Boley, Oklahoma: The All-Black Town that Fought Back Against “Pretty Boy Floyd’s Gangsters

1 Posted by - June 20, 2017 - BLACK BUSINESS, LATEST POSTS

The town of Boley, located in the western part of Okfuskee County in Oklahoma, was one of the most vibrant black towns in all of the Indian Territory in the early 20th century. It was also once described by Booker T. Washington as “the finest black town in the world.” At the time, Boley had the reputation for being the largest black town in the United States, with an estimated black population of over 4,000 people.

Businesses were thriving as there were black owned restaurants, hotels and other establishments as part of the city’s legacy. The town was known throughout the state for hosting renowned events every year, such as the Boley Black Rodeo. Horsemen would arrive in the town from all over the region just to participate in the famous event, which took place during Memorial Day weekend.

This town, which was established in 1903, was also known for being the location where one of the most famous bank robberies unfolded. Some of the black residents prevented the Pretty Boy Floyd gang from robbing the town’s only bank.


Gangster Floyd warned his gang members against robbing “Farmers and Merchants Bank,” the state’s first nationally chartered black-owned bank. The people of the town were hard workers and business minded people. Gangster Floyd knew the people of Boley had guns and wouldn’t hesitate to shoot and kill him and his gangsters. However, the group did not heed Floyd’s warning; they burst into the bank and warned the people not to pull the alarm.  

The bank’s bookkeeper, H.C. McCormick, saw the robbers enter. He slipped into the bank’s vault, retrieved the rifle, and aimed it at Birdwell who was scooping up cash. At the same time, the Bank’s president, D.J. Turner, was on duty. He loved Boley and was determined to defend it. The alarm sounded and Birdwell questioned whether the alarm had been pulled. Turner had admitted to pulling the alarm, and that is when Birdwell shot and killed him. The bookkeeper saw what took place, and then he shot and killed Gangster Birdwell.

Once their leader was down, Birdwell’s companions attempted to run. As they ran outside the bank, they found themselves surrounded by citizens of the all-black town. The people in Boley had heard the alarm and gathered outside the bank with their squirrel rifles and bird guns aimed at the fleeing outlaws. When the gunfire ended, Charles Glass lay dead, killed by J.L. McCormick, the town’s city marshall and H.C. McCormick’s brother. Pretty Boy Floyd had plans to avenge the murders of his friends, but he never got a chance as he was gunned downed in Ohio a two years later.


Little Known Black History Fact: Boley, Oklahoma


  • Abdulraheem Khalifah June 4, 2017 - 11:25 pm Reply

    What great piece of history and this is the first time I’ve heard this story. Lets hear more stories like this so our children can learn.

  • Sharon Goins June 7, 2017 - 11:51 am Reply

    I attended many Black Rodeo’s in Boley. Ok. Every year that was the place to be!

    • Ayanna Askari June 7, 2017 - 8:36 pm Reply

      I was born in Seminole Ok.
      D. J. Turner, the bank president, was my great uncle. He was a hero. My grandfather was a child living in Boley when the bank robbery occurred. He made Sure we heard this story. I have the book that was written telling all this incredible history of Boley which he left in my care before he passed away.
      They stood up against the KKK and warned them to stay away from Boley or they would do what they needed to do to protect themselves.
      The klan backed down and never bothered the residents again. They were armed & not afraid! They stood up for their families, owned their homes & land, which was lush and profitable farms.
      Yes, Sharon, It was the place to be. Black people experienced
      True freedom there.

      • Andre Head April 10, 2018 - 9:18 pm Reply

        Hello Ayanna,
        Please contact me about D.J. Turner. We are working on preserving the Farmer & Merchants Bank. You can contact at (206) 948-8852 or email at

      • Lateefha arnold May 18, 2018 - 11:48 am Reply

        could you please send me information about the name of the book I am great grand child of J. C Menser and Adel Tomlin Menser both raised in boley born in 1918 and 1919 my email is please send I remember reading a book when I was young and I would like to know how to find it again

      • Sheila P Jennifer March 23, 2019 - 6:41 pm Reply

        Hi Ayanna,
        Yes, your Uncle saved several lives that day when he confessed to pulling the alarm when actually it was activated by pulling the last dollar. He is a true hero. One of our relatives was the bank clerk there. William Riley. He was used as a human shield by one of the robbers. We visited Boley and found the actual bank Farmers and Merchants is no longer there. A second bank is, however.

        S. Jennifer

  • Palero Cubano July 6, 2017 - 11:00 pm Reply

    I love my Boley roots I jave land there my Dad was born and raised there as where my great great grand parents on down

  • Akua Ajanaku-formerly Gwen Walker September 18, 2017 - 8:14 pm Reply

    I was born & raised in Boley, Oklahoma my father Rev. E.V. Walker & mother Lillie B Walker my parents both raised 12 children and we went to St. Emanuel Baptist Church there.

  • Sheila P Jennifer March 23, 2019 - 6:37 pm Reply

    You might find the book Back in Boley an interesting read about this fascinating town. Our Mom, Ruth Riley Jennifer lived there and her dad William Riley was a clerk in the bank when it was robbed.

    S. P. Jennifer

  • David F Ferguson April 14, 2019 - 10:53 am Reply

    Although I was born in Los Angeles I have roots in Boley. My grandfather, Rev. L.R. Kirksey founded Amos Temple CME church there in 1909. My mother was born there in 1912 and my brother was born there in 1931. My grandmother was Hattie Hicks. Both Hattie and Rev. Kirksey are both buried in the Chilesville Cemetery which is the farming area right adjacent to Boley.

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