A Different Kind of Dust Bowl Story: Pretty Boy Floyd in Baca County, Colorado, 1934.

pretty boy floyd feature image

Charles Arthur Floyd (February 3, 1904 – October 22, 1934) was nicknamed Pretty Boy Floyd.  Floyd has continued to be a familiar figure in American pop culture, seen by some as notorious, but by others as a tragic figure, he is partly seen as a victim of the hard times of the Great Depression.  In the Cookson Hills of Oklahoma, he was sometimes seen as a sort of Robin Hood, in spite of the murders committed.  During robberies he often destroyed mortgages at the banks he was robbing, apparently saving (or at least delaying) many from foreclosure.  He also used robbery funds to buy food for folks who were hungry. When people think of gangsters such as Pretty Boy Floyd you usually think of places such as Oklahoma’s Cookson hills rather than Colorado.  However, there are several references to him in Colorado including our own Baca County. The first and most famous was a mug shot and fingerprints taken in Pueblo, Colorado. This photo (below) is the one used later on a larger scale on an FBI-issued wanted poster in a nationwide manhunt for the killers of four lawmen in front of Kansas City Union Station.

Forced to Ride with Pretty Boy Floyd
Pretty Boy Floyd
Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd
Pretty Boy Floyd finger prints

In 1929, Floyd was wanted in numerous cases. On March 9, he was arrested in Kansas City on investigation, and again on May 6 for vagrancy and suspicion of highway robbery, but he was released the next day. Two days later, he was arrested in Pueblo, Colorado, and charged with vagrancy. He was fined $50.00 and sentenced to 60 days in jail. The artifacts above were from that 1929 visit to Pueblo.

One of the many “non-dirt” related stories from Baca county during the 1930’s Dust Bowl, involves…Pretty Boy Floyd.    It is rumored he would sometimes come to Baca County to hide, or to lay low on occasion. Most of the stories of Floyd in Baca county, and there are a few, talk about him stopping by one or more of the country stores south west of Springfield, Colorado.

Those stories are not difficult to believe as the settlement of Southeast Colorado is conjoined with stories from the Neutral Strip, now the Oklahoma Panhandle, which was often noted as a hiding place for those on the run from the long arm of the law. That continued longer than many might think.

This story involves, a truck driver from Vilas, Colorado, Wilmer Bewley getting kidnapped by Pretty Boy Floyd west of Lamar Colorado.  Floyd was accompanied by Jim Clark, jail breaker, bank robber, murderer, and highwayman.

Vilas Trucker kidnapped by Pretty Boy Floyd

The story as reported in the June 7, 1934 issue of the Springfield Democrat Herald,  

Kidnapped for six hours by three Bandits, two of them tentatively identified as being Pretty Boy Floyd of Oklahoma bank robbery fame, and the other is Jim Clark, jailbreaker, bank robber, murderer and highwaymen, was the experience Monday night of Wilmer Bewley who lives in Vilas.

The identification of Floyd and Clark was made by Bewley when the Democrat Herald editor suggested to him and Jared Hansen, jailer, that they go look over some pictures in the rogues Gallery.

Showing a picture of Clark, Bewley quickly said, “Why That’s the fella who drove the truck and the car.”

Then a few minutes later the picture of Floyd. “That’s the fella who sat in the backseat with a gun poked in my ribs,” Bewley said. He had a catch in the “get along” the Vilas trucker said, and was told that he had a leg shot off like you pretty near got yours shot off last night.

Mr. Bewley had been to La Junta where he delivered a load of cattle to a packaging house there. Returning home in the evening he came to Hasty, Colorado, on the Las Animas to Lamar Highway. At this point three men in a Plymouth car had collided with another automobile. There was confusion as to who was in the right and as Bewley came upon the scene one of the men, now identified as Clark, jumped up on the running board of the truck, hit Bewley in the side of the face and ordered him to move over.

Bewley moved over and the truck was stopped. Backing up to the scene of the wreck the bandits drove the truck near the wrecked Plymouth and proceeded to unload their complement of guns and other Bandit equipment.

Then with big boy Jim Clark doing the driving, the quartet proceeded to Lamar.

“We want to go through Lamar and then onto the Springfield-Boise City Highway”, they told Bewley. And if you let us get on a bum street we’re going to blow you up with one of these guns we got, they added. Bewley did as he was told. Coming into Lamar they turned at the first corner of the canal and went two blocks East and then South across the railroad tracks and onto the Springfield Highway. South of Lamar aways, the trio decided they would try out the gun they had taken away from Bewley.   It was a 38 caliber model. They fired it out of the car into the nearby pasture. Nice play thing you have, but when you need one of these you can never get it.

Bewley said they accused him of attempting to draw the gun on them but he declared he didn’t remember doing that.

Coming into Springfield, the truck containing the man was driven about the outskirts of town for a few minutes. Soon it was stopped near the house were O. R. Reschke and family used to live, a block east of the Peterson home one of them got out and walk to the Petersen garage, inspected the car and finally came back with a report their car was o. k., half filled with gas and had plenty of oil and water.

A return to the garage and the car was driven to where the truck stood. The guns and other paraphernalia were again transferred. Bewley was put in the backseat and told to look out of the side window. A gun in his ribs emphasized the request.

Along with all the guns the trio had, Bewley reported to officers that a box about two and a half feet long, 8 in wide and 45 in deep was kept in careful custody. Just what this box contains was not revealed as Bewley said no mention of its contents was made in his presence. Presumption was it contained a machine gun or  burglar tools. Bewley said that they were very careful with it and it apparently was very heavy. The nearest he got to it was to place his feet upon at the edge while riding in the backseat of the Petersen automobile from Springfield to Boise City.

They drove to near the W. A. Thompson home and the truck was left.

Bewley was forced to sit in the left side of the back seat and to keep his head turned toward the window glass. When Bewley came to Springfield Wednesday afternoon he was so stiff neckd that he could hardly talk.

In the Petersen car the bandits and their hostage came within a Block of Main Street. There was some talking of breaking into the First National Bank and robbing. Bewley attempted to discourage this by saying you wouldn’t find $0.30 in it.

They decided not to do that.

A block west of Main Street they drove past County Jail. In the block south of the jail there set brand new Ford V8. Clark the driver of Peterson’s car which is a 1929 Model said he was getting tired of the old wreck and he was driving already and wanted to stop and unload into the new Ford.

The others in the car discouraged him by remarking that if they stopped there it was probable  they would be involved in a gun battle. They went on leaving somebody’s new Ford unharmed.

Somewhere along the Springfield Boise City Highway, Bewley said, they were being followed by another car. Afraid that it might be officers, the trio got their guns, drew down the back window shade to within an inch of the bottom and prepared for a gun battle. It was not the officers and whoever it was never gained upon the car containing the bandits.

“How’d you like to join this gang and go to east St Louis with us?” was the ironical inquiry made to Bewley as they were riding along Monday night.

Deciding that being a sport would probably save himself, Bewley readily agree that he would make the toughest Bandit the United States that ever knew. apparently the trio thought he had more “wind” than they so this part of the conversation soon became a forgotten subject with them. Bewley didn’t join.

Going into Boise City, they stopped  there for gas and purchased $1.82 worth Bewley said. One of the bandits paid for it. They had previously taken $47 from Bewley.

About 8 or 10 miles east of Boise city on the Guymon Highway, the Bandits stop the car, and let Bewley out.

We don’t want you to lie to us so don’t tell us that you won’t tell the officers. Tell them when you get back, you’ve been a good sport. Good luck to you

And they departed.

Bewley walk the mileage in to Boise City, and from the filling station called the Cimarron County Sheriff who in turn called Sheriff D.T. Potter Springfield.

Undersheriff Mr Jackson and W C Switzer were sent into Oklahoma in an effort to trace the bandits. They returned home late Tuesday night reporting no tangible trace excepting at Boise City.

Bewley was brought back to Baca County by Tony Havens, Vilas merchant.

Bewley, after reporting to the Boise City authorities visited a brother of Havens in Boise City. Having only 7 cents in his pocket, Bewley obtained breakfast at the Havens home and a telephone call soon brought Tony in a car. They came directly back to Springfield reported to Sheriff Potter. Potter questioned Bewley regarding the affair and then sent him home to get some needed rest.

Shortly after this incident Floyd was named, Public Enemy No.1 and later in the year, October 22, 1934, Floyd’s violent life came to a rather predictable end when he was killed in a shootout with law enforcement officers near East Liverpool, Ohio.

I have always wondered who has driven up and down the highway through Baca County. This may be one of the more colorful characters to have passed through.