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Sequoyah County Sheriff's Office News

Sheriff and rare ‘Thompson Gun’ featured in upcoming documentary

Sheriff and rare ‘Thompson Gun’ featured in upcoming documentary


During the era of bootlegger days in Oklahoma, the FBI issued every sheriff in Oklahoma a Thompson Submachine Gun which also became known as the Thompson or “Tommy” gun to be used to apprehend criminals running rampantly and threatening life and property.

Sequoyah County Sheriff Bill Byrd, who served from 1933 to 1936, was among 77 other sheriffs in Oklahoma who were issued the Thompson Gun. The gun still remains in a safe location of the office of the Sequoyah County Sheriff along with all of its documentation, according to Sequoyah County Sheriff Larry Lane.

Lane, who was interviewed about the gun last week, will be featured in an upcoming documentary that showcases the life of former Cherokee County Sheriff Grover Bishop. Bishop, described as one of the most famous lawmen in the history of Cherokee County, was reputed to have killed 17 people while in office and was known to be proficient with the Thompson submachine gun.

Producer of the documentary “Grover Bishop-Making of a Legend,” B.J. Baker, a Tahlequah attorney, whose roots are in Cherokee County, said he decided to do the documentary after hearing so many stories about Sheriff Bishop.

According to a news article in a Tahlequah publication, Bishop’s preference for the "Tommy gun" or "trench sweeper," which doughboys used effectively in close combat in World War I, suggests he may have been involved in the final campaigns of the American Expeditionary Force in 1918.

According to Lane, the Tommie Gun was issued to Bill Byrd who served as sheriff from 1933 to 1936. According to documents, the gun registered as number 7985 was issued and shipped to Byrd on June 29, 1933.

Lane said the gun has not always been housed in a safe place inside the sheriff’s office. The gun was reportedly found several years ago under a floorboard of an old house in Marble City, believed to have been the residence of another famous outlaw in Sequoyah County, Pretty Boy Floyd.

Lane said the serial numbers on the gun matched the documents to the gun issued to Sequoyah County Sheriff Byrd back in 1933.

“There’s a lot of people who assume this gun belongs to Pretty Boy Floyd and some still call it Pretty Boy Floyd’s gun but it’s the gun that was issued to Bill Byrd, according to the documents when the gun was issued and later when an audit was done on the gun,” Lane said. Lane did not know if the others are still housed by the other sheriffs in Oklahoma.

According to Baker, Cherokee County does not have its Thompson gun which is why the interview in the documentary includes Lane and the gun belonging to the Sequoyah County Sheriff’s Office.

According to Ronald D. Morgan, author of several books on the “Bandits and Bad Boys of the Cookson Hills,” Bishop was certainly one of Oklahoma’s most legendary and fascinating lawmen” but little was written about his life.

Baker said he had been told stories about Bishop and thought he may write a book about him but then decided a documentary may be the better method of record.

Some facts about Bishop and according to his bio, include he “was born April 1, from 1890 to 1894. His place of birth shifts from Tennessee to Bentonville or Rogers, Ark. A family tree identifies his parents as James Washington Bishop (1875-1941) and Arizona Farriester Wylie Bishop (1872-1961). An article in the Tulsa World claimed he was "part Cherokee," although neither parent was listed on the Dawes Rolls.

According to other reports, “Carl Janaway, a Cookson Hills outlaw whose notoriety equals Bishop's, claimed the lawman couldn't read and signed documents with an "X." He did sign the registration form men of draft age had to complete after the United States entered World War I.

Tahlequah and the region had earned a reputation for violence in Indian Territory days, which persisted beyond statehood in 1907. Robbery, moonshining, and homicide remained part of the fabric of life throughout Cherokee County. In late May 1929, the Adair County Democrat reported Bishop's participation in the arrest of Robert Wolfe who confessed to the robbery of the general store at Eldon. They did find it necessary to maintain an appearance of enforcement of the prohibition laws. By early August 1929, the sheriff's department claimed to have captured 22 stills, 545 gallons of whiskey, 17,900 gallons of beer, and made 12 arrests since the members of the department were sworn in in early January.”

Residents who were unable to make a living and other impoverished citizens supplemented their income by turning to crime and were often shielded from officers of the law, according to the article in the Tahlequah Daily Press.

“I think this is a pretty neat piece of history,” Lane said.

“It’s a pretty valuable gun and worth a lot of money. I’m glad the gun and all of its historical documents are still here.”

Lane or Baker did not say when the documentary would be completed but the information will be made available on the website about Grover Bishop. The Director of the documentary is Jeremy Scott.

Article by Lynn Mcculley originally posted at the Sequoyah County Times

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