was burned badly in the wreck at Wellington, Texas, on June 10, 1933. We know that the gang checked in to the motel in Fort Smith late in the early hours of June 15th, so there was about five days during which they could have done it."
This, Knight adds, is what could have been what Needham calls the second visit. The third time — when some say they finally got to meet Floyd — could have been in connection with a story from December 1933 about a nurse in Miami, Oklahoma, being asked by an unknown man to take a bus to Vinita and tend to what turned out to be Clyde Barrow.
In addition to the 1933 FBI report on W.D. Jones, local history buff and Bonnie and Clyde sleuth Jeff Hill also found a Dec. 14, 1933, FBI report detailing a Miami-based nurse named Hattie Crawford who told police she tended to Clyde Barrow’s gunshot wounds earlier that month in Vinita.
Knight also noted that in Phillips' book, Blanche Barrow mentioned it was Floyd or his family who arranged for an "underworld doctor" to treat them after they were both wounded in an ambush by a Dallas County sheriff's posse at Sowers, Texas on Nov. 22, 1933.
"This lines up fairly well with the Hattie Crawford story and the date of early December," Knight adds.
Considering Bonnie and Clyde had already called on the Floyd family in June 1933 for help recovering from burns, it’s not unlikely they looked to the family after the" Sowers ambush" in November 1933 at Bess and Bradley Floyd’s house near the oilfields of Earlsboro. Bradley Floyd was E.W. and Charley's brother.
Barbara Moore of Oklahoma City, Bess and Bradley Floyd's daughter, recounted by phone recently: “Mother said one day Bonnie and Clyde came by the house. They were driving and came by and he asked mother if she would fix them some food, because they were both shot in the leg and they couldn’t get out to get food. So, they gave mother money — I don’t know how much, I never did ask her. And she told the twins to go to the store. They walked to the store and got whatever she told them to.”
Moore also remembered Bonnie and Clyde had a dog with them. Could this have been Blanche’s dog, Snowball? The dog is thought to have run off during the gunfight in Joplin back in April.
“They came back by mother and daddy’s house later, sometime after dark to thank mother, and said 'Bess if you had not helped us we would already be dead. We would’ve been shot ‘cause we’d had to get out and get food,’” Moore said.
It’s uncertain when the Floyd family first came into contact with Bonnie and Clyde, but Jimmy Lessley of Sallisaw said a story passed down to him by his uncle E.W. Floyd appears to have been before the Joplin raid. Incidentally, Lessley had not heard the story about the sport coat.
“They came by the old Akins Grocery asking about kinfolks,” Lessley said. “E.W. was there and he said he jumped on the hood of the front fender of their car and took them to his house.”
In Michael Wallis’ 1992 book “Pretty Boy: The Life and Times of Charles Arthur Floyd,” it’s noted that Bonnie and Clyde, “the psychotic pair,” had indicated a desire to join “Choc” on some bank jobs. The family says Charley Floyd got nickname "Choc" because of his appreciation for Choc Beer. Ralph Dix of Spiro said his father, Roy, as a 15-year-old ran into Pretty Boy Floyd a couple times drinking Choc beer at a saloon west of Spiro called The Three Way.
“He admonished them to ignore Barrow and Parker if they ever came looking for him,” Wallis writes of Pretty Boy Floyd and his family. “‘Those two give us all a bad name,’ Choc reportedly told several of his kinfolk. Yet, despite Choc’s warnings, both E.W. and Bradley fed the outlaw duo and gave them comfort on one of their jaunts through Oklahoma.”
Bessie Floyd is also quoted in the Wallis book saying “We just couldn’t turn anyone away in those bad years, even the likes of them.”
A couple other stories about the Floyd family come from Jimmy Lessley.
E.W. never liked guns and never wore a gun during his time as as sheriff. He kept a .38 Special under his sheriff’s car seat. And uncle Charley, the notorious bank robber, was a “perfectionist” apple pie baker. According to Jeffrey S. King’s “The Life and Death of Pretty Boy Floyd,” Lessley’s uncle Charlie would have had some recipes to swap in prison. Sometime during his 1924-1929 prison term, Pretty Boy shared a cell at the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City with a California baker named Alfred “Red” Lovett.
While many crimes were unfairly pinned on Pretty Boy, one that Lessley confirms as untrue is a revenge killing of the Floyd family patriarch, Walter Floyd. Lessley said the man who shot and killed his grandfather, Jim Mills, returned from California an old man. Lessley also still feels his uncle was not involved in the “Kansas City Massacre,” the shootout to free Frank "Jelly" Nash that put Pretty Boy in the crosshairs of J. Edgar Hoover. Nash was nabbed by unmarked federal agents at the White Front Cigar Store, 308 Central Ave., in Hot Springs.
“He had a good heart, and just got mixed up with the wrong people,” Lessley said of his uncle Charley. “He helped out a lot of people.”
Needham, likewise, told several stories of Pretty Boy Floyd encounters in Fort Smith.
“Everybody knew him and they wouldn’t turn him in,” Needham said.
While Pretty Boy Floyd was a vocal critic of Clyde Barrow, he may have had a soft spot for Bonnie Parker because of family members in the area.
Ron Blair of Fort Smith said Bonnie Parker had an aunt who lived in Lavaca with the last name Wilson and she helped run a bar in Fort Smith during the Depression. As the story goes, Blair said, the bar was used to launder about $800 in silver dollars stolen from a bank in Tulsa. Blair's grandfather William Buford, a Wagoner County sheriff's deputy during the 1930s, told him long ago he believed the Barrow gang buried money around Lavaca right before they went to Joplin in April 1933.
Although the house has been renovated and does not look like it did in the 1930s, Needham said the Fort Smith house that Charles Floyd live in with his wife Ruby and son Dempsey was at 710 N. 36th St. Although they were divorced after he went to jail, Pretty Boy remained sweethearts with Ruby until his execution by federal agency in an Ohio cornfield, Oct. 22, 1934.
A Dec. 5, 1933, Southwest American front-page article headlined "Wife of 'Pretty Boy' Floyd Refuses to Discuss Exploits of Her Husband" tells of Ruby Floyd being injured in a car wreck outside Barling with what the papers called a Pretty Boy "body double" named Robert Carney of 1115 N. 41st St., Fort Smith. Mrs. Stella Collins was also in the car wreck with Ruby Floyd. A man named Fred Stiles was killed in the wreck that Sunday night on Highway 22.