• Red Nichols, Holstorian

"Jelly" Bryce and his Myres holster

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

My interest in D.A. 'Jelly' Bryce is relatively new; formed during the research for "Holstory" the book. His name simply kept cropping up and genealogy being a tapestry, we pulled at every thread until we understood his, completely.

The legends are just that and largely were spun by researchers who encountered some newspaper clippings and became metaphorical 'dime novelists' in the vein of Cunningham and Arnold who wrote Tom Threepersons' false tales.

That's not to say that the prior research was wrong, per se. It is clear, though, that their stories suffered from a lack of complete information and then analyzing some of it incorrectly. And at least one set of books about him is a self-professed, fictional retelling of these stories.

It helps that time has passed. Notably the 1940 Census results were not available to the public until 2012 and it is there that we identified Jelly's second wife, an Englishwoman.

Jelly was an FBI agent eventually; that is, prior he was an agent for Hoover's Bureau of Investigation that was not officially armed, and before that he was an Oklahoma City police detective. His qualifications for all those roles? He was a gunfighter with notches on his grips when he came to Hoover's attention. Hoover was actively seeking out the gunmen of the 1930s because of the gangsters who included Machine Gun Kelly, John Dillinger, Ma Barker, etc.

Notice that Bryce is wearing 'spats' on his shoes.

Jelly claimed to have killed a major gangster who, as he lay dying on a movie theatre floor, gave him the "Jelly" nickname. Didn't happen. Within Bryce's circle of encounters there was only, and very peripherally, the killing of John Dillinger and it was not he who shot John. Nor, according to official accounts that place all the agents at the scene, was he even there. But in asking the State of Oklahoma to let him use the Jelly nickname when he ran for Governor of the State after leaving the Bureau, that's the way he told it.

Regardless, his nickname "Jelly" does not appear in the record until 1945, when a syndicated columnist mentions the Life magazine article of the same day; and he isn't called Jelly in the Life article.

And in telling it, he claimed that a 'jelly' was gangster slang for a snappy dresser. And even the limited images we have of Bryce certainly fit that. So prior biographers didn't question that tale and repeated it. But the term 'jelly' in the gangster slang of the 1930s and 1940s meant 'coward', as in 'knees turning to jelly' in fear. More likely he got the name the same was that Frank "Jelly" Nash got it: Nash's claim to fame, other than the 5Ws of the gangster's murder, was for blowing up bank vaults with gelignite, slang name 'jelly'. We do know that Bryce had a very bad temper and perhaps that's where the 'jelly' moniker originated.

The above revolver not being both gold and engraved, perhaps it was true as he claimed, that he did not ever fire the fancy one.

He wore an S.D. Myres 'Threepersons' holster with a .44 Special Wolf & Klar revolver in it; his fellow Oklahoma City officer, Jerry Campbell, had an identical set of revolver and holster (plus more of each!). The location of Jelly's revolver isn't known to us but Jerry's is, in a private collection, and we have a newspaper article about Bryce's that includes its photograph.

1945 and Life magazine. Soon he succeeds in his hunt for Public Enemy Number One, Matt Kimes, who was run down by a delivery truck and somehow didn't survive his injuries with Bryce at his bedside in hospital.

Bryce's Myres was impliedly modified for a quick draw. And no less a person than Dace Myres appeared in a newspaper of the period describing it. Those special features, though, were standard: he referred to how the holster rotated on his belt to increase the speed of his draw; and this was a function of agents Bryce and Campbell using Myres "Threepersons" model 614 holsters with Sam's standard belt tunnel for wide belts, on their narrow pants belts:

The image of Jerry Campbell with his Myres is best known for the Thompson submachine gun demonstration he's firing. Below is not the backside of his Myres, but of fellow agent Walter Walsh. In both cases notice the very large tunnel for the narrow pants belts.

Let's look at some numbers. He was born as Jacob Adolphus in Kiowa City, 1906. He was part Kiowa Indian and that led to at least one celebrated punch-up with a fellow officer at OCPD when he was insulted about same. His name changed, a lot. In 1910 he was Jacob A. Bryce but in 1920 he was J. Delph Brice (sic) and in 1930 he managed to appear in the census not once but twice! On the 3rd of April that year he was Delph Bryce in Kiowa City and on the 8th he was in Oklahoma City as a policeman. He surely was pulling the leg of the census taker that first time because he said he was a shoe salesman; yet it is the same man in both cases because in the first instance he is in the home of the father and sister we know him to have, and in the second he is the OCPD officer that we know him to have been.

It was in 1930 that his second wife, Minnie Alexander Kirkman, arrived from Liverpool England and it is in the 1940 census that we learn of her existence: they had married in Virginia in 1936 and in 1935 she was living in Chicago. And so was Jerry Campbell, good friend to Jelly Bryce. Surely, this is how they came to meet. And just as surely, she was shopping for a 'green card' (not called that then) and their marriage didn't last long. She had her father and mother over to meet Jelly, she and her mum took a trip into Mexico, then mum returned home at the death of Minnie's sister, never to return. And Minnie disappears from the record. For now; the 1950 census results are just a year away :-).

The most famous story about Bryce is 'kinda true'; that is, it really did happen but in a rather inglorious way. The tale is told that Bryce responded to the spotting of an associate of the notorious gangster Clyde Barrow, R.I.P. Thereafter, it is said (from someone having read a newspaper article) that Bryce burst into the gangster's rooms and shot him dead with five shots from the holster when the baddie already had his gun drawn. Case solved.

But when we read all FOUR contemporaneous articles about the killing, though, which happened while Bryce was at Oklahoma City P.D., we see the complete truth: the man was not a gangster at all. Instead he was a very unfortunate man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In sifting the four articles together we learn that yes, there was a report of Barrow's erstwhile associate, one Harvey Pugh, being in that vicinity, and Bryce did attend the building in search of him. In the process he encountered the mother of the landlady in that building -- and the daughter was entertaining a man who was not her husband, in her own rooms there. When Bryce came through the door the chap who was named O'Donnell, appears to have thought Bryce to be the husband and from his position on the bed therein, had his pistol trained on the door. Bryce, seeing the gun, did his 'jump to the left' that was the FBI draw and emptied his revolver into the man's head. As with all gunfights, it was won by the first person to decide to shoot, and that was not the chap on the bed. Who was not a gangster.

Jelly's third wife, Shirley is with him above, at some point after their wedding in 1944. Dee and George are as-yet unidentified.

It was this kind of shooting that made its way into Bryce's FBI application after his mate Jerry Campbell had been accepted; and it was this kind of gunfighter that Hoover was seeking. Application approved! But eventually he killed so many men -- the Life magazine article attributed 23 men to his gun -- that eventually he was consigned to performing only shooting demonstrations. And it was from this duty that he resigned to run for Governor of Oklahoma -- he garnered just six percent of the vote, where's the DNC when you really need them? -- and it was after his third wife's death in '73 that he, too, died; in his case of a heart attack in '74 while in Vinita OK, alleged home of the Cherokee Indian, Tom Threepersons and his second wife, Lorene ('legendary' because Tom did not ever travel into OK after 1917 when he fetched his first wife Susie from Choctaw Nation to marry her in Colorado (!).

D.A. "Jelly" Bryce, it seems, was a gunman in the vein of the fictional James Bond: "a blunt instrument" who, like Tom Threepersons, "merely plowed his way into tight holes, and very calmly shot his way out of them again". Fade to black.

Both the Myres holster, and the W&K revolver, above were Jerry Campbell's and are in a private collection today. The whereabouts of Jelly Bryce's identical set is not known.

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