A Murder in Stringtown

By Richard Green

Chickasaw Deputy Meets Clyde Barrow   
In the summer of 1932, Gene Moore had been a deputy sheriff in Atoka County for about a year. By one account, this 30-year-old man of part Chickasaw descent liked his job, carried out his duties efficiently and was considered popular by the citizens of Atoka. Hard-working and God-fearing, with a wife and three children, he appeared to be a model citizen with a bright future in law enforcement and possibly as a community leader.

Born near Calera (south of Durant) in 1901, Eugene Capel Moore was one of twelve children born to Chickasaw citizen, Lemuel Capel Moore, and two successive wives. Lemuel was born in the former Chickasaw Nation in Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1847. He moved to the Choctaw Nation, near Goodland in 1868, and then relocated to Sterrett in the Chickasaw Nation in 1891. He served one term in the Chickasaw Legislature.

He was a successful businessman, which probably played a role in getting him elected and definitely played a role in his retirement. Although interested in politics, he preferred devoting his time and energy to his prosperous farming and ranching business around Calera. He amassed considerable wealth, but as a speculator, always risked losing his fortune. His luck did turn bad and he was wiped out financially before his death at age 82 in 1929.

By then, his son, Gene, had a wife and family to support. At the front end of the Great Depression, Gene Moore felt blessed to have landed the deputy sheriff's job. Of course, there were obvious occupational hazards.

Sometime after 10 p.m. on the evening of Saturday, August 5, 1932, Gene Moore and Sheriff Charley Maxwell drove the eight miles from Atoka to Stringtown apparently to investigate a disturbing-the-peace complaint. Sheriff Maxwell may have called on Moore (and not another available deputy) to accompany him to Stringtown because he wanted to ride in Moore's new Chevrolet. Since the source of the noise was a country-and-western dance, both lawmen felt sure that some of the dancers would be violating local, state and federal prohibitions against consuming alcohol. They arrived just before 11 p.m.

Confirming the men's suspicious behavior, Sheriff Maxwell walked over to the car and told the men that they could consider themselves under arrest.

Earlier that afternoon, two men who had stolen a car in Corsicana, Texas, drove north into Oklahoma. At some point, they were joined by one or two companions (accounts vary). The original pair were Raymond Hamilton and Clyde Barrow, who was on the way to nation-wide notoriety as Bonnie Parker's partner in crime. Bonnie and Clyde met in 1930, but were separated for two years during Clyde's imprisonment in Texas for robbery.

Paroled in early 1932, Clyde joined Bonnie and Hamilton for a series of small holdups, culminating in the gang's first murder in Texas in April. The crime spree continued throughout the summer of 1932, although Bonnie was not with the gang when the men rolled into Stringtown the night of August 5. According to witness Duke Ellis, Barrow and Hamilton had been dancing and drinking but "I did not see either of them get out of line. Then, Sheriff Maxwell and Gene Moore drove up."

The lawmen spotted some men who were apparently drinking in a nearby car and Maxwell went to investigate. According to Maxwell's other deputy sheriff, Oscar Folsom (who was not present), the two lawmen had in their custody a woman who had escaped from prison in McAlester. Moore stayed with her in his car. Evidently confirming the men's suspicious behavior, Sheriff Maxwell walked over to the car and told the men that they could consider themselves under arrest. Not suspecting trouble, he did not have his gun drawn. Pistol shots rang out. Maxwell was hit several times, but did not fall until he had taken seven bullets. Moore leaped from his car and ducked behind a Model T for cover. He drew his gun, raised up to see the assailants and immediately was dropped by a single bullet from a.30 caliber Stevens automatic rifle.

As Barrow and Hamilton made their getaway, they continued to fire shots back at the fleeing crowd. When help reached the fallen lawmen, they found Moore dead but Maxwell still alive. Reportedly close to death, he was taken to a McAlester hospital, where following surgery, he recovered, though he was "crippled for life," according to the newspapers.

Both Hamilton and Barrow escaped to join Bonnie Parker in Dallas. Their wave of violent robberies continued. Barrow reportedly killed three more men in Texas during 1932. Hamilton left the gang, was captured in Michigan and executed in Texas. Although they periodically laid low, Bonnie and Clyde continued their holdups, which increasingly involved shootouts and murders. On May 23, 1934, they were slain in a dramatic police ambush in Louisiana.

Gene Moore's funeral was held at the First Baptist Church of Atoka. On hand, according to the Atoka Indian Citizen, was "one of the largest crowds ever to attend a funeral in this section of the state to pay respects to a man who was admired and respected by all with whom he had come in contact."

Thirty-four years later, Bonnie and Clyde were immortalized (again) in the Academy Award winning film, "Bonnie and Clyde," starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. After the film was released, the late, great Chicago newspaper columnist, Mike Royko, disgusted by the movie's glamorizing the killers, wrote a column based on interviews he had with three sons of fathers who were killed by Bonnie and/or Clyde. One was Russell Moore, a Chickasaw veteran of the Korean War. He did not attend his father's funeral because he was less than a year old at the time. His sisters had been 7 and 3.

Moore said he would not be seeing the movie. "My mother was left with three children to support. We moved in with her parents and she got a job. There was no insurance. [She] was young and pretty when it happened, but she never married again. The roughest thing for me was growing up without a father. The only material possessions I had of his were a hat, his gun belt, and a gold railroad watch. And a picture. He was very tall. They tell me I look a lot like him."

Six years earlier, in 1962, an article in The Daily Oklahoman told of how Sheriff Maxwell's son, Ted, was offering to sell a shotgun and rifle owned by Clyde Barrow. The rifle was identified as the .30 caliber Stevens that had been used to kill Gene Moore. Maxwell said they "would certainly make fine display trophies for some organization or individual."

Bibliography

Eugene Moore was brought to our attention by his descendent, Michael Serbanich of Garland. Texas.

Beverly Wyatt, "Lemuel C. Moore," Council House Museum, Tishomingo, OK., 1971.
"Bandits Kill Undersheriff Moore," The Indian Citizen, Atoka, OK., Aug. 11, 1932, p. 1
Mike Royko, "Sooners Knew Terror, Shun Romantic Bonnie and Clyde Film," Oklahoma City Times, March 4, 1968, N3.
Rick Mattix, "Bonnie and Clyde in Oklahoma," Internet under Bonnie and Clyde.
Andy Phillips, "More About Barrow, Hamilton and the Death of Gene Moore," three part series in
Atoka County Times, March 7, 14, 21, 1968, all p. 1.

Last Updated: 08/28/2014