Saturday, August 29, 2009

Captain Frank Hamer-- A Polarizing Figure From Bonnie And Clyde History (End of Summer Re-Post)

As Frank Hamer incites controversy so routinely within the History of Bonnie and Clyde-- I thought I'd combine a pointed Controversial Quote and post together re: Capt. Frank Hamer.
A Hamer detractor recently wrote this: 

"In my opinion, Frank Hamer w
as 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 comment 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 seemingly mean spirited and short sighted diatribe 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 anyone's judgment-- should have been.


Anonymous said...

summer reruns? sigh

A. Winston Woodward said...

One of the reasons I've brought some older posts back, was that I recall a few important posts being knocked down the page and buried-- by to paraphrase Tarantino, some "inglorious nonsense", having to do with message boards-- which needed to be addressed at the time.

The Bailey Tynes and Hamer posts to me, are historically important-- thus they are back. The Tynes info is new and remarkable. The Hamer post provides some balance, in considering his career beyond B&C, which I felt was long over due. Just yesterday, I had someone more than infer-- Hamer and the boys were cowards for not facing down B&C at the ambush site.

I'm sure these polarizing viewpoints regarding Capt. Hamer and the posse will likely last forever. And on a personal note, as some know-- "I too" wish the final showdown, could have been a more traditional and fair gunfight. However, reality is what it is-- which leaves many to judge the posse's actions, whether "fair" or not in historical terms. As I see it, the ambush "was" fair in 1934 terms-- which is all that matters. Any and all, can debate the moral aspects of this into infinity. But rightfully from an historical viewpoint, the actions of those within history-- shouldn't be judged through the rose colored glasses-- of a much different world.

Through the Hamer post, I wanted to add perspective, that Hamer's career although perhaps best known for his B&C exploits-- involved much more to consider, in judging the man.

Plus regarding Tynes, and his possible trip to LA with B&C-- the Tynes re-post, has now inspired comment which could further support a Barrow connection in Southern Louisiana. So if more history was derived from a couple of chosen re-posts-- I say very cool!!

Anonymous said...

Those are good posts.

It's sad when stuff scrolls off the page and time moves on...

Chi-Sal said...

Love your site, been messing around here awhile now. On a note here I wanted to say Im glad you took an objective stand on this issue regarding Mr. Hamer. After studying and learning all that I have about Barrow and Parker, I believe Hamer was completely justified on how he handled the situation,they didnt really give any of their victims a fair chance, so its hard to complain about how they died.

There is no question that Barrow was a deeply disturbed. People trying to defend Parker is most puzzling however. Parker did nothing to help her case. She either did or didnt directly shoot someone, but she did make it clear she had no conscience about the deaths of their innocent victims. We see photos of her posing with guns, clowning around, she knew the press was reporting on
anything they sent in, so what did she do, try and plea their case or explain it? No, she wrote bad poetry and basically told
them they were going to keep doing what they were doing until someone killed them. And nothing speaks louder about how cold this
woman was than the Campbell/Boyd murder and kidnapping. She's just witnessed a murder, the wounded officer is in the car with her and what is on her mind? She wants to have a picnic and have him tell the press that she doesn't smoke cigars!

I seriously think given how disturbed these two were, that the public would accept the ambush even by todays standards. (I mean really, would anyone have been outraged if Charles Manson or Ted Bundy were killed instead of captured?)

And now we know that more than probably, she was pregnant. But that does not even diminish the heroes who stopped these murderers.
Barrow was out of his head and that was the only way to stop him, but she had a choice and the chance to walk away from it had she really cared about the unborn baby. She (they) could have left the area and buried themselves in a large city out of their usual
stomping grounds and in those days, probably wouldn't have been recognized. No one would have been looking for them in L.A...
She kept the baby in harms way instead and regrettably for the child, sealed both their fates.

Theres a really great section on Bonnie and Clyde's Hideout website that talks about the victims and the people they left behind.
Its really nice to see something like because it puts the reality of the 'modern day Jerry Springer duo' to perspective. It
certainly changed my entire view of them. Before I started doing the research and knew, I was one of those who glorified them
and didnt see the reality of what these two really were. Still fascinating as depression era criminals, but by no means anything
to be respected or admired.

Melissa Noonan said...

One of the things that bothered me most about Hamer and the other posse members was how they,in my opinion,acted like scavengers after they killed Bonnie and Clyde. One could argue that killing them was just doing their job but I don't think robbing the dead was. They removed their personal items from the car while their bodies was still inside and refused to return them to the familys.

I also had a problem with Hamer stating that he hated to "bust a cap on a woman" but he made it a point to pump another round in to Bonnie after she was slumped over and probably already dead. He lied about screaming halt,he lied and said they both reached for weapons,what else did he lie about? If a lot of the legends about Bonnie and Clyde are untrue we have to assume some of the legends of Hamer and his deeds in his career as a ranger are untrue too.

A. Winston Woodward said...

Hello Melissa-- As many know, I'm not at all convinced Frank Hamer pumped a final shot into Bonnie-- as I don't believe the Jeff Guinn account of the ambush. But when it comes to truthfulness and some great upstanding element of righteousness within Hamer-- I'm with you. As times goes on, I have altered my view of him. He was a lawman, not a Saint-- and therefore to me, doesn't deserve the Saintly status many afford him.

Bonnie Parker said...

frank Hamer was a murder and no better than the people he went after except he abused the law to do it

A. Winston Woodward said...

An opinion many share. Many others believe Hamer a hero. Both of which, are opinions which help feed polarization within this history. I don't believe Hamer the hero many lift him high to be. But nonetheless-- he was chosen for the assignment, which would end up dwarfing all other achievements in his life.

Dannyboy53 said...

America has always wanted and needed heroes. Jesse James is one of many examples of the "rob the rich and give to the poor" Robin Hood class of thieves and killers. Along comes Bonnie & Clyde. It appears to me the viewing public were led to feel sympathetic toward them in the 1967 movie starring Beatty and Dunaway over their demise at the end of the movie.

The key to understanding their violent death and the reasoning behind it is, as you point out, the prevailing attitude of the times. A lot of people were having a very hard time economically in those days but continued their day to day lives as best they could. However others chose the selfish, murderous route of taking what they wanted from others with a cold and calloused disregard for human life.

B & C had quite a reputation for slipping through the hands of the law and demonstrated no hesitation in killing. Regardless of what Hamer might have been or how anyone feels about him, he and the posse probably felt they could take no chances on May 23. The stealing and killing had to be stopped.

No doubt B & C knew this was going to happen at some time in their future. To avoid it they could have easily given themselves up to avoid further senseless bloodshed.

A. Winston Woodward said...

Hello Dannyboy53-- A thoughtful comment. However for B&C to give themselves up, would be akin to suicide-- for the electric chair would've awaited them. Bonnie "may" have eluded execution, without proof of actually having shot anyone-- although she "was" witnessed having shot at people-- and was without much doubt, an accessory to murder in having loaded weapons which likely did result in death.

Dannyboy53 said...

You are right Winston, that isn't much of an option to consider from their view!

And I agree with your assessment of the future of Bonnie in prison. If found to have actually been pregnant she may have, at best, received a temporary stay of execution in those days.

Imagine the life of a child coming from that union, as I'm sure you have considered. Today being a senior citizen he/she no doubt might have been somewhat of a celebrity!

Mike Conti said...

Hello All, just came across this board, interesting to read some of the comments.

One in particular caught my eye...

"And on a personal note, as some know-- "I too" wish the final showdown, could have been a more traditional and fair gunfight.

Really now. I wonder just how much you would wish this if it was you who had to personally deal with the murdering couple so many on this site seem to idolize. Real life is a bit different than a movie. In addition to killing police officers, Clyde, Bonnie and their cohorts were cowardly murderers who usually preyed on innocent citizens while robbing gas stations and small stores. They were a dangerous problem that needed solving, and solve it Hamer did.

Much like so many clueless people in our society today who try to rationalize the behavior of thugs and criminals who loot and burn "in protest" and call for the murder of police officers, some people back in the days of Bonnie and Clyde looked at them through a romantic veil and sighed dreamily, saying such ridiculous things as "I too" wish the final showdown, could have been a more traditional and fair gunfight.

Fair gunfight indeed. No such thing. Bullets work by crushing tissue as they pass through it. Makes a mess. Makes people crippled, brain damaged or dead.

Hamer knew this better than most. Not only did he have to put bullets into a lot of people during his life, but he was also severely wounded on many occasions. He KNEW the stakes. He understood the reality. Apparently many of the nice folks posting here have no idea.

Not a slam, mind you. Just an objective observation based on things I've seen happen on the streets and during autopsies of bullet-killed human beings.

Thanks for the opportunity to chime in!

Very best regards,
Mike Conti

A. Winston Woodward said...

Hello Mike-- Seems to me, people idolized within B&C History are fairly evenly split.. and include Frank Hamer, who I personally believe deserves not nearly the praise many give him re: Bonnie & Clyde. Yes B&C were a large problem.. but Hamer surely didn't solve that problem himself. He entered late in the game, and a good while after things were already happening in Louisiana. The informants that made the difference were informants developed in Louisiana, and the posse was Henderson Jordan's. To know all one could, B&C could've been taken down by Jordan before May 23rd and not in Bienville Parish. That fact was revealed in the Dallas B&C files. Only Jordan's honoring a plea for safety within what amounted to an ultimatum.. re: those also within the home where B&C were sleeping likely saved them. So just as you have, many choose sides within this history. That's understandable. To me, objectivity is always helpful in striking the right balance. Also, economic realities of the Depression and the human pressures endured-- were far different and more poignant, than any realities before or since. Unique times with unique issues.. where lawlessness took on it's own persona and cures. And a fair gunfight?? Never would've been allowed.. and wasn't.