Jelly Bryce – The FBI’s Top Gun Slinger

Jacob Aldolphus Bryce, aka Jelly Bruce, is a gun slinger that time has largely forgotten about. While men like Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill, and Frank Hamer live on as legendary gunfighters, the man named Jelly is nowhere near as well known. Even so, he was a very accomplished shooter, a gunfighter, and one of J. Edgar Hoover’s favorite agents. He was influential in firearms training, for better or worse. Let’s explore a man known for his gun hand, his manner of dress, and his history of winning gunfights. 

The Origins of Jelly Bryce 

Jacob Bryce was known as a skilled gunhand from a young age. Like many boys of the era, he became skilled at hitting small game and helping feed the family. His skill led him to be a fairly well-accomplished competitive shooter. Bruyce had exceptional vision, reportedly better than 20/20. He was also an athlete who played football and was well-known for having outstanding hand-eye coordination. 

After high school, he dedicated himself to becoming a lawman and became an Oklahoma State Game Agent. He didn’t last long, and out of some form of what was likely youthful frustration, he decided to go to college. That didn’t last long, either. He didn’t even make it to the college. He stopped to shoot in a local competition that offered a $100 prize. There, he met the Oklahoma City Police Chief, stunned by the Jelly’s ability to shoot. He offered him a job on the spot, and Mr. Bryce became Detective Bryce at the age of 22. 

His First Gunfight 

Jelly didn’t have to wait long to prove his mettle. On his second day on the job, he encountered a thief who was trying to steal a car. When Jelly announced himself, the thief pulled a pistol, and Bryce responded in kind. The criminal took a round but lived. 

A short time later, Bryce responded to the shooting that earned him the nickname Jelly. A fellow officer was outgunned and fighting through a hail of gunfire from three criminals. He lept to the officer’s aid on the running board of a moving car and shot two of the criminals. As one of the criminals died, he remarked, “I can’t believe I was killed by a Jelly Bean like you.”

Jelly Bean was slang for a well-dressed man. Jelly Bryce was good at two things, gunfighting and dressing well. Which he was better at remains disputed. 

As Jelly’s career progressed, he found himself in numerous gunfights and shot down numerous men when necessary. Oklahoma City was a violent place, and the man named Jelly was right where he needed to be. In July 1934, Bryce was assigned to hunt down Harvey Pugh, an associate of Bonnie and Clyde. Pugh was reportedly traveling with Ray O’Donnell and Tom Walton. He tracked them to a hotel and confronted Walton and O’Donnell. 

O’Donnell faced him with a M1911 in each hand. Even with a wanted criminal having the draw on him, Jelly Bryce drew his gun, got off the X, and killed the man. This event drew the eye of the FBI, which had recruited him as a Special Agent. 

Jelly Bryce and the FBI 

In the 1930s, the FBI wasn’t winning the war on gangsters. The college-educated, upper-class agents might have been smart, but they weren’t used to playing in the mud with criminals. As an experienced detective and gunfighter, Jelly Bryce was the man they needed. J. Edgar Hoover waived the college requirement and put the man on the job. 

Jelly Bryce served with the FBI for the rest of his law enforcement career. His reputation grew and followed him to the point where criminals would surrender to him immediately when they heard he was Jelly Bryce. Jelly also taught at the FBI Academy and influenced the agency’s firearm tactics. He was well known for his skill with a handgun, a Thompson, and a shotgun. 

This included mandating concealed carry for agents, as well as a holster that allowed for a quick draw. He also taught a hip shooting method that set back shooting techniques with law enforcement for decades. Admittedly, this technique worked for him, but firing from this odd, low hip position didn’t work for everyone. 

Why Was He So Good 

What made Jelly Bryce so good at shooting? He would famously demonstrate dropping a coin from head height and drawing and shooting the coin from waist height before it hit the ground. He was said to be able to draw and fire a shot in 4/10s of a second. How was he so good? 

His spectacular vision likely helped. He once said he could see the bullet move to the target. The man also has excellent hand-eye coordination. Combine that with the fact he was notorious for practicing, which made him one helluva shot. People often look for this miraculous skill he must have had, and while he had some advantages, he also reportedly practiced drawing and shooting for hours a day. 

He had some natural skills, but he would have never been as good as he was without the work he put in. If you take anything from this article and Jelly Bryce’s life, it’s that training matters. It made Jelly the famous gunfighter he was and likely allowed him to live longer than most gunfighters. If you’re interested in the man behind the gun, check out the book Legendary Lawman by Ron Owens. 

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.