PEOPLE THAT BUILT OUR COUNTRY – BONNIE and CLYDE AND FRANK HAMER
History is full of individuals that have had a major negative impact on society. As horrendous are the deeds, these individuals are engrained in the folk lore of a country and become the subjects of legends, stories and literature. Many times the criminals become folk heroes. This was very apparent in the 1880 and later when dime novels turned outlaws into heroes and in the 1920s and 30s when exploits of gangsters were enjoyed by a country caught in the throes of the Great Depression. As famous as are these despicable individuals are the people that bring them to justice are almost as famous. Pat Garrett killed Billy the Kid, Marvin Purvis gunned down John Dillinger on the streets of Chicago, tracked down Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Face Nelson while Elliot Ness sent Al Capone to prison. Even our own geographical North Central Louisiana had its’ claim to fame for famous outlaws.
When I was in the fourth grade we were returning from Shreveport on old highway 80. Interstate 20 was under construction so the majority of traffic went through small towns that dotted the highway. My father slowed at an old white house with a large front porch and told me that they put Bonne and Clyde’s bodies on the porch so that people could see them after they had been killed. Of course I asked who they were and he told me they were bad criminals that had been ambushed. That was the end of it until a few years later when I pulled out a book of gun stories and saw a chapter about Bonnie and Clyde. Instead of embellishing the couple the article told the story of the man that tracked down the pair and was at the ambush site when Bonnie and Clyde met their end.
Then in the late 60s Hollywood took the story and turned it in a blockbuster hit. Winning best supporting actress and best cinematography, Hollywood took liberties and molded the plot in such a manner that people would leave the movie in tears following the killing of Bonnie and Clyde. But these two were anything but a couple that deserved pity from an admiring public. They killed nine police officers and several civilians. Famous for robbing banks, the gang preferred small stores and gas stations. The straw that broke the camel’s back for the Barrow’s gang was when Clyde orchestrated a raid on a Texas prison to break out several inmates. This was his payback to the Texas Correction Department and served as the catalyst that would ultimately end the crime spree.
The Texas Correction Department looked for an individual that was so unique that he could track down and neutralize the notorious Barrow’s gang. The man would have to be an individual that embellished the spirit that built our great country. Who else better in Texas to assign this task to than a Texas Ranger. The rangers were born during the Mexican War by Steven Austin. Sam Houston increased the size as they were needed to defend the settlers from the Cherokee and Comanche. They were famous for their braveness and bringing law and order to the Texas frontier. Their “one riot one ranger” mentality remained with them and by the 1930s when Bonnie and Clyde were terrorizing the country a Texas Ranger was the logical choice.
The Texas Department of Corrections convinced retired Ranger Frank Hamer to take a commission with the State Police with the single job of tracking the elusive couple. He accepted the challenge. Hamer epitomized the legend of the Texas Rangers. While a Ranger he was in over 100 gun fights and has been claimed to have killed between 53 and 70 men. He would go into oil boom towns and clean up a lawless community. He also served on the Mexican border where smuggling and bandits were common. Several Texas governors described him as”the best, most fearless and most effective peace officer Texas has ever known.“ He had been wounded 17 times and left for dead 4 times. Who better to track down the Barrow’s gang.
He took the task and finally when he felt he was in their head he became confident that he could track down the two criminals. Hamer enlisted help from several law agencies and after tracking and understanding their moves. On May 23rd 1934 after 102 days of tracking Bonnie and Clyde, Hamer set an ambush that led to their deaths by virtue of a burst of gunfire so intense that people miles away thought dynamite had been set off.
When the bodies were taken into Arcadia the Coroner that inspected the body was Dr. Wade, father of Jimmy Wade of Farmerville.
The History Channel will have a mini-series December 7th and 8th that depicts the life and death of Bonnie and Clyde. It will curious to see if, unlike the movie of the 60s, they get the story right.