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.
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.
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.