Charles Arthur Floyd, known as The Pretty Boy because of his thick brown hair and chocolate eyes, wasn't always a criminal. This is true of many of those who took up robbery during the Great Depression. Times were so difficult, and he was had a wife and son to support. The family lived for a short time in Fort Smith, Arkansas, though he was born in Akin, a small town north of Sallisaw, Oklahoma. Ironically, his birth place was not far from the notorious Cookson Hills, where many criminal fled and hid out when being pursued. Once known as The Indian Nation, or Indian Territory (IT) the area remained a wild and wooly place far into the Twentieth Century.
His first connection to Arkansas during those criminal days, came about when Dickie Mueller, a Fayetteville lawman purchased some old guns. He was on his way to Muskogee to trade them for something else. He was stopped in a roadbloack where officers were on the lookout for Pretty Boy. The lawmen took no chances and pointed shotguns and rifles at each car that was stopped. Mueller opened his car door and one of the old pistols fell out on the road. Quaking in his shoes, Mueller was taken prisoner at gunpoint and transported to Muskogee. They thought they had captured the famous outlaw, Pretty Boy Floyd, until he verified his identity.
One day it was rumored that Floyd was about to rob a bank in Prairie Grove, Arkansas. This brought out a lot of lawmen, lying in wait for the outlaw to show up. It was supposed to happen at Noon. Sure enough, right at noon here came a new Ford up to the side door of the bank. A young man leaped out and rushed in, came back out a moment later, jumped into his car and headed west. Fortunately for the young man, who was a student at the University of Arkansas, one of the lawmen at a window across from the bank recognized that the man was not Pretty Boy. He was able to signal to the others not to pursue. Floyd and his gang didn't show up.
Back in the Thirties in Oklahoma and Arkansas, lawmen hadn't heard much about the Supreme Court and its rulings. And those who had paid little attention. They would set up a road block and search every automobile for any reason. Some people didn't like it, but they recovered a lot of stolen articles, even stolen cars and fugitives on the lam.
Floyd was involved in another incident in Arkansas, this time he was actually there, when he and Adam Richetti massacred four Federal officers riding in a car taking a wanted man from Hot Springs to Kansas City. The wanted man was in the front seat with the driver. All but the man riding in the center of the back seat were killed. It was never proven that Floyd did the deed, but like most myths and legends, the fact remains that he was blamed for it.
Why was such an outlaw running free and not in prison? Well, he was sentenced to the state penitentiary in Missouri for robbery, but later paroled. He was convicted in Ohio of a robbery and sentenced to prison but escaped while enroute. In Kentucky he was charged with robberies but never convicted. In one Oklahoma robbery his companion George Birdwell was killed, while Floyd escaped. Someimes, he was seemingly everywhere as lawmen pursued and frightened citizens quaked in their boots.
Floyd continued to hide out in the Cookson Hills for most of his criminal life. Where his wife and son were is anybody's guess. Of course, like Robin Hood and Jesse James, Floyd is said to have given away a lot of his ill-gotten gains to the destitute people in the hills. He is also reported to have stayed in various places throughout the Boston Mountains including my hometown of Winslow during his long career.
This story is told about a time when he was in the Cookson Hills and went to Sallisaw to a barber shop to get a shave. As the barber finished, Floyd asked him if he wanted to see a bank robbery. Without waiting for a reply, Floyd promptly crossed the street, held up the bank and headed back into the wilderness of the Cooksons.
Pretty Boy Floyd was finally captured by members of the FBI, aided by local officers and state police. Cornered in a barn near Youngstown, Ohio, he crawled out and started running. Officers' gunfire cut him down. Lying on the ground dying, he is said to have asked, "Who the hell tipped you off?"
The body of the famous outlaw was returned to Sallisaw, Oklahoma and put on display. After crowds of people visited the funeral home, it is said that some 20,000 people mobbed the cemetery in Akins for his funeral. Later it was found that his headstone was nicked many times by people trying to get a tiny piece for a keepsake.
Floyd's brother's grave was nearby, the stone unmarked. He was a sheriff. It continues to amaze me how so many people make heroes out of outlaws.