By Brad Dison
Bonnie and Clyde. What comes to mind when you hear their names? Crime? Freedom? Running from the law? Robbing Banks? Robin Hood? Kidnapping? Terrorism? Murder?
The annual Authentic Bonnie & Clyde Festival will be held in Gibsland today and tomorrow, May 26-27. The festival is not held to glorify the crime spree of Bonnie and Clyde but to commemorate a historical event that is forever linked with Bienville Parish.
Bonnie and Clyde were among the most notorious gangsters during the Great Depression. Unlike John Dillinger, Ma Barker, Alvin “Old Creepy” Karpis, “Baby Face” Nelson, “Machine Gun” Kelly, and “Pretty Boy” Floyd, there is something about the Bonnie and Clyde story which has kept them in the public eye. Their story has been told in numerous books, films, documentaries, television shows, theater productions, songs, and even cartoons, although few of those are based on actual facts. Even today, 89 years later, the deaths of Bonnie and Clyde remain a controversial subject.
On the morning of May 23, 1934, Bonnie and Clyde were driving toward Sailes on LA Highway 154 from Mount Lebanon when they were caught in what Sheriff Henderson Jordan referred to as “the trap.”
The sheriff, his chief deputy Prentiss Oakley, and four Texas lawmen, Frank Hamer, Maney Gault, Bob Alcorn, and Ted Hinton, waited on a hidden embankment. Ivy Methvin, father of Bonnie and Clyde associate Henry Methvin, parked his truck in the roadway and removed the truck’s front passenger tire. Whether he was a willing participant or forced participant in the trap has been debated ever since that fateful day. At about 9:15 a.m., the lawmen saw the stolen Ford V8 sedan driving toward the trap. Upon seeing Ivy and his apparent broken-down truck, the car stopped. After a brief conversation between Bonnie, Clyde, and Ivy, the lawmen opened fire. The lawmen said they had given Bonnie and Clyde an opportunity to give up but Clyde reached for the gun in his lap. Within a few seconds, their crime spree was over.
Many people in Bienville Parish have grown tired of discussing Bonnie and Clyde. Retired history teacher Charles Butler described the ambush to his students by saying the ambush of “Bonnie and Clyde is the most famous thing that’s happened in Bienville Parish – not the most important, the most famous.” Whether we like it or not, Mr. Butler’s quote is an indisputable fact. People from all over the world have visited the ambush site and have had their pictures taken with the often- vandalized granite marker and the recently stolen bronze marker.
As a historian who was born, raised, and who continues to live in the parish where the criminal duo was killed, researching Bonnie and Clyde is inescapable. I have learned through countless interviews and casual conversations that people tend to take sides in the matter. Like picking teams in a football game, some people are for Bonnie and Clyde while others are for the lawmen who ended the crime spree. Finding someone in the area who has no opinion on the matter is a rarity.
Here are some of the most common phrases I usually hear when discussing Bonnie and Clyde:
“They weren’t as bad as people said they were.”
“They didn’t do all of the things the newspapers said they did.”
“They were good people.”
“They got what they deserved.”
“They were nothing but white trash.”
“They cared for nobody but themselves.”
A few years ago I interviewed Buddy Barrow and Rhea Leen Linder, outspoken members of Bonnie and Clyde’s family. (Buddy Barrow is the nephew of Clyde Barrow. His father was L.C. Barrow, younger brother of Clyde. Rhea Leen Linder is the niece of Bonnie Parker. The name on Rhea Leen’s birth certificate is Bonnie Ray Parker. She was born in October of 1934, just five months after Bonnie and Clyde were killed. Her father was Hubert “Buster” Parker, older brother of the infamous Bonnie. Under the guidance of her aunt, Billie “Jean” Parker, sister of Bonnie Parker, Bonnie Ray Parker began using the alias Rhea Leen Frazier to distance herself from her notorious aunt. Rhea Leen’s name was officially changed from Bonnie Ray Parker a few days before she was to be married. During my interviews with them, both agreed that Bonnie and Clyde were outlaws. Mr. Buddy and Mrs. Rhea Leen did not condone the actions of Bonnie and Clyde and do not glorify their criminal deeds. Mrs. Rhea Leen once told me, “It’s sad for the victims. We certainly don’t want to take anything away from them.”
The victims are often only a sidenote when speaking about Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree. They are often forgotten. Most people can relate a great deal about Bonnie and Clyde off the tops of their heads. Many people can name at least one or two of the six lawmen who made up the ambush posse. Very few people can name a single murder victim of the outlaw gang. Above all others, it is they who should be remembered.
John N. Bucher of Hillsboro, Texas: Died April 30, 1932
Eugene Moore of Atoka, Oklahoma: Died August 5, 1932
Howard Hall of Sherman, Texas: Died October 11, 1932
Doyle Johnson of Temple, Texas: Died December 26, 1932
Malcolm Davis of Dallas, Texas: Died January 6, 1933
Harry McGinnis of Joplin, Missouri: Died April 13, 1933
Wes Harryman of Joplin, Missouri: Died April 13, 1933
Henry D. Humphrey of Alma, Arkansas: Died June 26, 1933
Major Crowson of Huntsville, Texas: Died January 16, 1934
E.B. Wheeler of Grapevine, Texas: Died April 1, 1934
H.D. Murphy of Grapevine, Texas: Died April 1, 1934
Cal Campbell of Commerce, Oklahoma: Died April 6, 1934
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