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

4 Posted by - June 4, 2019 - 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.

    • Randolph Russell June 10, 2019 - 3:47 pm Reply

      This is where the black film maker Spike Lee should be taking his water to quench his thirst, and let the young African Americans be aware of this knowledge, am looking forward to turning on my TV and seeing an episode of show down in boley town Oklahoma pretty boy Floyd gangsters.

    • John A. Mims September 24, 2019 - 6:38 pm Reply

      Yes, my younger brother and I were born in Boley. We were born in the early 40’s. John and Cleohas mims. Our parents, Stephen and Naomi Mims. Mom’s parents: Colonel and Hagarl Smith. Aunts and uncles who were Smit’s :Clifton, Homer, Nathanl, Cornel, Leon, Cleophas, ,Luada, , Esther, Naomi, Helen and Ruth. Yes, they are all here. We departed Boley when I was 5 years old. Now live in Nashville TN. Plan to visit Boley in Summer of 2020. Oh yes my four older brothers: Stepher and Howard has Passed ON.
      Gregory and James are our there two Brothers.

  • 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

        • Bilal Hasan June 10, 2019 - 6:22 am Reply

          ASA Ayana,it’s highly possible to get the rights to have that book reprinted.getting the attention of the right persons using our community connections may can make it happen.imam Ronald shahid may be one possible connection since he’s been publishing a series of books of late.and there are many more possible resources among our association.this may be the reason it was placed in your hands.please consider the great benefits for future generations.

        • Eve June 12, 2019 - 5:22 am Reply

          This type of information should be in the minds of EVERY BLACK PERSON BREATHING AT ALL TIMES. This type of information lends Credence to the fact that all black people were not slaves and poor 1903 ? According to the white folk we were all slaves in 1903 how can this be I know my mind wasn’t playing tricks on me

      • 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

      • Rita June 11, 2019 - 2:57 am Reply

        Thank you so much for sharing this information. I am pretty up on black history, but this is the first time I heard of this. I will spread the word. Again, thank you for sharing.

      • Ronald June 11, 2019 - 10:45 am Reply

        This is a great history lesson so informative I would really like to get more of this kind of information

    • Lewis June 14, 2019 - 8:27 pm Reply

      Very fascinating story

    • LOUIS DAVIS June 14, 2019 - 8:56 pm Reply


  • 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.

    • Chris Eubanks June 10, 2019 - 10:11 pm Reply

      Hi Gwin! My name is Chris Eubanks. My Grandmother was Willie Mae King. Rev Walker was also my pastor at St Paul CME in Spiro OK. He came every other week when I was little. Wonderful man! Nice to meet you!

  • 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

    • Wilma June 11, 2019 - 12:07 am Reply

      Riley’s any relationship to Ted or Rachael Riley?

  • 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.

  • gamefly May 3, 2019 - 12:30 pm Reply

    Thanks designed for sharing such a fastidious opinion, paragraph is good,
    thats why i have read it entirely

    • Mary McCrary June 17, 2019 - 1:23 pm Reply

      Thanks for sharing. Never new anything about this black town. I hope I can find out more. Just found out my aunt was born in Boley. (R.I.Paradise Aunt Gertrude)

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  • Carlos Smith June 10, 2019 - 3:17 am Reply

    Fascinating history.The success of the prosperity of our people should use this story as a foundation for inspiration and success.

  • Shemicka June 10, 2019 - 3:54 am Reply

    This piece of history was both inspiring and riveting. I would love to acquire more history of black people beyond the point of them being enslaved. This article speaks of a people that refused to be enslaved both mentally and physically. It speaks of a people that has gotten lost in the trenches. We need the spirit of Boley to ressurect in this 21st Century!

    • Potts June 11, 2019 - 1:25 pm Reply

      We Are Awoke And Resurrected!!!

  • Roy-Oluwasegun Williams June 10, 2019 - 9:11 am Reply

    Thank you for informing me about Boley, Oklahoma.

  • Keith Ainsworth June 10, 2019 - 9:18 am Reply

    I like to know

  • Patrick Wilson June 10, 2019 - 11:56 am Reply

    My mother is from Boley and i have a bunch of family I’m sure i don’t know.

  • Doris Ayers Butler June 10, 2019 - 2:41 pm Reply

    I had a room mate in college from Boley ,Oka.Lee Etta Shaw..She went to Maryland state college in Princess Anne,Maryland.
    Her Uncle was the football coach there Skip McCaine

  • Wendy June 10, 2019 - 2:50 pm Reply

    I would live to hear more about this Town of Boley and how thing are doing there in 2019.

  • Doris Badgett June 10, 2019 - 2:55 pm Reply

    We need to teach our children about our history. We have so much positive history that we do not know about. I will spread the news about Boley. Glad I across this article. Also thanks for sharing the messages about your families in Boley.

  • Michael Bell June 10, 2019 - 9:36 pm Reply


  • Alex Evitt Jr June 11, 2019 - 4:16 am Reply

    I was not aware that the African American citizens of Boley Oklahoma rebuffed a robbery attempt br Pretty Boy Floyd. I am a black citizen of Muskogee Oklahoma some 20/30 miles from Boley and find this saga very interesting.

  • LaTrice Wisner June 11, 2019 - 1:23 pm Reply

    Me and my siblings was raised in Boley Oklahoma

  • Sandra Wright-Shabazz June 12, 2019 - 11:14 pm Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing this amazing piece of Black History. This is so precious to me, my grandchildren and great grandchildren.

  • Earl Owens June 14, 2019 - 10:51 pm Reply

    WOW…. My parents and oldest sister were born in Boley.

  • Nita June 16, 2019 - 12:26 pm Reply

    What a fantastic story that is virtually unknown. I sure hope the book and a documentary comes to into being!

  • faye dant January 7, 2020 - 11:01 am Reply

    A friend and local resident of Hannibal, MO was raised in Boley, he has some fond and not-so-fond memories. He turns 100 on February 29, 2020.

  • Kathy Birdwell February 29, 2020 - 9:08 pm Reply

    I’m from the other side of this story. My name is Kathy Birdwell. George Birdwell was the brother of my husband’s grandfather, John Robert Birdwell. I am honored to have been contacted by Andre Head, who is part of the group working to restore the Boley Bank. He has asked me to share the Birdwell side of this story, which I am currently working on. I have been doing research on our family for over 35 years. I think knowing more about the Birdwell family will help complete the story of the robbery attempt at the Boley Bank.

    Kathy L. Birdwell

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