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In a letter to H.P. Lovecraft, ca. June 1934, Howard describes a close call his friend and fellow Weird Tales writer E. Hoffmann Price had while traveling through Texas. Price was the only one of Howard’s contemporaries that he met in person.
By the way, Price was stopped at the Red River crossing by men with guns in their hands, looking for the famous outlaw Clyde Barrow, who was working in those parts at that time. As I told him, it was fortunate that his car was loaded with objects that evidenced his innocence, for Barrow was about his size, and was, like him accompanied by a blond young lady: Bonnie Parker. As you might have read in the paper, Bonnie was with Clyde when he met his finish at the hands of the ex-Rangers, in Louisiana. Bullets from machine rifles, ripping through him, riddled her, plastered the interior of the car with blood, brains and bits of Barrow’s skull. 167 slugs were poured into the automobile of the outlaws.
Howard didn’t have a very high opinion of the deadly pair as he did other outlaws who plied their trade in Texas, notably “Machine Gun” Kelly and Harvey Bailey. Howard admired the pair for living by an “outlaw code.” In his eyes Bonnie and Clyde had so such code and were little more than ruthless killers.
In a letter to August Derleth, dated September 4, 1933, he says this about the Barrow brothers.
I note that the Barrows boys have been raising some hell up in Iowa, and one of them managed to get himself bumped off. They’re local products; were raised over in Coleman County, which adjoins Callahan County on the west. They were never considered big-time bandits at all.
There was some confusion were Bonnie Parker was from. She never lived in either Coleman or Callahan Counties as was reported in newspapers of the day. She actually was born in Rowena and her family moved to Cement City, a suburb of Dallas, when she was four years old after the death of her father.
Clyde Barrow and his brother Buck were born in Telico, on their father’s tenant farm. In 1921, the Barrows moved to West Dallas where the family opened a gasoline station.
Of course, Buck is the Barrow Howard is referring to as being killed. On July 19, 1933, Buck suffered a mortal head wound in a gunfight with lawmen at a tourist court in Platte City, Missouri and was captured in another shoot-out in Dexter, Iowa on July 24, 1933 where he sustained several more wounds. His wife, Blanche, a reluctant and wounded gang member was also captured. Buck died in a hospital in Perry, Iowa on July 29, 1933.
Both Bonnie and Clyde were young adults at the beginning of The Great Depression, had hardscrabble upbringings and made poor life choices early on.
Bonnie married small time criminal Roy Thornton when she was just 16 years old. Roy was always away from home, planning or doing his next crime. Bonnie tired of being left alone and the marriage fell apart. However they never got a divorce. She still wore her wedding ring until the day she died. Thornton was killed in a failed prison escape in 1937.
During Clyde’s teenage years West Dallas was a very rough neighborhood, but Clyde had no trouble fitting right in. Clyde and older brother Buck managed to stay in constant trouble with the law. This was the beginning of Clyde’s extreme hatred of lawmen. The pair was usually arrested for small time crimes such as stealing turkeys and cars. As they grew older and bolder, the seriousness of their crimes escalated.
Clyde met Bonnie in 1930, shortly before he was jailed for burglary in Waco. With the aid of Bonnie, who slipped a handgun to him out of the guard’s view, Clyde escaped, but was captured a week later in Ohio. He was returned to Texas and sentenced to fourteen years hard labor in a Texas State penitentiary. Barrow’s mother pleaded with the warden to let Clyde go and he was paroled in February 1932, six days after he had a fellow prisoner cut off two of his toes to get out of the work detail. For the rest of his short life, he walked with a limp and had to drive in his socks to maintain control of the vehicle.
While Bonnie, Clyde and their bank robbing “gang” were celebrated as folk heroes by many who had lost their businesses, farms and homes to banks during The Great Depression, their darker side caused the general public to eventually turn against them. They robbed more mom and pop grocery stores and gasoline stations than they did banks and killed people indiscriminately–13 in all, mostly lawmen.
It was a well-known fact in law enforcement circles that Bonnie and Clyde would frequently arrange clandestine meetings with their families. So the lawmen constantly harassed Clyde and Bonnie’s relatives and sought to get indictments on any family member who aided and abetted the pair. Texas state officials, frustrated by a lack of progress apprehending the duo, appealed to Texas Governor Miriam “Ma” Ferguson who gave permission for them to hire a special agent to track the pair down once and for all. That special agent chosen was legendary retired Texas Ranger Frank Hamer.
So on February 10, 1934 Hamer was hired and paid a salary of $150 a month and immediately took up the task of tracking down Clyde and his cohorts. He used a Ford V8, which he knew Clyde was partial to. Hamer was soon on their trail, getting news they were spotted in Texarkana, but despite his best efforts he always seemed to be a day late catching up to the elusive pair. Regrettably, while chasing them, Clyde killed three more policemen. Living out of his car, he tracked them for 102 days before finally finding them.
Once he had located them in northwest Louisiana, he knew he had to work fast to avoid letting them to slip away again. So Hamer assembled a contingent of five law enforcement officers from Texas and Louisiana to make up a posse to kill the outlaw pair. He first recruited his old friend B.M. “Maney” Gault, along with Bob Alcorn, Ted Hinton, Henderson Jordan and Paul Oakley. Hamer knew capture was not a possibility. It was a well-known fact that Clyde swore he rather die than return to prison and would take as many lawmen as he could with him.