Red Lake Nation News - Babaamaajimowinan (Telling of news in different places)

ATF Honors William Louis Pappan, First Native American, Post-Prohibition Era ATF Investigator Killed in the Line of Duty in 1935


WASHINGTON-The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) today honored the first Native American, post-Prohibition era, ATF investigator to be killed in the line of duty. At a memorial ceremony during National Police Week, the name of William Louis Pappan, killed 75 years ago, Dec. 4, 1935, was unveiled at the ATF Headquarters Memorial Wall, Washington, as ATF honored the fallen. ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson provided remarks and representatives from the Department of Justice, the National Native American Law Enforcement Association and Pappan's family were in attendance.

ATF recently discovered information concerning Pappan while researching related topics. Last September 2010, during a Bureau of Indian Affairs awards dinner hosted by the National Native American Law Enforcement Association, ATF presented the ATF Gold Star Medal to Pappan's 82-year-old son and other family members, noting that he "...died honorably, serving this country and the American people."

"ATF is proud to honor the memory of William Louis Pappan," said Melson. "His bravery, courageous service and ultimate sacrifice for his country are the hallmarks to which all ATF employees look as we carry out our duties."

Pappan stands among notable "firsts" in ATF's history. He was ATF's first Kaw Nation federal investigator; the first Native American, ATF investigator killed in the line of duty; and one of three Native American ATF investigators who served during Prohibition and the post-Prohibition era.

He was born on the Kaw Nation Reservation (Oklahoma) on Dec. 25, 1894, and his rich history includes a first cousin, U.S. Vice President Charles Curtis (1929-1933), who was the first Native American elected to that office. A great-great grandfather, Chief Monchousia, the great chief of the Kaw Nation, met with U.S. President James Monroe at the White House. Pappan, himself, served during World War I with the Oklahoma National Guard under the command of then-Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur; and as a traffic officer with the Tulsa Police Department.

In August 1935, he joined the U.S. Department of Treasury, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Alcohol Tax Unit (ATU) as an investigator in Tulsa, Okla. It was a rough and tumble period following the December 1933 ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment which ended Prohibition. The ATU, the precursor of ATF, had recently taken over duties from the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Prohibition Bureau, and its successor, the Alcoholic Beverage Unit, which were abolished.

In the midst of such changes, the newly created ATU was confronted with rampant anti-revenuer sentiments that simmered in almost every corner. Chaos ruled the day with corrupt local authorities; violent criminal syndicates that continued to illegally produce and distribute distilled spirits; battles for control of distribution networks; reluctant prosecutors; and a public that accepted liquor rackets as the norm.

It was in this environment that Pappan was sworn in during the summer of 1935 as an ATU investigator in Oklahoma. Four months later on Dec. 4, 1935, weeks shy of his 41st birthday Pappan was attacked and killed as he conducted late-night inspections at a nightclub in Tulsa. He was brutally beaten and shot five times in the back of the head.

Three men were arrested and tried in the case, but the results were less than honorable. One defendant was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years in prison; a second was acquitted. The judged dismissed charges against the third defendant indicating that another trial would have been too costly and someone was already serving time in prison.

During National Police Week observances, Pappan's name also will be unveiled on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington.

More information about ATF and its programs is available at


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