Charles (Pretty Boy) Floyd was raised on an impoverished Oklahoma dirt farm following his 1904 birth. Charles Floyd (no relation to ‘Pink’) hated the appelation ‘Pretty Boy’. It was given to him by a newspaper editor, and editors are all swine.
In a way it was rather flattering because it not only referred to the fact he was a rather handsome dude, he was also while it was at the height of his ‘crookdom’ known for his ‘Beau Brummel’ sartorial sense.
During the ghastly days of the dustbowl ‘Dirty Thirties’ Floyd joined a cadre of outlaws in the heartland of America, such as John Dillinger, ‘Baby Face’ Nelson, the Barker Gang, John Dillinger and, of course, Texans Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.
Those days were shit for the impoverished of the land, so they took off to do bad things to elevate them from the poverty to which the ‘system’ had relegated them. And, unlike the creepy gangs of today, they gained a certain ‘Robin Hood’ mythology.
Over the past couple of weeks I have been reading Pretty Boy Floyd by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. It was an item I picked up at the Rotary book sale and it has turned out to be a much better read than I had anticipated. But, why not? McMurtry, after alL. The Last Picture Show and Lonesome Dove, for example, show the guy has a bit of skill as a tale-teller.
Anyway, I have found the book to be a delight with the only drawback being that I know it isn’t going to end well for our hero, since he was mowed down by FBI weasels back in 1934 which is well before even I was born.
So why do I care about such a guy? Well, part of it is a retro revisitation of junior high school days. My chums and I, then, were avid aficionados of the exploits of early days bad guys. We knew about The Purple Gang, the aforementioned Floyd et al, Canada’s own ‘Old Creepy’ Karpis and, of course, Al Capone and the Mafia. It was the time The Untouchables was on TV as Walter Winchell led us along the bloody trails of Al, Frank Nitti and so forth. We rarely rooted for the good guys and Eliot Ness wasn’t truly a hero for us. Mind you, neither was Al. He was too evil and he deserved to die with his brain addled from syphilis.
No, we gravitated more to the hinterland robbers. Floyd was once livid when he was referred to in a newspaper report that called him a ‘criminal’, in his mind he was an outlaw or a bandit, and he saw a big difference. He, and perhaps a cohort, would rob a dinky smalltown bank – the banks of the sort that foreclosed on people like Floyd and his kin, so they felt no respect – take a few hundred bucks and go tearing off in their Hupmobiles and Durants. They didn’t terrorize and they didn’t hurt any ‘civilians’ or even cops for the most part. They didn’t travel in gangs of brigands and tear the little towns apart. They were raised in God-fearing families and no bank employee was ever hurt by any of these guys. Very different from out disgusting gang scene of today.
Eventually pathological FBI head J. Edgar Hoover’s g-men caught up with Floyd and, even though he had never killed anybody except a deputy accidentally in a gunfight, Hoover saw Floyd as a homicidal maniac and blamed him for the infamous Kansas City Massacre (Floyd was in a different state when that took place) , and therefore felt it justified his g-men murdering him, which they did.
And that is my tale of Charlie Floyd