Sunday, June 14, 2009

Captain Frank Hamer-- A Polarizing Figure From Bonnie And Clyde History

As Frank Hamer seems to incite heated controversy so routinely, within the history of Bonnie and Clyde-- I thought I'd combine a Controversial Quote and post together-- regarding Frank Hamer. A Hamer detractor recently wrote this:

"In my opinion, Frank Hamer was one pitiful excuse for any kind of a role model, much less "hero". He was arrogant, cold-blooded, and very very deceptive. What is there to admire about these 'special' qualities of his? And he was a criminal himself, till someone gave him a badge and the authority to lay down the law in any way he saw fit. The only reason he was bestowed with this power in the first place is because he was such a big brute of a man he could easily intimidate anyone, just by his size. And from that point on, he exercised his 'right' to flagrantly abuse this power, and he did so to the hilt. If there was anything honorable about Frank Hamer at all, I sure can't figure out what the hell that might be."

My response to the diatribe above, is to say I would agree that Capt. Frank Hamer may not have been a Saint to some, but he certainly "deserves" more respect and balance, than a mean spirited and short sighted comment can provide. Hamer did enjoy a distinguished career as a Texas Ranger, and was instrumental in contributing to the capture of Bonnie and Clyde-- like it or not. The preponderance of objective historical evidence, obviously and strongly supports the basic truths of Hamer's lifetime of accomplishments.

Frank Hamer was known to dislike corrupt politicians and those who broke the law. He began an on and off again career with Texas Rangers in 1906. He also took on an assignment away from the Rangers, in order to serve as a federal prohibition agent-- for the purpose of preventing illegal liquor from entering the U.S. In the 1920's Hamer became known, for bringing law and order to lawless oil boom towns in Texas. Although within these early endeavours just as noted in the ambush of B&C, some of his tactics were questioned-- Frank Hamer was "known" for getting tough jobs done, related to putting an end to lawbreaking and strike breaking etc. Apparently these actions and results were deemed acceptable during his time. He also helped end monetary corruption in 1928, by helping to stop The Texas Banker's Association Reward Ring.

In 1930, Hamer was involved in the Sherman Riot-- where he was assigned the daunting task, of protecting George Hughes, a black inmate accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. A lynch mob had formed to storm the courthouse in Sherman, TX -- in order to exact their own brand of justice, and hang Hughes without benefit of a trial. A rumor was circulated via a newspaper reporter, that the Governor of Texas had issued orders, that no one be shot in defending this prisoner. Some of the angry mob feeling empowered by this knowledge, rushed the stairs which Frank Hamer and his Rangers were defending.
After giving fair warning in saying he didn't believe the report-- as he felt the Governor would never issue such an order, which would leave him no ability to accomplish his mission-- Hamer personally shot those who advanced on him, in order to get at Hughes. Hamer's efforts along with his small group of Texas Rangers were successful-- until the point where the mob burned the courthouse, in order to get their way. This mob eventually enacted their "justice"-- on an already dead George Hughes. I don't know about some, but to me-- Frank Hamer's gallant actions, in defending the rights of a man who's hours were likely numbered, is my favorite Hamer story.

Hamer's participation at the ambush of B&C, along with that of the other 5 lawmen present-- will be debated, as long as there is interest in these iconic outlaws. As I've said before, the '30s were "different" and desperate times. Things didn't seem fair, on either side of the law. But that's the way it was-- like it or not. The lawmen shot the hell out of B&C-- sanctioned by their governments, who trusted them to get the job done-- in whatever way it could be accomplished. And they did-- without condemnation from the powers that be.

Was Frank Hamer a tough and brutal lawman?? I'm not sure we'd be talking about him all these years later if he wasn't. Were the killings of Bonnie and Clyde an assassination?? In my view yes-- as how could you call the carnage which occurred otherwise?? Was the ambush an acceptable act, to stop the bloody rampage of B&C-- who were involved in the killings of more than a dozen people (mostly lawmen)?? In those times yes-- but again, that's the way it was. Perhaps Hamer's most controversial act was in helping kill Bonnie Parker, who it now seems clear he at least
"believed" to be pregnant-- as supported by revelations from the Dallas FBI Files. This too, is an act surely deserving of much debate-- for years to come.

One of the most important attributes of an Historian, or others keenly interested in an historical subject-- is the ability to always realize and "understand" the times and "tenor" of the times being discussed. Otherwise, how can you make any intelligent statement, regarding the history you are recounting?? In my view, its wrong to interject the morals and socially accepted behaviors of another time (such as today)-- into the history of yesterday. Revisionist history is a dangerous thing, amongst those who consider themselves knowledgeable-- concerning this or any other history. Its better and proper, to allow yourself to travel back in time within your mind, and consider the evidence of history objectively "as it was"-- and not as it could, or in any one's judgment-- should have been.


Taronda said...

THANK-YOU Winston! Very well said!

t o m said...
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t o m said...
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Anonymous said...

some people LOVE Bonnie & Clyde SO much - they feel the need to demonize the MAN that finally KILLED them!!