FRANKLIN – Agent Samuel P. Cowley died form gunshot wounds in a shootout with the notorious Baby Face Nelson. He was born in Franklin, Idaho and has been memorialized with a roadside marker in the town where he was born. Cowley was 35 years old when he died.
At the entrance of Franklin where U.S. Highway 91 changes to State Street, across from the La Tienda on the east side of the street there is a stone marker. Although the stone marker is small it is significant to the history of Idaho’s first town.
“That marker is where the FBI agent Samuel P. Cowley was born and lived until he was about six years old,” said Susan Hawkes, the director of the Franklin Relic Hall. “Brenton Atkinson, a former mayor of Franklin and (active member of) the Franklin Pioneer Association put up the stone marker.”
The marker pays tribute to Cowley who was mortally wounded in a gunfight that killed Lester Gillis, aka “Baby Face Nelson.”
Cowley’s father, Matthias F. Cowley, was an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a polygamist with four wives. Samuel’s mother was Luella Parkinson Cowley. His half-brother Mathew was born to Mathias’ second wife Abbie Hyde Cowley. Mathew also became an apostle of the church.
Agent Cowley was called to serve a four-year church mission to the Hawaiian Islands when he was 17 years old. His son, Samuel Cowley, Jr., told a group of people gathered at the 2018 Oneida Stake Academy’s Heritage Day.
Samuel Cowley, Jr. filled in the gaps of his father’s life when he attended the gathering. After his mission, Cowley attended Utah State Agricultural College where he studied economics, played football and served as president of his Sigma Chi fraternity. He went on to George Washington law school and graduated in 1929, just about the time the Great Depression began. There was very little work for anyone, much less for new attorneys.
Cowley entered the fledgling Bureau of Investigation as an agent in 1929 and was promoted to the grade of inspector five years later. It wasn’t until 1935 the Bureau of Investigation became the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Part of the inscription on the memorial said Cowley’s reputation brought him to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover who selected him to hunt down the notorious mobster, John Dillinger.
“Cowley tracked him down and Dillinger was killed by FBI agents as he was exiting a theater in Chicago. Director Hoover then assigned Cowley to bring in Public Enemy #1 Baby Face Nelson,” the inscription says.
“It took Sam six months to corner Nelson. On November 27, 1934 along a county road in Barrington, Illinois, a shootout ended in the death of Baby Face Nelson. Unfortunately, Sam Cowley and another FBI agent were also killed in the gunfight.
“Sam Cowley always got his man – even at the cost of his own life,” the plaque continues. “J. Edgar Hoover said many times that Sam Cowley was ‘The Bravest Man He Ever Knew.'”