Report of James A. Bell. 1st BN, 3d INF, Okla. Natl. Guard.

1st Battalion 3rd Inf. Okla. Natl. Gd.,
Tulsa, Okla.
July 2, 1921

From: Major Jas. A. Bell, Tulsa, Okla.
To: Lt. L.J.F. Rooney, Tulsa, Okla.
Subject: Report on Activities of the Nat!. Gd. On the Night of May 31st and June 1st, 1921.

1. In beginning this report I wish to emphasize the difficulty of remembering time of the different orders ·and action taken. As everything happened so fast and unexpectedly I have a very hazy idea of the time and can only give it approximately.

2. About 9 o’clock P.M. on May 31st. two members of the guard, Sgt. Payne of the Battery and Pvt. Canton of the “B” company, came to my door and reported that a crowd of white men were gathering near the Court House and that threats of lynching a negro were being made, and that it was reported the negroes in “Little Africa” were arming to prevent it. As I had heard rumors of this kind on other occasions that did not amount to anything serious I did not feel greatly worried. However, I instructed these men to return to town and get all the information they could; see what the crowd was doing; whether they were armed or not and report back to me at the Armory. I then went to the Armory and called up the Sheriff and asked if there was any indications of trouble down there. The sheriff reported that there were some threats but did not believe it would amount to anything, that in any event he could protect his prisoner. I then called the Chief of Police and asked him the same questions. The chief reported that things were a little threatening, that it was reported that negroes were driving around town in a threatening mood. I then notified the commanding officers of the three Tulsa units, who were in the Armory getting ready for camp, to hold all men in the Armory, have them get into their uniforms, get all arms and ammunition ready so that if it became necessary and the Governor called us we would be ready. I, also, notified them to quickly but quietly, notify all members of the guard to report at the Armory without giving an alarm. I then returned to my home, just across the alley from the Armory, for my uniform. However, before I could get into it a runner came to my door very much. excited and reported that a mob was trying to break into the Armory. Grabbing my pistol in one hand and my belt in the other I jumped out of the back door and running down the west side of the Armory building I saw several men apparently pulling at the window grating. Commanding these men to get off the lot and seeing this command obeyed I went to the front of the building near the southwest corner where I saw a mob of white men about three or four hundred strong. I asked them what they wanted. One of them replied “Rifles and ammunition”. I explained to them that they could not get anything there. Some one shouted “we don’t know about that, we guess we can”. I told them we only had sufficient arms and ammunition for our own men and that not one piece could go out of there without orders from the Governor, and in the name of the law demanded that they disperse at once. They continued to press forward in a threatening manner when with drawn pistol I again demanded that they disperse and explained that the men in the Armory were armed with rifles loaded with ball ammunition and that they would shoot promptly to prevent any unauthorized person entering there. By maintaining a firm stand backed by Capt. Van Voorhis, Sgt. Leo Irish of the police department, a citizen by the name of Williams and the members of the guard inside this mob was dispersed. I then ordered an adequate guard thrown around the building with one man on the roof. I again called the chief of police and asked if any call had been made for the Governor and he informed me that they were trying to get in touch with him at that time. The chief asked me if I could send some men up town to clear the streets of negroes. I informed him that we could only go out as National Guardsmen with the Governor’ ·s orders and urged haste in getting in touch with the Governor before it was too late. This was, as well as I can remember, about 10 o’clock P.M. In spite of the late hour and demoralized conditions, the officers of the three units, “B” Co., Service Co., and the Sanitary Detachment had been active in getting in men and all supplies in shape. At this hour there was approximately 50 men all told in the Armory and others reporting right along. I had already instructed Capt. McCuen to have his Automatic Rifles ready and manned and plenty of ammunition laid out. (I will state right here, however, that we never sent these Automatics up town at any time because of the danger to non-combatants long distances away if we attempted to use them.) Approximately 110 serviceable rifles and 16000 rounds of rifle ammunition were ready for use at the Armory at this time, all under lock and key and strong guard. The Sanitary Detachment had supplies laid out. So much ·for our action before the Governor’s call.

3. About 10:30 o’clock, I think it was, I had a call from the Adjt. General asking about the situation. I explained that it looked pretty bad. He directed that we continue to use every effort to get the men in so that if a call came we would be ready. I think it was only a few minutes after this, another call from Adjt. General directed that “B” Co., the Sanitary Det. and the Service Co. be mobilized at once and to render any assistance to the civil authorities we could in the maintenance of law and order and the protection of life and property. I think this was about 10:40 o’clock and while talking to the General you appeared and assumed command.

4. When you moved with the first truck load of men to the police station you directed that I remain at the Armory getting the men out as rapidly as they reported and sending them to you. This I did, sending out detachments from time to time as you called for them. Under these instructions, I sent a non-com and four men to the Public Service Co.’s plant on West First Street and a like detachment out to the Water Works plant on the Sand Springs Road. I also sent a squad under Sgt. Hastings of “B” Co., to the Sand Springs substation on Archer between Boston and Cincinnati where the snipers had run the employees out causing the cutting off of the current from several buildings, among them the Brady Hotel. In the discharge of this duty Sgt. Hastings was wounded. As well as I can figure now, we had on duty from the Tulsa units by 6 o’clock approximately 125 men.

5. About 11 o’clock A.M. June 1st the negro wounded, prisoners and refugees began to arrive at the Armory when we turned it into a hospital making preparations to take care of them the best we could. All cots needed as well as blankets were ordered turned over to the Sanitary Detachment. Water and ice to take care of their needs was ordered. The citizens, church societies and Salvation Army brought in coffee and sandwiches for the men on duty and prisoners and refugees.

6. No rifles or ammunition were furnished to civilians at any time except the 2 rifles and 40 rounds of ammunition furnished to Capt. Galoway of the American Legion on request of Commissioner Adkison, and two rifles that had been loaned to the police department several weeks before by Capt. J . W. McCuen on my suggestion: at the request of the chief of police and Major C. W. Daley.

Jas. A. Bell,
Comdg. 1st Bn. 3rd In£. Okla. Nat’l Gd .


Extracted from: Halliburton, R. The Tulsa race war of 1921. San Francisco: R and E Research Associates, 1975.

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