Forestburg Bank Robbery of 1931

George Wylie, served as the First State Bank of Forestburg president. Photo courtesy of the Forestburg Historical Society

Bank robberies reached an all time high during the 1930s.  Gangsters such as Bonnie and Clyde, Machine Gun Kelly and Al Capone were household names across the nation.  But many lesser known men and women turned to a life a crime during this time as well.  The very difficult times of the economic depression of the 30s probably played a part in these well publicized crime sprees.  Desperate times called for desperate measures for some.  The big cities were not the only targets of the gun packing crews.  Rural areas were at risk as well.

Current picture of the First State Bank of Forestburg. Photo courtesy of the Forestburg Historical Society.

The bank was organized in 1917.  One of the first presidents was a gentleman named George Wylie.  As far as records show it served the community well without any problems until a cold winter day in 1931.

On 20 February 1931 business was being conducted as usual at the small town bank.  Bookkeeper Pryor McGee and Cashier E B Neeley were performing their day-to-day banking duties.  Customers came and went.  Locals A M (Marvin) Dunn and Barney Brogdon were both inside the bank on that Friday afternoon when the criminal element, so prevalent during this time, touched the small, peaceful town of Forestburg.

Siblings Barney and Ova Brogdon. Photo courtesy of the Forestburg Historical Society.

Brogdon’s sister, Ova, opted to wait for her brother in the car parked in front of the bank.  Two armed, unmasked men entered the bank.  The bandits were later described as “being between 25 and 30 of medium build and wearing striped unionalls.”  One gunman lined the occupants up against the wall at gun point while the other loaded their bags with the cash.  Then the robbers forced Neeley, McGee, Brogdon and Dunn into the vault and locked them in as they made their escape with $2952.28 from the bank’s coffers.

When  the crime was discovered, the authorities asked Ova, who was still waiting in the car, if she thought it was unusual that her brother had not come out of the bank in a timely manner.  She responded that she didn’t think much of it at the time, but did state she found it odd when two men ran by with guns and carrying bags.

In May, Frank Britton was arrested in Wichita Falls for the robbery.  Britton implicated his partner and crime, Lee B Lovell.   Both men were brought to Montague County for trial.  Britton received 35 years for the crime, Lovell received 7-10 years.  Britton also received an additional twenty years for the bank robberies in Boyd and Loving.

The bank had been privately insured and all but $700 of the stolen loot was recovered.  This however, was not enough to save the bank when the bank examiner visited after the robbery.  It was appalled to find that there were no paved roads leading in or out of Forestburg, that there was no police presence in town and they it was served by only one phone line.  He was amazed that his firm was insuring such a high risk investment.  The First State Bank of Forestburg was eventually forced to merge with the bank in Saint Jo.

The bank building is still proudly standing in Forestburg today.  It is the meeting place of the Forestburg Historical Society and a museum.  The historical society meets on the fourth Tuesday of the month at 7pm for those who have an interest in Forestburg and Montague county history.   Currently the museum is open during the Watermelon Festival and by appointment.

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15 responses to “Forestburg Bank Robbery of 1931

  1. Thanks, Shannon, for another great article. If it’s ok with you I will print copies to hand out at our next historical society meeting.

    Nancy Richard

    • Nancy of course that would be just fine. I would be honored in fact. I did go back and add info on when the Historical Society meets so that if anyone is interested, they can come to a meeting. Tony and I really enjoyed the meeting the other night. So much history, so many stories to tell. Thank you and the others for the kind hospitality.

  2. The bookkeeper on duty the day of the robbery, Pryor McGee, was my grandfather – and I am the oldest surviving grandchild of his 23. It is a fascinating story to me, of course, just b/c of the relationship.
    What amazes me, though – personally, is that I never heard the story until I was an adult! It was interesting to see the bank robbery re-enacted a few years ago during a special celebration of the town. My uncle, Chris McGee, portrayed my grandfather; and Burt Harvill, the husband of my aunt Edna Merle (Chris’s sister), played one of the bank robbers. It was fun, and rather emotional, for the members of our family who were there that day.

    • Cheryl, that is amazing. I hope you found my account to be accurate. Is there any information you would like to add? Someone mentioned the video of the re-enactment just the other day. I hope to be able to lay my hands on it, would love to see it. I so appreciate you taking time to share your story, and I hope you visit the blog often. I have a few digital copies of newspaper articles about the bank robbery that I could send you if you are interested. Thanks again, Shannon

  3. I am one of Pryor McGee’s daughters. I would like to correct some of the information in this story. The only people in the bank at the time of the robbery were George Wylie, (President) and Pryor McGee, (cashier and bookkeeper), along with J. M. (Meb) Dunn and Barney Brogden, (customers). Meb ran a grocery store in Forestburg and had entered the bank to make a deposit. Barney Brogden was the other customer. I have never heard of anyone named E. B. Neeley and he certainly did not work at the bank. I think it is better to keep information as accurate as possible for the next generation who may read the story.
    Also, the reenactment of the Bank Robbery during the Sesqui-Centenial in 2007, included my brother, Chris McGee, who played the part of our Dad, Pryor McGee. Eli Harvill, my brother-in-law played the part of one of the bank robbers. There is a video of this re-enactment and I believe Wassie Reynolds of Forestburg will have that video.

    • Ms Harvill, thank you so much for the additional information. The account I presented here came mainly from newspaper accounts just days after the robbery in 1931. While a wonderful resource, they often do not have all of the facts. I agree that accuracy is key. I could find no record that the bank president was there at the time of the robbery. Would love to have any information you are willing to share. Again, I appreciate your comments! I love learning more about Montague County.

  4. I have just one more comment. The picture of George Wylie does not look like him at all. George never had a beard to my knowledge. I knew him from my earliest memories.

    • I obtained this picture from the Forestburg Historical Society, it was labeled as George Wylie, bank president. So as far as I know, this should be accurate. Would love to hear from others who agree or disagree, to make sure the photo is properly identified.

  5. Shirley Hampton

    The picture is actually James Franklin Wylie, father of George Wylie, SR, George Sr was the father of George Wylie, Jr, known as Red Wylie. I verified this info from the daughter of George, Jr.

  6. Shirley Hampton

    Both Edna & Cheryl are related to me. Pryor McGee & my dad were ist cousins. Edna & I both grew up in Forestburg. My familys house was on the property where the Community center is now. The two story house across from the store was built by my uncle, known as Dutch Landers & across the street on the North side of the store was a house built by my g/father John, bro to Uncle Dutch. The bank used to be right next door to Uncle Dutch’s house, I have a picture of it.

    • Shirley Hampton

      I did post that I made an error. The Post Office was next to Uncle Dutch’s house, not the bank. I do have a picture of this.

  7. Shirley Hampton

    I have made 4 comments, none show up her, said waiting for conformation. Will make this brief. The picture is actually James Franklin Wylie, he was the father of George Wylie Sr, who married Ida Mae Landers. George & Ida were the parents of George Wylie, Jr(known as Red). Ida is related to me & I confirmed this with the dau.

    • I apologize for the delay in confirming your comments. Have been to East Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma attending the births of my three latest grandbabies and have been a tad out of the loop these last couple of weeks. I do appreciate this information and will pass it on to the Forestburg Historical Society.

    • Shirley, I am the great granddaughter of William F and Bessie Mae Landers and granddaughter of William Elna Landers. I am trying to research the family. Can you please e-mail me? elsl@sbcglobal.net. THANK YOU!

  8. Shirley Hampton

    Stacey, I am still waiting for your response to the info I emailed you. Have more but need to hear from you.

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