How Research Nerds Spend Their Not-so-free Time

Photo of Pretty Boy Floyd

The story of Pretty Boy Floyd and fellow outlaw, George Birdwell captured the country’s imagination in the 1930’s. One can see why when tales like the following circulated.

“[Floyd, known as Choc,] was so well liked that when he decided to knock over the bank in his own home town, Sallisaw, he informed his family and neighbors in advance. Kids, mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles, those on scooters and on walking canes turned out in a picnic mood and sat across the street under the shade of the boardwalk to view the action. Among these was Choc’s grandfather. The bank president thought Choc was putting everybody on until his car pulled up out front the bank to the cheers of the spectators. “No offense,” he told the surprised gentleman inside, “but, hell, I’m sure you wouldn’t mind making a little contribution to the community.'”

Stories were told and songs were sung, like this one by Woodie Guthrie. In spite of knowing that the tale of Pretty Boy and George hides the ugly reality of men killed and tears shed, I can’t help be intrigued by an anecdote by my grandfather. He told in his life story how he once met Pretty Boy Floyd and his fellow outlaw, George Birdwell. I decided to do a little research. Of course, I didn’t expect to find a smoking gun but I spent a couple hours investigating to see what I could corroborate.

Click to see a Gallery of Outlaw Paraphernalia

 

My grandfather relates that he met “Charlie Floyd” and “Charlie Birdwell.” Whether this was a slip of the tongue or true misremembering or lack of actual knowledge, I don’t know but Pretty Boy Floyd’s fellow outlaw’s actual name was George Birdwell.

Photo from Find a Grave

Grandpa asserts that “Birdwell was killed the next day robbing a bank in Bowlegs, Oklahoma.” Birdwell was killed robbing a bank but the town (a “colored” town, as Grandpa duly noted) was actually called Boley and there is an interesting account here. Grandpa says that his dad and he walked over to Fred Argo’s place where they met the two outlaws. While I can find my grandfather’s census records for 1930 in ancestry.com, there are no near neighbors named Argo. However, anyone who researches census records knows they are far from perfect and people were often missed. The name Argo is fairly uncommon and there are two families of Argos two townships over so this part of the story is somewhat tenuously supported.

Next I turned to where Birdwell was supposed to have been before the robbery. All accounts place him eating breakfast the morning of the robbery at a farmer’s who lived not far from Birdwell’s home. So where did Birdwell live? I check the census records and find him in 1930 in Econtuchka, Seminole, OK. How far apart are my grandfather’s and Birdwell’s homes? And where is Boley in relation to them? Using Google Map I determined they are about 105 miles apart.

View Larger Map

 

Ahh, now the story unravels a little. It seems unlikely that the Birdwell would drive with Floyd 105 miles, turn around to return home, leave Floyd somewhere, and set out the next day to rob a bank another 60 miles in the other direction with 2 unrelated bank robbers. This isn’t to say it couldn’t have happened but it seems unlikely. More probably, Grandpa met the pair somewhere earlier and conflated the death of Birdwell with the experience.

The Ada Weekly News relates that the pair traveled together in September. “Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd and George Birdwell, outlaws long sought in connection with bank robberies in Eastern Oklahoma, have been traveling at night in this section. …[T]he outlaws … were said to be traveling in a yellow coupe with a black top.”

Check here for an interesting article about a car Floyd ditched after it was riddled with bullets.

It is possible that Grandpa saw them a month or two earlier and compressed the time in his mind (he wouldn’t even have been 12 at the time.)

Or it is possible he made the story up? So unless someone has a photo of a handsome Okie boy shaking the hand of George Birdwell on November 22, 1932, I guess I’ll never know.

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29 comments

  • Where do you have Gramps in ’32? I’m showing Econtuchka only 30 or so miles from Wewoka?

  • Grandpa appears on the 1930 census for West Mckinley, Caddo County, Oklahoma.

  • Grandpa appears on the 1930 census for West Mckinley, Caddo County, Oklahoma.

  • Wow. The fact that you’ve found as much as you have has me in awe. I can’t even figure out when my family GOT to America much less what they did when they got here.
    You’re amazing.
    Just sayin’

  • Wow. The fact that you’ve found as much as you have has me in awe. I can’t even figure out when my family GOT to America much less what they did when they got here.
    You’re amazing.
    Just sayin’

  • Doesn’t surprise me that the facts are exactly substantiated. My guess is that he met them a couple of months before, as you stated might be the case. I don’t doubt that he met them, though.

    Good job researching, Kym.

    Jen… we are a family of genealogical researchers and know what we are doin! LOL

  • Doesn’t surprise me that the facts are exactly substantiated. My guess is that he met them a couple of months before, as you stated might be the case. I don’t doubt that he met them, though.

    Good job researching, Kym.

    Jen… we are a family of genealogical researchers and know what we are doin! LOL

  • Oops, I meant to say “are NOT exactly substantiated.” LOL

  • Oops, I meant to say “are NOT exactly substantiated.” LOL

  • I checked where Uncle Glen was born (in 1935) and that was Caddo County, also. However, Great-grandpa’s mother was living in Lincoln, Seminole, Co in 1930…I wonder if they may have been visiting her when the incident occurred?

  • I checked where Uncle Glen was born (in 1935) and that was Caddo County, also. However, Great-grandpa’s mother was living in Lincoln, Seminole, Co in 1930…I wonder if they may have been visiting her when the incident occurred?

  • Boy, Kym…..you really have caught the history bug. Good for you.

  • Boy, Kym…..you really have caught the history bug. Good for you.

  • There are 2 Fred Argos in Oklahoma at this time. One lives in Oklahoma City and is a roomer (ie doesn’t have his own place) and one lives in Carter County. Carter Co. is quite a bit south
    http://geology.com/county-map/oklahoma-county-map.gif

    There are Argos in Lincoln and of course Fred could have moved. Also I have Great Grandma’s husband Thomas Webb living in lincoln but I can’t find her. What you got that I missed?

  • There are 2 Fred Argos in Oklahoma at this time. One lives in Oklahoma City and is a roomer (ie doesn’t have his own place) and one lives in Carter County. Carter Co. is quite a bit south
    http://geology.com/county-map/oklahoma-county-map.gif

    There are Argos in Lincoln and of course Fred could have moved. Also I have Great Grandma’s husband Thomas Webb living in lincoln but I can’t find her. What you got that I missed?

  • Ekovox,
    I thought seriously about being a history major in college. I’ve been hooked on genealogy for 20 years (back when people would stop me in the stacks to say, “Oh, isn’t it sweet that a young girl like you is interested in this stuff.” They don’t say it anymore!

  • Ekovox,
    I thought seriously about being a history major in college. I’ve been hooked on genealogy for 20 years (back when people would stop me in the stacks to say, “Oh, isn’t it sweet that a young girl like you is interested in this stuff.” They don’t say it anymore!

  • Kym, I will email you what is in my notes. They are actually your Mom’s notes. 🙂

    In the 2 years between the 1930 census and the Nov. 1932 “incident”, Fred Argo could have moved for sure.

  • Kym, I will email you what is in my notes. They are actually your Mom’s notes. 🙂

    In the 2 years between the 1930 census and the Nov. 1932 “incident”, Fred Argo could have moved for sure.

  • There is a Fred Argo who works in the Oklahoma Tax Commission Ad Valorem Division as a field assessment and equilization analyst. I think he lives in Hughes Co. Father is Dwight Argo, I think. Hope it helps.

  • There is a Fred Argo who works in the Oklahoma Tax Commission Ad Valorem Division as a field assessment and equilization analyst. I think he lives in Hughes Co. Father is Dwight Argo, I think. Hope it helps.

  • Thank you. I will try and get in touch and see if they are the same family and have any family stories that match up!

  • Thank you. I will try and get in touch and see if they are the same family and have any family stories that match up!

  • Kelly Birdwell

    George Birdwell is actually my great great grandfather, I used to hear stories about him from My great grandfather Jack Birdwell. This is very interesting stuff you have here, thanks for sharing!

  • Kelly Birdwell

    George Birdwell is actually my great great grandfather, I used to hear stories about him from My great grandfather Jack Birdwell. This is very interesting stuff you have here, thanks for sharing!

  • Howdy I was just fooling around on the net and ran across yauls conversations…Being a Birdwell my self I am quiet curious about old George …..Not knowing alot about my ancestry dont know how he was kin to me but my granddad told me when i was a kid that we had kin that rode with pretty boy floyd …….That was years ago didnt even remember it until I was watching some show about depression era gangsters….Kelly Im a native texan where are you…..My name is Jayme Birdwell….

  • Howdy I was just fooling around on the net and ran across yauls conversations…Being a Birdwell my self I am quiet curious about old George …..Not knowing alot about my ancestry dont know how he was kin to me but my granddad told me when i was a kid that we had kin that rode with pretty boy floyd …….That was years ago didnt even remember it until I was watching some show about depression era gangsters….Kelly Im a native texan where are you…..My name is Jayme Birdwell….

  • Very interesting….I was legally adopted by both step-parents through two different divorces while growing up… so have not known much about my ancestors until just recently. I found out that George Birdwell is my ‘real’ great grandfather. My real father’s mother is ‘Pat (ty?) Lou’ one of Birdwell’s daughter’s. The weird thing is…after seeing pics of my father (high school) and my brother… I don’t really see any resemblance to Birdwell… but when I saw Pretty Boy’s picture…I got chills… I do see a resemblance especially in the eyes… we have very pretty eyes… I am sure that Pretty Boy and Birdwell had already met, when my grandmother was a little girl…but find this fascinating…….

    The thing is my father never really knew his father, either and was raised by his step-father, as well. So I am sure that there are other genetic explanations regarding our eyes….. I have little to go by…..

    Newsweek had an article of ‘Least Wanted…’ and showed various unlisted names and mugshots. I noticed a picture on MSN homepage, yesterday. The mugshot is a spitting image of my brother and now I am intrigued to find out who it is….I was hoping that I didn’t have to buy the book, though.

  • Very interesting….I was legally adopted by both step-parents through two different divorces while growing up… so have not known much about my ancestors until just recently. I found out that George Birdwell is my ‘real’ great grandfather. My real father’s mother is ‘Pat (ty?) Lou’ one of Birdwell’s daughter’s. The weird thing is…after seeing pics of my father (high school) and my brother… I don’t really see any resemblance to Birdwell… but when I saw Pretty Boy’s picture…I got chills… I do see a resemblance especially in the eyes… we have very pretty eyes… I am sure that Pretty Boy and Birdwell had already met, when my grandmother was a little girl…but find this fascinating…….

    The thing is my father never really knew his father, either and was raised by his step-father, as well. So I am sure that there are other genetic explanations regarding our eyes….. I have little to go by…..

    Newsweek had an article of ‘Least Wanted…’ and showed various unlisted names and mugshots. I noticed a picture on MSN homepage, yesterday. The mugshot is a spitting image of my brother and now I am intrigued to find out who it is….I was hoping that I didn’t have to buy the book, though.

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