Camera Rolls: 312:23-26
Sound Rolls: 312:12-13
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Charles Dempsey Floyd , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on November 2, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
OK. Can you tell me some of your earliest memories of your father?
The first time I ever remember seeing my father, he came to Coffeyville, Kansas, where my mother and her husband lived there, and I lived there with them. And I must've been about five years old or something like that. And I remember
he impressed me, because he was so well dressed and he looked so nice and everything. I thought he looked like a movie star.
** And, you know, it's the first time I'd ever seen him, and he really impressed me by the way he looked and the way he talked and the relationship that we had for the first time we met.
Now were, when you were born, then, was your dad actually still in, in prison from the first arrest? Was that...?
my father was, was with, with my mother and I when I was born. But after that, it was only about a year, I think, after that, he was put in prison.
** I'm not sure about the dates, but I was very young, and he'd, I hadn't seen him in, you know, four years. Or I'd never remembered seeing him when I was a little baby, but then the first time I think I was about five.
Do you have any favorite stories about when your dad would come to visit you and your mom, what, or your family? I know you had lots of cousins and stuff. What was it like?
Well, it was like Christmas time or something. [telephone rings] Everybody was happy—
OK. So what was it like when your dad came to visit you?
Well, it was really exciting. Everybody was excited about seeing him. And he always would bring presents for people, and, you know, give people, give kids money. And everybody really loved him. I mean, I've, I've never known anybody that really knew my father that didn't like him. And I've known he's been in the newspaper, portrayed as a mad dog killer, and the person like that, but he wasn't that kind of a person. I mean, I'm not trying to make excuses for him, but he was really a, a, a wonderful person, and he loved his family and his friends, and it just never, never, never ceases to amaze me how many people still are interested in him, you know. I get letters and calls and stuff, interviews, and different papers and everything. And there, after 50 years, he's still a very popular person, and people always want to know about him, everything, you know.
You told, you told Leslie a story about him actually coming the middle of the night and bringing, I think, a pig or something.
That, was that normal for him, to come in the middle of the night?
Yeah, well he...
What, how would it be like? Just tell me the story about it.
Mostly he'd travel by night to keep from being detected, you know. And that's when we lived on that, you know that picture I showed you, lived out in that—
I'm sorry. Could you just, we might show the picture, but if you talk about the picture you showed me, then it doesn't work too well. So talk about how he'd arrive at night?
Yeah, OK. Anyhow. Anyhow, we lived in a, in a, out in the middle of a field on a farm. And he'd have to leave his car on the road and walk in.
[production discussion][cut][slate marker visible on screen]
So, let, what was it like?
Well, he'd usually, my father usually travelled at night. And even if he came in the middle of the night everybody was happy to see him. And he'd usually bring gifts for people and give kids money, and usually bring me a present, like a dog or some kind of a toy or something, you know. And everybody was always glad to see him. I remember one time, I was living with my mother's father and mother, and in the middle of the night my father came and brought a pig. And my grandmother got up and cooked that pig just like a Christmas dinner at three or four o' clock in the morning. And people would always want to do things for him and everything. I remember he told my grandfather, he said, "Find out who that pig belonged to, and pay him for it." He gives him like $10 or something, you know. He said, "Tell them that, that I really enjoyed it." Said, "The reason I shot that pig was that I was out looking at my tire, and the pig came up and kicked me." He was always full of jokes and stuff, you know. He was really a, a, a fun person to be around. I mean, it's kind of hard to believe that Public Enemy number one would be a fun, fun person to be around, but he was. I've never met anybody that really knew him that didn't like him.
And how did, how'd regular folks, like not your family, but, but how'd they feel about your dad? I mean, I've, I've heard him described as kind of a Robin Hood. Do you have any stories about that?
Well, I've heard a lot of stories. I've been, you know, been on a tour with a movie one time and on talk shows and stuff, and I've got calls from people that told they'd met him. And people liked to do things for him, you know. Like, if they didn't know him, and he'd, if he'd, like if he had a tire, flat tire, or something, somebody'd come along and change it, he'd pay them for it. And they, they'd always want to tell they'd fixed a tire for Pretty Boy Floyd, or Pretty Boy Floyd gave them a ride. Kids were always saying stuff like that, you know.
So what was it about the times and the way life was in Depression in Oklahoma, where, where a lot of people were poor farmers, you think made them really kind of admire, and make, make a kind of hero out of your dad?
Well, they needed a hero back then, you know. The banks were going, going under, and taking people's money, and foreclosing on farms, and everything. And I think that the people felt that my father was just one of them kind of striking back for all of them.
** And, you know, it, it was like you didn't have any TV, or, or many radios in those days, and they'd follow his escapades in the paper and all. And it was kind of like, they were pulling for him to stay at large instead of being killed.
** He's probably the only criminal I've ever heard of that people wanted to, for him to stay alive and at large instead of being captured.
So, so they would be willing to hide him, right? They, they hid him out. Do you have any favorite stories about that? Do you know specific instances [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] ?
Well, I know one time when my father came to see us, there was a, a ex-sheriff who was kind of like a bounty hunter, and they had a gun battle, and Erv Kelley was the man's name, and he got killed, and my father got wounded. And my father went to his older brother down at Earlsboro, where he worked in the oil field. And he took him to somebody's house, and they hid him like for a month, until he got recuperated. The doctor would come there and, and doctor him and stuff. And, and my mother and I went down there and we became acquainted with them. They were really nice people, and I stared calling, I started calling them aunt and uncle. I thought they were relatives, you know. They were just people that my uncle knew. And I think my father could go places and tell people who he was, and they would protect him instead of turning him in. I mean, I've heard a lot of instances like that. Even, even when he got killed, the, the lady that gave him his last meal, her brother was getting ready to take him to town somewhere where he could catch a bus at the time, you know, that he was on foot out in the woods and farmland there.
I've heard that he would drop by, you know, and if he needed a meal, after he'd got a meal, he'd always, you know, leave a little money under the plate. Is that correct? Can you describe that for me?
Well, I've, I've heard that a lot of times, in fact, this lady I'm talking about, her name was Conkle. She told my mother that my father wanted to pay her for the meal, but I don't think she would, would take it. But he, he didn't want to take anything from the common, ordinary working man. He didn't mind taking the banks' money, but he didn't want to take from somebody like that.
Now, I just want to broaden up the picture for a little, little while now. You come from a really big family, I know, in Oklahoma. What, how, how did, other than your dad, how, how did folks in your family make a living?
Well, most of my family were farmers. My grandfathers on both sides, they were farmers originally. And, and my dad's father at, at, before he was killed, he had a little store, and a little barber chair in there, and he did a little bit of everything, had like a general store. But originally he was a farmer, and my grandfather was a farmer, and my uncles farmed a lot.
And was it a hard life?
Yeah, it was hard, but it was really a good life, because we always, we didn't have any money, much, but we always had plenty to eat, because we'd grow stuff, and my grandmother'd can things and everything. And I lived close to a river. We used to go fishing. And, you know, you had to do a lot of work during the week, but on the weekends you could go fishing, and do stuff you enjoyed. Ride, we had horses, we'd ride the horses and stuff.
Do you remember anything about the, the, the poverty of the Depression days? Did you feel affected by that?
Well, you know, you get, if you, if you're born in poverty, you just kind of accept it. But I can remember instances now that, that, that it comes to mind that really brings to mind how poor we really were.
Now, I was asking you about poverty, but I know you have a really interesting story about the little house that, that you lived in, the box car house. Can you tell me about that, what it was like in the summer and winter?
Well, you look back now and you realize how deeply you were in poverty, you know. I could have a picture of that house, I was telling you, but they called it a box car house. It was made out of one inch boards and it had a, a tar paper roof which wasn't very high above your head. And then over these cracks, when you'd put two boards together, they'd put what's called a slat over that board to keep the wind from coming through. And I know my grandmother used to save all newspapers she could find, and she'd make paste out of flour and water and paste the inside of the house with newspaper, that was papered with newspapers on the inside of the house to keep the wind from coming in. And it was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. And it was just the, the poorest excuse for a house, but, you know, if you're born there, you don't pay much attention to it, but now you look back and you can see how really bad it was. You had no running water, and naturally no heat except wood stoves. And it was a two-room house. There was a kitchen, we had a kitchen and the other room, and they both had beds in them, because there was my grandmother and grandfather, and my two uncles and I lived in the other room. So it was, it was pretty bad. But if you'd been in that, during the time, you don't think about it, but now you look back and you see how bad it really was.
Now, your grand, your grandfather you're talking about, he was a sharecropper? Is that right? Can you tell me a little bit about what his life was like?
He was a sharecropper.
I'm sorry. Could you say your, "my grandfather"?
My grandfather, my, my mother's father, was a sharecropper. That's, you live on somebody else's farm, and you raise the crops and everything, and they, when the crops are gathered, they divide it. You get a certain percentage of the farm. It was hard work, because they never had tractors. They always used the horses and mules and stuff, you know. And he worked from daylight to dark, and—
—for very little money.
[production discussion][cut][slate marker visible on screen][change to camera roll 312:24]
OK, you were just telling me about your father was a sharecropper, what, your grandfather—
My grandfather. Yeah, my grandfather was a sharecropper. He lived on another person's farm that owned the land. He raised the crops, and when the crops were gathered, they would divide it, a certain percentage for each one.
And then did you and your uncles all work the land, too? Were you a...?
Well, yeah, I helped. My uncles, they usually did the plowing and everything. I got the hoe. You know, the bottom of the line. You start with the hoe and work your way up to the plow. But I never got up the plow. I always had that hoe in my hand 'til I went in the Navy. But I was always—it was hard work, but, you know, you enjoyed the out, I enjoyed being outdoors and able to, on, you know, on, on the weekends you'd go fishing and hunting and stuff, when I lived close to the creek and river and stuff.
I was going to ask you now about your dad, and when he had chosen and made this decision to, to rob banks. And did he have a kind of—
I was wondering if your dad sort of kind of had a standard procedure for, for going in and robbing a bank. That, if you could describe that, if you know stories about how he did it.
Well, I've never really heard too much about it from anybody. But what I've been able to gather by reading the newspapers and everything, he planned his bank robberies. He wasn't just a haphazard person, or, or he wouldn't have stayed at large as long as he did, you know. I'm sure they would what they'd call case the bank, look it over and everything, before they did the robbery. And he always said, I'm, I've, I've talked to my uncles about it, and he always had two ways to get out of town, not just one. You know, if one was blocked, he'd have another way to get out of town. And many times he wouldn't go very far after he got, after he did the bank robbery. He would hide at some farmer's house or something so he wouldn't be captured along the road. And I think he just planned things ahead of time. And, and when he went in, he looked like another banker or businessman or something. He didn't look like bank robber, I suppose, until he started, bank robbers started imitating his style and everything. His, he dressed well, and he'd probably go in and talk to the banker and—
You're going to have to do something about the dog.
So why didn't your dad disguise himself when he went off to do these things?
I don't know. I think he just felt that he could, you know, he'd been pretty successful getting away from people, hiding, and that kind of thing. And I don't think a disguise would've fooled anybody anyhow. But a lot of people started using his method of operation and dressing like him, and he got blamed for a lot of banks that he really didn't rob. Because I know one time, when we first started school, we, for about six months, my father hadn't done, hadn't been anywhere, and he stayed right there when I first started school. And every week we'd hear where he robbed a bank in Kansas or in Arkansas, or in somewhere. And the other guys got pretty smart, you know. They'd dress like him and did his thing, and he got blamed for it. And, you know, a lot of banks, when they were banks were going broke and everything, they got robbed by their own people. Brother-in-law or somebody'd come in, and they'd rob them, and the, and the bank would be off the hook.
When, your dad often seemed to take a hostage to get out of, out of town, but he seemed to try to really avoid violence. I was wondering if he ever talked to you about that.
Well, I heard a, I heard a real interesting story that my uncle told me about one time my father robbed a bank. He thought maybe that the police had the roads, roads covered or something, so he took two hostages. They had running boards in those days on the cars, so he put one on each side. And after he got out of town about eight or 10 miles, he stopped, and these guys were just petrified, you know, they thought he was going to kill them or something. They'd heard what a mad dog killer and everything he was, probably, you know. And it's natural to be scared when people got guns and everything, you know. So my dad stopped, he said, "Well, fellas, I hate to put you out here," but says, "You'll probably get a ride back." Says, "We'll have a drink together before you go." So he had a bottle in the car, and they all had a drink of whiskey. And, and he left them there and didn't harm them. I've always been glad and proud that my father wasn't the type of person that went in a pistol-whipped people and shot people for no reason at all, you know. I know he's probably killed someone people. He never killed anybody, a banker or a teller or anybody, during a robbery, you know. He, I'm sure some of the police officers that were trying to kill him he killed, but he wasn't the type of person that'd just go in and shoot everybody, take that money. I'm glad that that never happened.
And when you were growing up, were you aware that people were trying to capture your dad? Did you...
Oh yeah, I knew. I knew from the, from the start that he was a wanted man. Like, when I, when I to school, I, they put in my school under a fictitious name. My father was known by the name Jack Hamilton. So they entered me in school, I first started school by the name of Jackie Hamilton. And I knew the reason for it, and I was protective of him, you know. I didn't want to see him hurt or anything. So I went along with it, and that the reason to this day I'm still called Jack, which isn't really my name, you know. My real name is Charles Dempsey Floyd.
Were you sort of proud that your father was able to escape? Was it exciting or was it scary?
Well, it was scary in a way, but you always were relieved to know that if he robbed a bank or something he got away. And it was, you know, always of my mother and my, my mother's, I mean, my dad's relatives near. They were always worried. They knew someday it was going to happen, though, and it was always on their mind. And I know I worried about it, too, even as a child. But, if somebody you love, you're going to, you're going to pull for them to escape or get away. No matter what they've done, you want them to say, you know, you want to be with them. You don't want them hurt.
When your father did go to prison once, when you were a young boy, but then after that seemed like he really was determined not to get caught, or at least not to go back to prison. Did he talk about that ever?
Well, he didn't talk to me a lot about things like that, but I've heard it from my uncles and my mother and things, you know. I know he spent five years, I think it was, in prison, when I was just, I think I was about a year old when he went into prison, or maybe four years or something. Anyhow, the early part of my life he was in prison.
And the first time I saw him I was about five, maybe five and a half, years old.
** And I think prison was a real bad experience for him, and he probably learned a lot of things that he should've have learned from the older and stuff. I've, I've read where he had older friends that told him how to do things and everything, you know. So I've, I've heard people say that my father said he'd never go back to prison again. And he was captured one time after that, and on the way to prison, he had handcuffs on, he jumped out of the train, or out of the window, and got away from the police officer and escaped. And there was just another example of how he could do things. He probably went to some farmer's house and told them who he was, and they sawed those handcuffs off of him.
You, you talked before about this one man, Erv Kelley, who, who was sent out, I think he was sent out by the state Bankers Association, kind of to track your dad down. Did you know much about the events of, of that evening? He was coming, was actually coming to you—
He was coming to see my mother and I—
I'm sorry, could you just say your dad was coming?
My father was coming to see my mother and I. We were with my grandfather and my grandmother there in Cecil Bennett's farm out about four miles from Bixby. And
it was in the night time.
** He usually travelled, it was in the night time. And Erv Kelley and some other people were staked out.
** Evidently, they thought they'd wait there, sometime, they thought maybe my father would be coming in. Erv Kelley was I think more like a bounty hunter. He wasn't really, he was an ex-sheriff or ex-deputy sheriff or something. And they way it happened, I understand, he was, Erv Kelley was behind the chicken house. And the, in those days you had gates to keep the stock in, and somebody had to stop and open the gate to where we lived. We lived back in the field,
** away from the road, you know. And so my father got out to open the gate, and Erv Kelley stepped out from behind the chicken house
** and told him that he was under arrest or whatever, you know. And then there was a gun battle between Erv Kelley and, and George Birdwell and my father. And I don't know who killed him, but somebody killed Erv Kelley, and my father got wounded pretty bad. But I heard about it. But he never made it into the, to see us that time, you know. He just got that close and then had to leave.
And do you know where he went afterwards?
I'm sure he went to his older brother's down around Earlsboro. And I'm sure he did. He went down there and he arranged to have a doctor, and arranged for him to have a place to stay until he got healed up.
Can you tell me, there's a story about your brother, your dad had a younger brother, E.W., and can you tell me the story about when E.W. was trying to decide about whether or not he might go, go work with your dad, and what went on between the two of them?
My father and all his family were close, E.W. and all of his sisters and brothers loved him dearly. And E.W. was younger, and he wanted to go with my father, and my father wouldn't let him do it. And they, they, I think they had a physical fight over it one time, some kind of a skirmish. But anyhow he told him he wanted to, to stay out of that kind of thing. He had a wife and, and young boys, and he knew it wasn't the kind of life that would be good for him.
So what did he say to E.W., do you know?
I really don't know what he said, but I'm sure he just told him that it was no life, you know, it's just, you're constantly running and hiding, and you don't know when you're going to get to see anybody. You might have to sleep in the woods or...it's just a miserable life, you know. It might look exciting to somebody, but you look at the end, that, that, the way it came down and everything. He was constantly on the run. He might have had a lot of money at one time or another, but it didn't do him any good. You know, you have to pay dearly for everything you have done. You got no place to go and really relax or fun like you should be able to.
Why do you think your dad made this decision? I mean, he made this decision as a pretty young man to go turn to, you know, robbery.
A life of crime? I think he just, he was a very ambitious person. I've talked to people that he was with and people, you know, and they said it's a shame he got into the wrong thing, because he would probably be successful at anything he did. But he wasn't making much money. He was, he was working as a, working in the wheat harvest up in Kansas, and I don't know how he got, got the, arranged the—
[production discussion][cut][slate marker visible on screen][change to camera roll 312:25][change to sound roll 312:13]
OK. Can you tell me about...
Now, we were talking about my father, and what, what reason he went into crime. What I, you know, what I believe, and what I've heard from a lot of the friends and people I've talked to, I heard he was an ambitious type person, and he wanted more than he had. He liked to have the nicer things in life, you know, like cars and homes and stuff everybody'd like to have. But he wasn't making much money. He was working in the wheat harvest up through Kansas. You know, the, there would be crews that would go with the combines and thrashing machines and stuff, you know, and they'd just go through the farmlands and work, and they worked for a wage that wasn't too much. Anyhow, somehow he got involved with some people that, a person, I think one person worked at a store, and then another person, and those three of them planned to rob and get the payroll for a large department store. In those days they didn't use checks to pay, they used cash in pay envelopes. So they, they robbed, got quite a bit of cash, I think, seems to me like $11000 or something, which was a tremendous amount of money in those days. And my father and his friend both spent too much money, bought new cars, went home with a lot of new clothes and everything, which stuck out like a sore thumb, you know. So he got caught and went to prison. And in those days, there wasn't much programs for rehabilitating prisoners and such. And I understand he tried to go to work with his brother, and he got laid off from a job in the oil field because they heard he was an ex-convict. And I'm not sure, but maybe he just decided, "Well, if they're not going to give me a chance, I'll just do what I've done before," and he just got started and, and it never stopped.
Was he angry about anything? Was he angry about banks? Was he angry at the oil companies because they kind of turned him out?
I don't know. I never did—see, I was pretty small. I was only ten years old when my father got killed. And the short time I spent with him, the most time I ever spent with him was six months, and I was only about six then, for any length of time. And he wouldn't ever really get into talking. I was a little young to, for him to explain things to me like that. But I just think he just got started, and it snowballed, and he figured there was no other way out, because he tried to get work and everything when he first got out of prison and it didn't work out. And he just, it came easy for him, I guess you might say that, you know. He, he was at large about eight years, I guess, and robbed numerous banks. And I guess it just became easy enough he decided he'd go ahead and do it.
There's, there's stories about your dad robbing the Sallisaw bank, which was actually a town your father was sort of from, where lots of people knew him. Would you tell me the story about how he did that?
Well, I've heard the stories that, that this bank had taken his grandfather's money, which he had in the bank, and my grandfather asked the banker the day before the bank went, went bad if his money was still safe, and he told him it was. And then evidently the bank started up again. And so my, my father went to his grandfather and told him, he says, "Grandpa," he said, "I want you to sit across the street over there at the depot, and watch. I'm going to rob the bank here today." So he robbed the bank and the next time he saw his grandpa he says, "Grandpa, did you, did you see me rob the bank?" And he says, "No, it was nice and warm. I went to sleep and missed the whole thing." [laughs]
So what did the other folks in Sallisaw feel about this kind of like local boy, someone they all knew, coming into town and robbing a bank?
Well, it's just like most of the people in those days, they were, they were on my father's side, you know. They felt he was striking back for the little person or something, and I don't think it bothered them at all. I think they was kind of proud that he did it.
That's amazing, that's amazing. Did you have a sense that your dad's kind of escapades and activities were exaggerated by the press? Did they kind of get...?
Well, they got, they, they went overboard on it sometimes. I know I've read stories where they, where he was a mad dog killer, and all that kind of thing. He wasn't that type of person. He never really hurt anybody in the banks that he robbed. During the robbery, he never went in and shot people or beat them over the head with a pistol, like Bonnie and Clyde were really like that, you know. They were sadistic type person [sic]. He wasn't that kind of person. The people that really knew my father would tell you he was really a nice person to be around, and he was a lot of fun. He was laughing, joking, keeping people laughing.
He, I've read, again, stories about your dad sort of having to write to the editors of the newspapers saying, "Hey, I, I didn't rob that bank, I wasn't there, I wasn't—" Do, do you remember any cases like that, where he?
Well just, just things that I've read about my father doing, but I'm not sure that it happened that way.
I know that you and your mother sometimes, sometimes I think while your dad was still alive, actually, would go out and give talks in, in movie theaters about—
Yeah, we were on like a vaudeville circuit.
Could you say, "My mother"?
My mother and I were on, like we went to different theaters, and we'd go on stage in between the movies and talk. I'd go out and introduce my mother, and she'd come out and talk about how terrible it was to, to live with the thought of her husband being killed everyday, and the life of crime. You know, we never had any money. He'd send us money sometimes, but really it was a, it was a terrible thing. And I really enjoyed that because we went to the nicest hotels and ate the nicest food, had good clothes and everything, and so it was kind of a fun thing for me.
What, did people ask you questions? I was curious what they were interested in, what they wanted to hear about?
Same thing that you want to hear about. They wanted to know about what kind of person my father was, you know. And kids were just, they idolized him, you know. Kids my age were, they treated me like I was a movie star's son or something, you know, because he was really a hero for the common people. In the Midwestern state, he was the only outlaw that I've ever heard of that people wanted him to stay at large and not get killed or caught or anything.
Yeah, one other thing. I, I'm curious about your dad's, your dad's got two different nicknames, and I'm curious about both of them. What do you know about the name Pretty Boy Floyd, and did he, did your father like that name?
No, he didn't like that name, and nobody that really knew him called him that. It was mainly the—
Could you, I'm sorry, could you say, you know, "No one that really knew him called him Pretty Boy Floyd"? Because, again, they're going to cut out my question.
Yeah. Well nobody, that really knew my father and really was a friend of his ever called him Pretty Boy Floyd. It was the newspapers and, and police and everything that—it was a colorful name, and it stuck with him, and it just became like a Robin Hood or something like that, you know. But he didn't really like the name.
And your dad did have a kind of family nickname, which was Chalk, and I wondered if you could kind of tell me, you know, what that comes from?
Well, my father had a nickname, Chalk, which was the name for uncured whiskey that the stills used to make, you know, and they'd bury these, these barrels of whiskey until they got ripe or cured or something. They were, in one state they were in what they called chalk beer. And he and he friends used to raid these places and get this chalk beer and drink it and have a good time on it and go to the dances and everything. And he liked it so well they nicknamed him after it.
You, do you have memories of, was moonshine, I know it was Prohibition days during this, this time, do you remember the people in your family or people in the area you came from in Oklahoma making moonshine? And—
Well, I never, I never remember any of our family that, that really had whiskey, what they called whiskey stills, and made moonshine. But I know they were in the mountains and in the area where my father used to live. But nobody of my family that I can remember ever... I didn't know about it if they did.
OK. Let's cut for a second.
OK. Go ahead and tell me more about your dad, and like his humor and his warmth.
There's a story that I like. When I was born, I was born in my aunt's house, my mother's aunt. And it was during the winter time, it was in December. And after I was born, in a few hours or so, after I was clean up and everything, my father took me into, and went to the mirror with me and held me up to the side of his face and said, "Oh, look. He looks just like me." And you know how kids will do their hands like this [gestures], I had big hands, and he, and he said, "Look!" I was doing my hands like that [gestures], you know, and he said, "Look! He's going to be a fighter. We're going to call him Jack Dempsey." But my mother wouldn't go for it. She went for part of the name. But that was, I thought that was kind of nice that he did that.
Did you grow up with this sense that, that, sort of an ambivalent feeling about your dad? Did you know that he was doing something wrong? That—
Oh yeah. I knew from the very start that he was a wanted person. And when I first started school, I knew he was wanted, because they entered me in school under a fictitious name. And I was, I was protective as a child could be of his father, you know. But I enjoyed being with him, and we did a lot of fun things. And he kept us laughing a lot. He would tease my mother about everything. I know one time I came home from school, and my mother was always afraid that I was going to be kidnapped, for some reason or another. But anyhow, I passed...these larger boys had a, had a pulley and thing up in one tree, and went to down another, and you'd get in this bucket and ride from one tree down to the other, kind of like a carnival ride or something. So it was fascinating fun, and I stayed after dark. When I went home, my mother was just scared to death, and when I finally got home, she told my father, says, "You know you've never given him a whipping." She says, "It's your turn to discipline him." And it'd been raining that day, and I had a raincoat on. So he said, "OK, I'll whip him." So he took my in the bathroom, and he said, "You take that raincoat off, and put it over the toilet stool." He said, "Every time I hit it with a belt, you yell." So he was beating the raincoat and I was yelling, and my mother was trying to break the door down. She said, "I didn't tell you to kill him." She said, "I just told you to give him a spanking." But he never hit me, never in his life did he ever hit me any, any way like that.
What was it like when he came to visit?
It was like Christmas time, or something, you know. It was a special occasion when he came around. Everybody was proud that, to see him, and you, he'd always bring gifts and bring the kids money, and bring me a dog or some kind of a gift. And everybody was just really happy to see him. And usually my grandmother would cook him a nice meal, you know, which he always loved her cooking, her biscuits, and stuff like that. And it was just a good time when he was around.
Woody Guthrie wrote a song about your dad [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ] . Do you remember that song?
Yeah, I remember it. The first time I ever heard the song about my father, my daughter was singing it. I had never heard it when I was a kid, because we never had a record player and didn't have a radio very much of the time when I was a kid, and I had never heard it. And it was on the Joan Baez album. I bought my daughter a guitar for her birthday when she was about twelve years old.
And she was playing this song and singing that. I said, "Where did you hear that song?" She said, "Well, it's on that album, Joan Baez album." And, you know, there's a couple of sayings in there that are used quite a bit, and nobody seems to know where they came from. Like, and he says, "Through this life you'll wander/Through this life you'll roam/You'll never see an outlaw drive a family from their home." Well, Woody Guthrie was trying to say the banks were driving people from their homes, but the outlaws were trying to help them. And another famous saying or cliché, or whatever you want call it, was, "Through, in this life you'll meet a lot of strange men/Some will rob you with a six-gun/Some will rob you with a fountain pen." And that's still true today. The guys who go to the liquor store and hold up with a, with a gun get five years, and maybe someone in a bank will embezzle $1000000, and their looked up like they're a hero.
So you yourself actually got in the middle of this kind of escaping from the police. Can you tell me any stories about that?
Well, my mother and father and I were living Tulsa one time. We'd lived there I guess two or three months, or something. And somehow the police got information that that's where my father was staying or something, and they raided the, the house. But, evidently, my father had a friend somewhere that told him the police were coming. And when they got there, my father and George Birdwell, at the time he was a partner with my father, they were gone. And I remember seeing the police come through the house and go in the back and look everywhere, everything. But my father and George were already gone. But, you know, it was quite an experience, quite an experience for a kid to go through something like that.
Did Sheriff Cotton, is that the, I mean, Ruth was remembering one of the, the lawmen who, who would often come out to, I guess, the house that she lived in looking for your dad. Do you, do you remember that? Do you remember him coming?
I remember that name, but I don't ever remember seeing him. He probably came to their—they lived down in Haskell. It might have been a sheriff down there. A lot of the sheriffs and police officers would've liked to have been able to capture my father. It'd be a pretty good feather in their cap or something, you know. So they, they, they kept surveillance a lot on places they knew my father would frequent. Like he'd go to Ruth's father and mother, my aunt and uncle. He'd go there a lot because he liked them, and they'd treat him real well and everything. He liked to be around the kids.
Did you have a sense that there was sort of like a network of people that were protecting your dad and passing information on to keep him, keep him safe? And—
Well, I think it was everybody, really. There was very few people that would say something that they would think that would hurt my father and endanger him or something. I think just, just the everyday people would do that. I know my father has went to strange people and they, they would hide him out and stuff, you know. He'd even tell them who he was. And I just think it was a general thing. It wasn't just a certain group. It was just practically everybody except the police, maybe, or the bankers.
OK. Your dad had a real sense of humor?
Yeah, my father had a nice sense of humor. He'd always keep people laughing and everything. And for the short time that I really, really got be with him, I got to know him pretty well, and he was always kidding around with my mother and everything, you know, keeping her laughing. He'd cook for us and do different things like that. I remember one time he took me fishing. So we went up in the mountains somewhere, and to a lake, and we couldn't get the fish to bite. It was a very clear lake and we could see them. And he said, "You know what we ought to do?" Said, "We ought to shoot those fish. We can't catch them." So he let me shoot the gun in, in the water like we're going to shoot a fish, you know. But we didn't get one, but we, you know, it's just something he thought I'd like to do. It was a lot of fun.
I think I'm done. Yeah, cut.