Legendary Lawman: Luther Bishop (1885-1926)
Few Oklahoma law enforcement officers have attained the magnitude of respect from fellow lawmen and fear from outlaws that State Crime Bureau (now Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation) Agent Luther Bishop did. He measured up to the near-mythical status of Old West Oklahoma giants Heck Thomas, Bill Tilghman, and Bass Reeves. Possessed of unshakable integrity and valor, he personally apprehended some of the most dangerous criminals in Oklahoma history, taking several of them down with his two .44-caliber pistols in face-to-face shootouts. He once saved the life of Oklahoma County Attorney and future OKC Mayor O. A. Cargill. When a cornered outlaw whom Cargill and Bishop were pursuing got the drop on Cargill and pointed his gun at him, Bishop drew his own pistol and killed the man before he could fire on Cargill.
Bishop played a courageous role in bringing the perpetrators of the Osage Reign of Terror to justice. (Federal) Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Tom White helmed the successful prosecution of many of the murder conspirators. He specifically requested that the Oklahoma governor allow Bishop to join his team, which he did. Bishop’s crucial contributions in that regard, praised by White himself beyond those of any other Oklahoma lawman, are mentioned in “Honest Lawman Arrive.”
His life ended at age forty-one in December 1926 in a murder that ominously demonstrated the still-fragile nature of societal order in the state through the early decades of the 20th century. He was shot seven times at close range while sleeping in his own upstairs bed with several family members in the house. Four of the shots pierced his lungs. Even with the complete disadvantage in which he found himself in his totally dark room, physical evidence, including broken furniture and Bishop’s own cut and bruised hands and fists, indicate that he put up a whale of a fight.
Suspects in the crime ranged from the infamous Matt Kimes and his gang to unknown criminals to corrupt lawmen to Bishop’s own wife Edith. In addition, important evidence within the house was apparently tampered with following the attack. Retired OSBI investigator Dee Cordry believes Bishop’s central role in bringing William K. Hale himself and other ringleaders in the Osage Reign of Terror to justice prompted his murder. Cordry’s reasons include the unusually “excessive” violence involved in both Bishop’s murder and some of Hale’s killings, as well as the victims’ important connection not just with the Osage murder investigations overall, but Hale’s role in them specifically.
The crime was never solved. It occurred during an already extraordinarily tense time for Bishop. Someone had recently shot a bullet through the side of his car as he drove it. He warned his family when he left for his final assignment, a few days before his death, that he might never return alive, something he had never before done.
Beyond the legacy that Luther Bishop left as a martyred patriot and lawman, was his son Leo. A few weeks before Luther’s death, he visited with the fifteen-year-old regarding his plans after high school, still a couple of years away. When Leo, an active participant in his church since eight years of age, hesitated to comment, his father gently remarked that he heard he was considering becoming a preacher. When the boy replied that he was, Luther said, “Well, son, I have but one thing to say. If you are going to be a preacher, prepare yourself for it and be the best there is.” And that is exactly what Methodist clergyman Dr. Leo Bishop was throughout his long career of ministry in Oklahoma City.
The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book
Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
which can be purchased HERE.
View the inspiring 2-minute preview video HERE.