Peg Leg and the Tulsa Race Riot

Quoted from Brewer, J. Mason. American Negro Folklore. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1968.

Peg Leg and the Tulsa Race Riot

Many legends have been told about the Tulsa race riot. There are, for example, those about white citizens masking themselves as Negroes to get into the Negro section of the town, those about the KKK burning crosses, and various others. This legend is about Peg Leg.

The Tulsa race riot was brought on when a Negro man had betrusted his white sweetheart. The two worked in a large drugstore in the heart of Tulsa. This drugstore had a storeroom which was on the top floor of the building and which the Negro had charge of. One day while bringing supplies down on the elevator to the drugstore, he and his white sweetheart exchanged heartless words, and she slapped him. This made the Negro angry. He grabbed the girl by the arms and held her very tight. The strength in his bronze muscles caused bruises on her arms.

When they reached the drugstore a group of people were there. The girl, being angry, shouted, "This nigger tried to rape me!" The white people in the drugstore were agitated and tried to seize the Negro. The owner of the store led the Negro to safety, but the Negro was later arrested by the sheriff. The white newspapers played the story up to the extent that both white and colored became very tense. The whites had planned to lynch the Negro, and the Negroes had planned to free him, and so one morning (this was in 1921), a group of Negroes went to the jail on Fourth and Elgin, two blocks from the heart of the downtown district of Tulsa, and freed him. This started the riot.

Peg Leg, a Negro veteran of World War I, lived on First Street, five blocks from where the whites gathered to go into the Negro section and seize the Negro again. Peg Leg had been stealing things from Dick Barton’s, a general store that had more ammunition than any other store in town. He slipped in the store and carried away ammunition all day Sunday and until ten o’clock Monday morning, when the white store operators were planning to seize the Negro again. Peg Leg had enough ammunition to hold the whites off while other Negroes looted the store.

Moving to the hill, six blocks from First Street going north, the Negroes made their stand. The whites burned houses, churches, and schools to get the Negroes out in the open, but the Negroes opened fire from the hill and overtook the whites with bullets. Some whites migrated beyond the hill and over the tracks to burn Negro homes. The Negro men on the hill, seeing their homes burn, rushed to save their loved ones, leaving Peg Leg, whose home was south of the hill, alone to battle the mob. He shot round after round of bullets for six hours. He did so much damage that the whites figured the Negroes had reinforcements. So they made a plea to cease fire and offered to let the Negro go free, but the Negroes had a sportsman ask for a franchise for their people. This was granted and the riot ended, but the smell of blood was in the air for months. They carried the bodies of whites away in wagons and threw them in the Arkansas river, south of the Negro district, to keep from revealing how many whites had been killed.

Today in Tulsa the Negroes have a complete section of the city. There everything is operated by Negroes including buses and taxis. Electric-meter readers, water-meter readers, milkmen, department store owners, and theater owners are all Negroes. At one time the Negroes had their own court house, and the building stands today as a living monument to fighting Peg Leg of the Tulsa race riot of 1921.

~CURLEE HACKMON


This should be compared to the story of Horace Peg-Leg Taylor as told by his daughter Lena Eloise Taylor Butler to Eddie Faye Gates, and appearing in Gates’ Riot in Greenwood.

3 thoughts on “Peg Leg and the Tulsa Race Riot

  1. I and a few of my grandchildren went to tulsa’ Greenwood Cultural Center & John Hope Franklin Park. I’m extremely saddened that my great-grandmother Lena Eloise Taylor Butler wasn’t listed as one of the survivors when she died in early 2000. I guess I expected something more or at least to see her name and all I remembered of my great-great grandfather is he had a peg leg.
    I and my family had the awesome experience of meeting Bishop Otis Clark before he passed in Seattle at the enrichment book center where we learned more about the riot as well as our great-great grandfather. I will need much understanding and wisdom to come to grips with it all. One thing I can say is my great-grandmother receive a medallion as an apology from the city of Tulsa and or state of Oklahoma. Which we now have and it is no consolation for whT our family endured.

  2. I’m one of the great grand children of Lena Eloise Taylor butler and I just want to know more about my heritage thanks!

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