Oklahoma Scoundrels brings true stories from the state’s past to light

<em>Oklahoma Scoundrels: History’s Most Notorious Outlaws, Bandits, &amp; Gangsters</em> by Robert Barr Smith and Laurence Yadon (The History Press / Arcadia Publishing / provided)

Oklahoma Scoundrels: History’s Most Notorious Outlaws, Bandits, & Gangsters by Robert Barr Smith and Laurence Yadon (The History Press / Arcadia Publishing / provided)

 

For Laurence “Larry” Yadon, Oklahoma’s most notorious outlaws are not just people in the books he has written. They are people to whom he is (technically) related.

“My family is related by marriage to the Youngers of the James Younger Gang,” said the Tulsa renewable energy attorney and historical writer.

Yadon said it is not unusual to see relatives wearing nametags that say “Younger” at a family reunion.

“I grew up listening to these stories, and that sparked my interest in the American West, and in particular outlaw and lawman history,” he said.

Given that Yadon’s upbringing was full of stories, it is perhaps no surprise that he has recently co-authored his second book with Robert Barr Smith, Oklahoma Scoundrels: History’s Most Notorious Outlaws, Bandits, & Gangsters, through Arcadia Publishing’s The History Press.

Oklahoma Scoundrels came as a result of a request from a publisher to write a shorter, more condensed version of Yadon’s previous book, 100 Oklahoma Outlaws, Gangsters, and Lawmen 1839-1939.

After Yadon read Ron Padgett’s book Oklahoma Tough: My Father, King of the Tulsa Bootleggers in 2006, he became inspired to look further into the history of law enforcement in Oklahoma.

Yadon wrote 100 Oklahoma Outlaws with Daniel Anderson, and Robert Barr Smith served as consulting historian.

Yadon said Oklahoma essentially functioned as a haven for outlaws during the 19th and 20th centuries.

“This was an area that had extensive outlaw activity,” he said. “This was largely in the early days because federal law enforcement had no jurisdiction. The only law enforcement was associated with the tribes, particularly the Five Tribes in eastern Oklahoma, but they could only arrest members of their own tribes.”

For Oklahoma Scoundrels, Yadon’s primary task was selecting the juiciest and most interesting stories from Oklahoma’s famous history of outlaws.

“The first challenge was figuring out who were the ‘best of the best,’” Yadon said. “That took care of itself by simply looking at how many of these people are legendary. We looked at the significance of the robberies, how colorful their stories were and their significance in Oklahoma history.”

Yadon and Smith sifted through differing historical accounts to try to parse the truth about outlaws such as “Deacon Jim” Miller and Zip Wyatt.

“We like popular history,” Yadon said. “We find who we consider to be the best historians on particular individuals and topics, compare their sources … and select what we think is the most reliable version of events.”

As it turns out, that is not always what has been repeated in common lore.

“The next challenge was to separate, as much as possible, fact from fiction,” Yadon said. “We knew that there were many stories that were generated in the ’30s that were not intentionally lies or misleading, but stories have lives of their own.”

For example, Yadon said that Pretty Boy Floyd, famous for tearing up people’s mortgages while robbing banks, did so, but not as much as people tend to think.

“Nor did he help poor people strictly to be a Good Samaritan,” he said. “But more frequently, helping poor people was a part of his efforts to hide from the authorities.”

Belle Starr is another example of historical embellishment.

“One of the things that people are most surprised to learn is that Belle Starr, so far as we know, was never involved with any kind of train robberies,” Yadon said. “The largest thing she was ever convicted of was a horse theft.”

Visit arcadiapublishing.com.

 

Print Headline: Fugitive findings, Laurence Yadon brings the truth about Oklahoma’s past to light in Oklahoma Scoundrels.

Ian Jayne

This article was written by an Oklahoma Gazette contributor. To reach an editor, please email jchancellor@okgazette.com with this story's headline in your subject line.

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