Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Boley Experience

Researching your ancestors, gathering their stories can give great insight into who they were, how they lived and why they migrated to other parts of the country.  These stories most often provide clues and other avenues to further guide your research.  Who knows, they may have been part of history!  Well, I have such a story.  My cousin Jafar gave me the contact information to the last remaining descendant to my paternal great uncle – Warren Hobson.  

Warren Hobson
After leaving Chickasaw County, MS from a little town called Houlka, Uncle Warren decided to head west.  Cousin Pearl said, “life in Houlka, MS in the early 1900s was rough and like others, her dad wanted a better life for his family.  Uncle Warren and his family migrated to Paden, Okfuskee, OK somewhere between 1909 and 1911.  Eventually, Uncle Warren moved again to a now famous town – Boley, OK.

Boley, Oklahoma was established in August 1903 and Incorporated on May 11, 1905.   Boley, Creek Nation, Indian Territory, established as an all black town on land of a Creek Indian Freedwoman Abigail Barnett. Boley was organized by T.M. Hayes, first town site manager. Named for J.B. Boley, white roadmaster, who convinced Fort Smith & Western Railroad that blacks could govern themselves. This concept soon boosted population to 4,200. Declared National Historic Landmark District by Congress May 15, 1975.  (Inscription on Oklahoma Historical Society plaque honoring Boley).

Southern migrants in search of better opportunities flocked to Boley and the town experienced rapid growth over the years.  By 1912, Boley contained fifty-four business establishments, which included five hotels, seven restaurants, four department stores and an ice plant.  Booker T. Washington came to the town of Boley to document its progress.(1)

Cousin Pearl shared Uncle Warren was a respected farmer in Boley.  He was active in church and also a member of the Masonic Lodge.  Her mother’s family (Aldridge), also migrated to Boley.  In fact, her Aunt Bessie married Lewis Dolphin.  The Dolphins’ owned and operated Dolphin’s Store in Boley.  Uncle Warren owned a large home and would often entertain company.  

Masonic Hall Temple

Everyone took care of each other.  Cousin Pearl wishes people today were like they were then.  The old women would catch and kill Pullet (young Hen), make soup and take it to people who were ill.  These women would go to homes and help with the housework.  If someone grew a lot of vegetables they would share with others.  It was no such thing as taking money for it because people at that time didn’t have too much money to start off with.

Cousin Pearl shared, Boley was a town that did not have white people living there. She recalled a neighbor that lived across the street who operated a service station in town - Hence Love and Sic Love. If someone were coming to make a delivery to Boley they would stop at the service station and Langston McCormick, the town sheriff, who lived next door to them, would come and meet the delivery person to make sure the deliveries reached the stores in Boley.


Boley’s Bank, was ran by a man named Mr. D. J. Turner.  He was a friend and lodge member with Uncle Warren.


Farmers and Merchants Bank


What came next in the interview surprised me.  Cousin Pearl shared her recollection of 1932 when Pretty Boy Floyd, a notorious criminal, came to Boley two days prior to the robbery disguised as a bank inspector. 


Pretty Boy Floyd



Banks were being robbed all over during this time.  But, no one bothered the people in Boley.  Well, this time crime had come to Boley.  Floyd, Mr. D. J. Turner and Langston McCormick (Sheriff) happen to be at their home two days prior to the robbery.  Uncle Warren had bootleg whiskey, which wasn’t legal in Oklahoma then.  One of the sharecroppers lived on their land named Palmer Harper would make the liquor and put it

Palmer Harper - 1930 Census for Boley, OK


in fruit jars.  People would come to their home to get a drink because there wasn’t a bar in town. When Floyd got ready to leave, Pearl and her brother Joe were standing in the front yard by the swings.  They were being nosey to see Floyd because he was white.  They didn’t know who he was; they just wanted to see this white man.  They were not allowed to approach people so they were just standing there.  When Floyd came out of the house, he looked at her (she always wore a band around her head).  He asked Uncle Warren, that little Indian looking girl, what’s her name and asked Uncle Warren if he could give her some change?  Uncle Warren looked at her mother who at this time had walked out on the porch, to see if it was ok and she nodded yes.

Floyd gave her some coins.  She wanted to give her brother Joe some so she gave a dime and nickel to her brother because he also was standing there.  Floyd gave her a quarter and some more coins.  He touched her long braids laughed and turned to her dad and mom talked briefly and left.  Floyd didn’t look and act like a criminal. 

She could remember the day the bank was robbed in November 23, 1932.  She learned later that Floyd’s purpose when he came posed as a bank inspector was to see how to get in and out of Boley.  He told his men there was no way out and discouraged the robbery but they didn’t listen. 

Cousin Pearl said she had gotten out of school early that day and was at the Dolphin Store with her Aunt Bessie.  The men drove up they made a U-turn and parked in front of the bank.  Mr. Turner would always go home at noon for lunch, which was like five blocks down the street.  He came out of the bank and walked across the street in front of Mr. Hazel’s store.  He was in the window putting up decorations.  When Mr. D. J. Turner got in front of Mr. Hazel’s store he stopped and turned around to go back toward the bank.  Just as he got near the bank, Birdwell and Patterson stepped out of the car.  As the men were approaching the door of the bank, Uncle Horace and Mr. Bradley were coming from Mr. Thomas drug store walking going back to the pool hall.  Mr. Bradley was the town undertaker and Uncle Horace ran the town’s Pool Hall.  Just as they were near the bank they heard the gunshots.  Inside the bank was Langston McCormick’s brother named Herbert McCormick.  Birdwell demanded the money.  Mr. Turner pulled the alarm and Birdwell shot and killed him.  Herbert McCormick shot Birdwell. People figured out what was happening and the men did not make it out of Boley. 

Boley's Council
 A young boy named Sam Harper was at the pool hall had grabbed a gun out of the chest where uncle Horace kept guns.  It was Sam who shot the black guy, Charles Glass.  She and her cousin named Boots Aldridge were at the store with Aunt Bessie.  They had come there after school around noon. They started to go out the door when the shooting started.  Uncle Lonnie Dolphin ran the post office and yelled across the street to get back in the store.  Aunt Bessie was jumping up and down screaming.  All you could hear were shots fired.

Langston McCormick brought his wife to their house.   He and Uncle Warren got their guns and went down to the bank.  By the time they got there it was over. 

1930 Census for Boley, OK -- Uncle Warren and Family

When hard times hit again, the family left Boley, Oklahoma in 1936 and migrated to California.  The names Cousin Pearl mentioned in the interview were found in the 1930 Census.  It’s important to look at the whole community when researching census records, not just the page your ancestors appear.

(1)    Boley:  Oklahoma’s Famous Black Town written by James Shaw Sr.
(2)    1930 Census of Boley, OK –
(3)    Boley pictures – Google Images