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As Dave mentioned in episode 127, members of the Pierpont/Dillinger gang, Pretty Boy Floyd especially, were seen by some of the populace as a Great Depression Robin Hood, ripping up mortgages, and stealing from banks to give to the poor. I have no proof that this was true, but I like to think it was; the legend did endure such that Woody Guthrie wrote a ballad in Floyd’s honor:
It was in the town of Shawnee,
A Saturday afternoon,
His wife beside him in his wagon
As into town they rode.
There a deputy sheriff approached him
In a manner rather rude,
Vulgar words of anger,
An’ his wife she overheard.
Pretty Boy grabbed a log chain,
And the deputy grabbed his gun;
In the fight that followed
He laid that deputy down.
Then he took to the trees and timber
Along the river shore,
Hiding on the river bottom
And he never come back no more.
Yes, he took to the trees and timber
To live a life of shame;
Every crime in Oklahoma
Was added to his name.
But a many a starvin’ farmer
The same old story told
How the outlaw paid their mortgage
And saved their little homes.
Others tell you ’bout a stranger
That come to beg a meal,
Underneath his napkin
Left a thousand-dollar bill.
It was in Oklahoma City,
It was on a Christmas Day,
There was a whole car load of groceries
Come with a note to say:
“Well, you say that I’m an outlaw,
You say that I’m a thief.
Here’s a Christmas dinner
For the families on relief.”
Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered
I’ve seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.
And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won’t never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home.
This song is on Guthrie’s album Dust Bowl Ballads, along with two songs inspired by Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Tom Joad Part 1 and Tom Joad Part II. For more about the Dust Bowl, with amazing photographs, because everything’s connected, yes, my sugar, it is…
companion book to the album, placing it into historical context: Woody Guthrie and the Dust Bowl Ballads * Nick Hayes
Pretty Boy: The Life and Times of Charles Arthur Floyd * Michael Wallis
Robin Hood * Howard Pyle (free ebook)