United Voice: Boley Restoration Project Will Highlight Ties To Pretty Boy Floyd Gang

Friday, March 22nd 2019, 8:35 pm
By: News 9

A new restoration project is underway to raise awareness about the black Oklahoma town that took down Pretty Boy Floyd's gang.

The story revolves around a foiled bank robbery in Boley, and how history left its mark.

On Nov. 23, 1932, members of Pretty Boy Floyd’s gang walked into the Farmers and Merchants Bank for a stick-up. Little did they know how bold Boley was.

“Pretty Boy Floyd told them, do not rob that bank,” Andre Head, preservationist and CEO of the Coltrane Group said.

After raiding banks across the state, the gang was on the run and feeling unstoppable. Their boss had warned them, though, that the all-black Boley was a different kind of town.  

“If they saw anybody that didn’t fit into that town, get down low and go into the vault, and in the vault was a shotgun and a rifle,” Head said.

As the nation's first black-owned bank, locals say the employees practiced for every scenario, so when cashier H.C. McCormick saw the out-of-towners approaching, he hid in the safe.

Bank president D.J. Turner then handed money to Floyd's right-hand-man Birdwell, triggering the alarm.

“Birdwell asked the president, ‘did you set that alarm off?’ He said, ‘I sure did,’ and he shot him, and he killed him,” Head recounts.

It would be his final act, as McCormick pointed the rifle through a crack in the vault's door and fired at the bandit.

Birdwell's two accomplices fled, only to be greeted by a mob of townsfolk waiting outside with guns ready.

“One of the gang members was shot in the leg. The other gang member made it to the car, and as he backed up to turn around to leave Boley, he was killed in the vehicle,” Head said.

Head and his wife Jessilyn are eager to tell the story to the masses, using a National Park Service grant of $24,000 to start fixing up the place. The full restoration will take around $200,000, complete with annual re-enactments.

 “The tenacity of the people in Boley proved that Floyd met his Waterloo, Boleyloo!” Judge Henrietta Hicks, a member of the Boley Chamber of Commerce said.

That history will come to life in 2020.