This Day in Texas History: Bonnie and Clyde Gunned Down in Louisiana
This Day in Texas History:
Bonnie and Clyde Gunned Down in Louisiana
May 23, 1934
On this day in 1934, celebrated Depression-era Texas outlaws Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were killed in a roadside ambush arranged by Texas Ranger Frank Hamer outside of Gibsland, Louisiana.
Riddled by some 167 bullets, the bodies were taken to Arcadia and later put on public display in Dallas before being buried in their respective family burial plots.
Bonnie Parker was born at Rowena, Texas, on October 1, 1910, to Henry and Emma Parker. After Henry’s death, Emma Parker moved the family to “Cement City” in West Dallas to live closer to relatives. At four-feet-ten and eighty-five pounds, she hardly looked like a future legendary criminal.
In 1926 she married her long-time sweetheart, Roy Thornton. For the next several years, they suffered a tumultuous marriage; however, she refused to divorce him. Bonnie had “Roy and Bonnie” tattooed above her right knee to commemorate her marriage to Thornton. She met Clyde in January 1930. Their romance was interrupted when Barrow was jailed a month later.
Clyde Chesnut Barrow, was born just outside Telico, Texas on March 24, 1909, the son of Henry Barrow. The family moved to Dallas in 1922, and in 1926 Barrow was first arrested for stealing an automobile.
During the next four years he committed a string of robberies in and around Dallas. While awaiting trial in Waco on charges of burglary he escaped with a handgun slipped to him by Bonnie and fled north, but was captured a week later in Middletown, Ohio.
Barrow was found guilty and sentenced to a fourteen-year term at hard labor in the state penitentiary. Unwilling to endure the work at one of the state-operated plantations, he had another convict chop two toes off his left foot with an axe.
Though known today for his dozen-or-so bank robberies, Barrow in fact preferred to rob small stores or rural gas stations. The gang is believed to have killed at least nine police officers and committed several civilian murders. Their reputation was cemented in American pop folklore by Arthur Penn’s 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde.
Even during their lifetimes, the couple’s depiction in the press was at considerable odds with the hardscrabble reality of their life on the road—particularly in the case of Parker. Though she was present at a hundred or more felonies during her two years as Barrow’s companion, she was not the machine gun-wielding cartoon killer portrayed in the newspapers, newsreels, and pulp detective magazines of the day. Gang member W. D. Jones was unsure whether he had ever seen her fire at officers. Parker’s reputation as a cigar-smoking gun moll grew out of a playful snapshot found by police at an abandoned hideout, released to the press, and published nationwide; while she did chain-smoke Camel cigarettes, she was not a cigar smoker.
Author-historian Jeff Guinn explains that it was the release of these very photos that put the outlaws on the media map and launched their legend: “John Dillinger had matinee-idol good looks and Pretty Boy Floyd had the best possible nickname, but the Joplin photos introduced new criminal superstars with the most titillating trademark of all—illicit sex. Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were wild and young, and supposedly slept together. Without Bonnie, the media outside Texas might have dismissed Clyde as a gun-toting punk, if it ever considered him at all. With her sassy photographs, Bonnie supplied the sex-appeal, the oomph, that allowed the two of them to transcend the small-scale thefts and needless killings that actually comprised their criminal careers.”
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