Tom Bouggous was a man who stood out in a crowd. He was an outspoken and powerfully built Indian who had lived in the Henryetta district for several years in the early 1900s. He had been the city marshal of the nearby town of Dewar, but was removed from office about a year before the shootout, after being charged with the unlawful sell of liquor. A few months before his death, he had been reinstated as a law enforcement officer by a special commission from Governor James Robertson. The responsibilities assigned Bouggous were not clear, but it was understood that he was only one of four men in this part of the country who had such a special commission.
The Ku Klux Klan was quite popular in the young, formerly Confederate state of Oklahoma and was used to doing whatever they felt was righteous. The Klan was responsible for crime and violence, despite some members’ involvement with law enforcement.
In September 1922, a group of masked Klansmen raided a hotel in the nearby town of Beggs. The establishment’s owner was alleged to have beaten his wife, and the Klan was going to “teach him a lesson.” The masked men carried furniture out of the hotel. Then, before burning the man’s livelihood to the ground, the Klansmen invited the town’s citizens to come and watch.
Some people in the area openly opposed the Klan. They organized into two groups, calling themselves the “True Blues” and the “Tiger Eyes.” Bouggous supported these organizations and was himself an open and vocal opponent of the Klan and its methods.
On the afternoon of Sunday, October 29, 1922, Bouggous attended an anti-Klan rally in Okmulgee and boasted that he led a group hostile to the Klan. Later that evening, he was watching a picture show at a movie theater in nearby Spelter City. Despite his casual nature, Bouggous knew he was a marked man and was never without a large revolver and a smaller second one.
Around 7:30 pm, two touring cars loaded with men wearing blue masks pulled in front of the theater. Four men got out and sent word for Bouggous to step outside and see them. Bouggous confronted the four men and they exchanged words. About this time, my dad, Joe Farris, then eight years old, was walking to the ticket booth to see a movie. He never made it inside, but he sure did see a show.
Apparently, the motive of the Klansmen was to abduct Bouggous, but they had no idea that two carloads of men wouldn’t be enough. As the Klansmen attempted to seize the lawman, a struggle ensued. Bouggous was struck on the head and fell, but when he hit the ground, he drew his guns and started firing. The Klansmen, heavily armed with rifles and shotguns, also started shooting. Bouggous was back on his feet by the time he fired the last of his rounds. Despite the Klansmen having superior weapons and the odds being completely in their favor, Bouggous was hit only twice. At this point, he could have run back into the movie theater for safety, endangering others, but instead he stood his ground and emptied his revolvers. He then staggered a few steps and fell on his back, mortally wounded, right in front of my dad. A constable named Davis emerged from church and fired nine rounds at the fleeing cars from his Sunday-go-to-meetin’ automatic pistol. My grandfather quickly collected my dad and took him from the scene.
As the cars sped away, one of the Klansmen fell from the running board to the gravel street, dead, about half a block from the shooting. The man was identified as Reece Atkins, a resident of Dewar who belonged to the local Masonic Lodge and was a 32nd-degree Mason.
Bouggous had been shot through the abdomen and “wounded” in the forehead. About a half hour after the shooting, he arrived at the hospital in Henryetta, where he died the following afternoon at 2:45 p.m. Before his death, Bouggous said he had killed Atkins and that he had been shot by a man named Clark. It was suggested that the purpose of the blue masks, instead of the Klan’s white hoods, might have been to place blame on the aforementioned anti-Klan group, the True Blues.
During the shootout, at least one bystander was hit. It is unknown whose shot did the wounding. It was soon learned that in addition to killing Atkins, Bouggous had also wounded two of the Klansmen. George Frew and a deputy sheriff named Homer Pennequine were identified as part of the raiding party when they sought treatment for their wounds. Both men were charged in the shooting, but released after a preliminary hearing.
1. I say “at least” because the first source I read made reference to a man named Markham who was hit in the knee while sitting close to the fight. Another article does not mention Markham, but instead reported the wounding of a man named Spurlock. It could have been that only one man was wounded and the name incorrectly recorded.
Originally published in This Land: Spring 2015.