Pretty Boy Floyd

Outlaws and murderous psychopaths quite often enter into folklore as heroic exemplars of a lost crusade or misunderstood adolescents forced into a life of crime by tragic circumstance beyond their control. Jesse James and his band of malcontents became an unfortunate consequence of the murderous guerrilla war that obtained on the western frontier during the Civil War. William Bonney proved to be an otherwise innocent young man who fell prey to the carnage associated with a range war in New Mexico. Needless to say, romance and reality dramatically diverge in the case of the James gang and Billy the Kid. Yet, that matters not one wit. Truth may be stranger than fiction, but latter is what remains in the public memory.

Between 1929 and 1934, Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd made his bid to become a member of that same bandit pantheon. His exploits, real and imagined, provided a visceral diversion for men and women struggling to deal with the darkest days of the most comprehensive economic collapse in the nation’s history. The generosity he allegedly bestowed on those less fortunate somehow served to mitigate the more reprehensible aspects of his lawless career.

Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana perform elaborate feats of literary legerdemain in an attempt to cast Floyd as the stuff of legends—a somewhat sanguinary version of Huck Finn. Yet, for all their talent, Charles Arthur Floyd remains a feckless soul who deserted his family to pursue a life that was brutish and mercifully short. A third-rate thief, Floyd seems to have been undeservedly elevated to national stature by a law enforcement community eager to justify its failure to bring him to book.