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Bryan County History: The life and times of notorious Lou Bowers

Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives
Special to Texoma Marketing and Media Group

By the time Lou Carpenter Bowers stepped off the train in Caddo, I.T., she already had a reputation as a whiskey peddler and horse thief. Orphaned shortly after their move from Mississippi, she and her older brother, John, spent their formative years in the company of a large gang of rustlers marauding the Choctaw Nation. At first, the wives looked after Lou, but she soon became John’s constant companion in criminal activities.

Years later, she became a cohort of Key Durant, former captain of the Choctaw militia and friend of deputy Tandy Folsom. Before arriving in Caddo one fateful day in 1893, they had spent a pleasant time shopping at several stores in Denison. Unfortunately, Lou was carrying two quarts of whiskey in her valise and Tandy confronted her about.

Prior to statehood, a person could be fined or jailed for bootlegging, dispensing or selling liquor locally, but it was a felony to transport it from another area and “introduce it into the territory.” Introducing carried a much harsher punishment, but was also harder to prove because the liquor had to be on a person or their mode of transportation.

Lou told Tandy to mind his “own damned business.” He replied that if she were a man, he wouldn’t tolerate her behavior. Key, offering to stand in for her, pulled a pistol and shot at Tandy. Tandy returned fire and killed him. It was determined that he acted in self-defense and Tandy was discharged. Lou was sent to jail in Denison, but it’s unclear if she was ever convicted. In later years, her knack for evading prison became legendary.

Lou rode with the Carpenter gang until 1898 when John, shot 14 times by officers, was captured near Wynnewood. John lived and was sentenced to 10 years in Leavenworth. Lou was arrested for stealing a preacher’s horse. A jury failed to agree on her conviction.

Next, she took up with ex-convict William Hill, a member of the Starr gang. Disguised as a boy, she and Billy were apprehended with a string of “borrowed” horses. Billy got 10 years; Lou was acquitted.

Lou partnered with Marion Watson and was with him in September of 1901 when he camped outside Ardmore and planned to ambush Sheriff Buck Garrett. Buck had shot Watson in July and he intended to have his revenge. Garrett had always treated Lou well, so she tried to persuade Watson to leave him alone. He refused. Lou sent Garrett a warning message. Later it was claimed that Lou just wanted Watson’s supplies. When Marshals Crocket Lee and George Holvey later killed him in a gun battle near Scipio, they gave her his wagon, team, gold watch and the $35 from his pocket because she told them she had been “held captive” and he owed her the money.

Lou was reported dead in Oklahoma City in 1908, yet gave an interview in 1912. Though previously jailed in Oklahoma City, it’s still possible a body was misidentified. Lou was not the only woman outlaw with black hair who dressed as a man.

In May of 1912, Lou Carpenter Bowers Reynolds gave her last known interview while incarcerated in the Ardmore jail, charged with a crime she said had been committed by her husband. She was about 35 by then, old by outlaw standards, but not too old to settle down and blend back into society. However, four months after her interview there was a little item on the court docket: Lou Reynolds, “disposing of mortgaged property.”

Bryan County History is a weekly feature contributed by members of the Bryan County Genealogy Library and Archives in Calera. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group. Is there a historic event or topic you want to read about? Contact the library at P.O. Box 153, Calera, OK 74730.