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Oklahoma Journeys

Birth of Jelly Bryce


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Oklahoma law enforcement gets a "shot" in the arm this week on Oklahoma Journeys. Bryce, or "Jelly," Delf as he was called was one of the most famous law enforcement officers to serve in Oklahoma and perhaps one of the least known. His fast draw even made Life magazine. His story is the subject of this week's Oklahoma Journeys from the Oklahoma History Center.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Journeys. I'm Michael Dean.

Oklahoma, both as a territory and as a state, has had a fair share of famous law enforcement officials. The very nature of this region left it vulnerable to criminal element and in constant need of law enforcement. First, as Indian Territory, the land that is now Oklahoma provided a convenient hide away for criminals on the run. The various Native American nations had little resources for police or patrolmen and definitely did not have enough manpower to oversee all of their land holdings. Oklahoma territory in the west had vast expanses of open plains and the existence of the panhandle as a true "no mans land" that allowed many criminal elements to hide out in the area with little fear of being discovered.

With the settlement of the area by whites in the late 1800s, a distinguished group of individuals began to emerge. These were the various police officers, sheriffs, and marshals who proved unusually adept at catching criminals, gave their life in the line of duty, or were a part of some heroic effort to apprehend criminals or stop criminal activity. Included in this role call was Delf Bryce. Delf, or Jelly as he was more commonly known, had a remarkable history as a sharpshooter, a quick draw expert and Oklahoma City policeman.

Jelly was born on December 6, 1906, in Mountain View. Jelly Bryce knew that he had a gift for shooting from the time that he was a small child. As an infant he preferred teething on an unloaded handgun and often said that it was from that that he gained his ability with firearms. On his way to enroll in the University of Oklahoma Bryce was distracted by the news of a sharpshooting contest that was being held nearby. After winning the contest, both as an individual and as a hurriedly recruited member of the University of Oklahoma shooting team, Bryce was offered a job with the Oklahoma City Police Department. While working for the Oklahoma City Police Department, and later as an agent for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, Bryce frustrated criminals and delighted spectators with his demonstrations of quick draw and sharp shooting expertise.

Some of the tricks performed by Bryce included dropping a coin from shoulder height and then with the same hand drawing and shooting the coin before it fell below his waist. So quick and accurate was his draw and aim that Life magazine ran a feature story on Bryce. The magazine photographed Bryce with a strobe flash to capture in slow motion the action rated by scientists as occurring at an incredible speed.

You can learn more about Jelly Bryce in the law and order exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center on NE 23rd Street, just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Journeys is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.