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Gunslinger ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd Recalled

May 14, 2002

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EDMOND, Okla. (AP) _ Occasionally, Ruby Spear lets her head bow to her chest and then gently rolls it back up, slowly piecing together the family secrets she’s set aside for nearly 70 years.

She remembers her brother Charles as a young man who’d play horseshoes with his six siblings, attend church with his devout Baptist family and eagerly ride in a horse-drawn wagon with the family into town to shop.

She also remembers the day in 1934 when a reporter came to her family’s modest cotton farm in Akins to tell them that Charles _ aka ``Pretty Boy″ Floyd, the legendary outlaw _ was dead at the hands of a sheriff’s posse in Ohio.

Spear, now 100, is the last surviving sibling of ``Pretty Boy″ Floyd, a man remembered in history as a machine-gun toting outlaw who blasted his way through the Southwest, robbing dozens of banks and killing at least 10 men.

He reportedly made notches in his watch and fob to mark the number of men he’d killed and spent 17 months as Public Enemy No. 1 after his alleged role in the shooting deaths of three police officers and an FBI agent.

On the occasion marking her 100th birthday this month, Ruby Spear has decided to tell what she remembered about growing up with the boy who would become one of the most infamous and mysterious outlaws in history.

Spear chooses to think of him as the child in a framed, black and white family portrait, wearing black cowboy boots and a smart white dress shirt. He playfully looks aside in the photo, his distinctive baby-face evident at an early age.

Floyd’s straight-laced family never talked about their son’s chosen life as an outlaw, but instead followed his exploits in newspaper headlines, Spear said.

Lured to a criminal career by the poverty of the Dust Bowl era and the wild tales of the outlaw Jesse James, Floyd pulled off his first heist at 18 when he held up a post office for $350 in pennies. Later came a bigger haul of $16,000 from a Kroger grocery store.

``We prayed the Lord would take care of him and that he would eventually be saved,″ said Spear, who keeps her worn, leather-bound Bible at arm’s reach in her Edmond apartment.

Immortalized in Woody Guthrie ballads and Oklahoma folklore, Floyd used some of the profits from his heists to pay off farm debts and buy groceries for the poor. He was dubbed the ``Robin Hood of Cookson Hills″ for his tearing up of mortgage papers in banks across the country.

``People liked ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd because he had the means and the nerve to do the things they couldn’t,″ said John Maricle, research librarian at the Oklahoma Historical Society. ``He was a symbol of the times.″

There is a dispute over how he earned his famous moniker. Some reports said he got it from a brothel madam. But Spear says he got the name from a policeman’s description of him as having an unforgettable baby face.

He returned sporadically to southeast Oklahoma, where locals protected him and kept him a few steps ahead of the police. He’d visit his family _ a wife he married in 1921 and his son, Jack Dempsey Floyd _ and then set off as quickly as he swooped in.

``I was always glad to see him when he came and I remember he always wanted something to eat,″ chuckles Spear, who’d often whip up a batch of mincemeat cookies for him. ``My father always used to make him put his guns in the corner of the house when he stayed with us, though.″

Divorcing Floyd’s legend from reality has proven to be a difficult task.

Herman Kirkwood, an Oklahoma City police force retiree and history buff, said reporters sensationalized accounts of Floyd’s antics to create the antihero people wanted to read about in daily newspapers.

Spear’s son, also named Jack, said many people adopted romanticized stories about his uncle and are still eager to recount tales they heard a generation ago, however inaccurate.

``He did a lot of it, but he probably didn’t do all the things he was credited with,″ Jack Spear said. ``Because of who he was, the crimes of others were attributed to him.″

As swiftly as he cut his swath of gun-blazing heists, Floyd was fatally shot by federal agents near East Liverpool, Ohio. He was 30 years old.

``He was a good child who grew up in a godly family,″ said Nancy Spear, Ruby’s daughter-in-law. ``But once he got into trouble, he didn’t know how to get out of it.″


On the Net:

FBI file on Floyd: http://foia.fbi.gov/floydsum.htm

Oklahoma Historical Society: http://www.ok-history.mus.ok.us

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