Monday, April 12, 2010

I Met Clyde and Bonnie-- A Letter From Ella J. Holland

Published here in it's entirety, is Ella Holland's story of having shared a ride with Clyde Barrow, Bonnie Parker and Ray Hamilton in early 1934. This is the letter Ella wrote in 1996, which I believe was 1st published in the May 2001 "On the Road to Gibsland Barrow--Parker Newsletter". My thanks to Shelley Mitchell for this wonderful recollection for all to enjoy. And thanks to Ken Holmes, for including this poignant account of B&C in the Gibsland newsletter. You rarely know with stories concerning Bonnie & Clyde, whether many are indeed true or not. For me, this remembrance seems too sincere not to be true. I welcome your comments. As Ella Holland tells it--

"About the time I started school in 1930 things were happening around Dallas, Texas. So what? To me that was like in London, England. I didn't know who Clyde Barrow or Bonnie Parker were. I can't say if this was in January or February of 1934. But I would have been twelve years old. But it was not long before Clyde and Bonnie were killed. My brother Webster and I left the house and before we got far it began to mist a fine rain and then the rain began to freeze in our hair. Neither of us wore a cap. We had decided to turn back. Web was crying and I was getting colder. We paused in the middle of the road on a red clay hill we called the Joe Williams hill. Just then we heard the sound of a car.

The lady smiled and asked if my brother and I would like a ride. She looked so warm in her dark coat with a fur collar and a matching small brimmed felt hat perched on her head. Her hair was short and she was made up like a queen. Her voice was so nice as her dark gloved hands helped me get seated by her and gave a man in the backseat instructions on getting Web inside and pulling a blanket over him to get him warm. The man in the backseat smiled at brother and asked what his name was and just made small talk to a kid. But Web noticed he had a blanket on his lap like a child wrapped in it, so he asked, "Is that your baby?" The man patted the blanket and told Web, "Yes, this is my baby. Would you like to see my baby?" Of course he got excited and replied. "Oh yes, could I?"

The nice looking man dressed in a sort of light gray plaid suit and gray hat leaned over closer to the small dark man that was driving and said "Clyde, the boy wants to see my baby. Should I show it to him?" to which Clyde replied "I don't care." The rest of the ride there wasn't another word from this young man, just grunts or such to the lady who talked to me and then to the man said what cute kids we were and that they ought to take us with them so that they would have little girl and a little boy. But I did not hear an answer. He was very quiet. But back to the baby.....When the man laid the blanket back of course I had to look back to see the baby too. Only there was no baby..... I had never seen a machine gun before but I knew what I was seeing was a Gatlin gun. He pulled the blanket back over the gun, which was aimed toward the left back window. I did not get excited. It never did cross our minds the danger we were in. We were too young to know who we were in the car with, and I am still glad for if we had we may have shown our fright. If we had started to cry, then they would not have put us out at the schoolhouse where the teacher would have known that something was wrong and asked questions.

As we rode on the talk was light and when we got to the school house instead of going like people usually did, they went down the side of the school yard and turned right in front headed toward Fairplay and the Henderson and Carthage Highway and stopped; on the far corner of the school yard. Then Bonnie caught hold of my jacket and she handed me a green stick of Double Mint gum. "But let me tell you something before you go. When we picked you up we had an idea. If we took you with us no one would have shot at us with two sweet children held up at the windows. But we could not do it, so we are letting you out. We are on the run, so don't tell anyone who you rode with until you get home. I mean no one" I promised. Then she told Raymond Hamilton to open the door for brother. She called us sister and little brother all the time. When Web was out she told me, "Now little sister I have one more thing I want to ask of you," and in a soft but strict voice she said "Now little ones, as long as you live, don't ever get into another car with someone you don't know. Promise? Hear me; do you promise?" I said "I promise," then she bent over and squeezed my hand and kissed my cheek. Then she freed my hand and said "Now run along," and waved goodbye to us. And believe me, neither of us told anyone until we got home.

I believe we felt like we had a secret that we could only tell Mama and Daddy. And we kept this secret. That evening they were so busy trying to get us warmed up until they wouldn't listen to us until we got warm and were fed. But I finally got Mama to listen to us and guess what; she went into shock and fainted, and Daddy had to work at bringing her back. And when he asked her what had caused her to faint, she started crying and then both started to ask us things. We were afraid to tell them for we felt we had done something wrong and they would not be pleased. But gradually they got us to tell them from start to finish.

She had on some make up but not a lot; she was just pretty. For the movie Bonnie was a blond. But even at this time I know a first cousin of Bonnie's. Have known him since 1950. We were neighbors here in Longview where we still live---not together, just friends. But he says Bonnie was never Blond, unless as a disguise. But when Daddy got Mama calmed down and we were assured that it was important that we told them exactly what was said and happened because there was people like we described and they were bad. They robbed and killed and they knew we were not just making up a story as I thought they didn't believe us.

But my brother and I did not dwell on the incident and our parents told us to forget about it if we could. We felt like if we told the neighbors or our friends they would shrug it off as a bad joke. What would the bad outlaws be doing out on the narrow roads where we lived? One car had to pull over into the ditch almost if it met another to let the other one get by. But mostly it was wagons on our dirt pig trails. But come spring: let me tell you first. North of our place was a large track of land. A real forest. It was owned by a brother and sister. People who used wood burning stoves could go in and cut wood or fence posts.

These woods are called the Big Woods. When we rode with Bonnie and Clyde would have been during the cold, rainy weather like in February before they were killed in May. But I am sure she introduced him as "our friend Raymond Hamilton." But that time the law was so close until I guess they had to lay low for a time and they drove over a dirt wagon road way into the big woods located north of our house. In the spring when people began to get out, a friend of my parents and a young man who was to help him went into the big woods to cut some fence posts. They saw car tracks and even though the rain had left the impressions dim, they were curious and decided to look around. They found four tires stacked one on the other, tin food cans, campfire coals, and all the leavings of about two weeks' camp out. But most interesting were newspapers, Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth, and Shreveport, all stacked neatly.

I wonder after so many years, how did they get out and pick up those papers without someone seeing them go out or come back in? But when it turned cold and rainy they knew they had to get out of there so so my brother and I got a ride to school. This had to be in January or February of 1934, and they were killed May 23. When I heard that they had been killed and how, I broke down and cried like a baby. Then Mama and Daddy could not get me to stop. I woke up in the night crying and I'd start to cry during the day. I have seen their car on display here in Longview some years ago. I parked my car on the parking lot at Treasure City on Highway 80 and started in the front door and then I came to a short stop. What were the people looking at? Then I saw a sign: "See Bonnie and Clyde's Death Car."

I started toward the crowd to see it. And then I remember running. Right back to my car and to this day I can't remember what I went to Treasure City to buy. But I went back home and cried again after the twenty five years since it happened. Now it has been sixty-two years and I turned seventy-four the fifteenth of this month, June, nineteen and ninety-six. I feel old and tired. My brother Webster went to war and died in battle September 24, 1944, just barely twenty years old. Mama and Daddy have been gone a long time, My husband (Odell Holland) died twelve and and a half years ago. I have four children and eight grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. I have lived a long time, worked hard, and have seen a lot. But very few people can say they rode three miles in a car with Clyde and Bonnie. About five years ago I went to visit my daughter in Monroe and she took me to Arcadia, Louisiana. We just drove through, but I finally saw right where they died. Of course everything has changed I know---but for me it ended a desire to go the last mile with them. I don't uphold their way of life, but it was an experience."


Russ1934 said...

Well, I wonder, did she ever see the car? This is not clear to me.

A. Winston Woodward said...

Hello Russ--

A careful read of her letter I believe reveals, that Ella never made it to view the death car. Instead, it seems that after starting toward the crowd to see it-- she ran from Treasure City in Longview, Texas without viewing it.

I had posted your 2nd question, but inadvertently erased it in editing my reply. I'm sorry about that. In response to your 2nd question, concerning whether Ella is still alive-- there are 69 Hollands listed in the Longview, Texas phone directory. Unfortunately, none are identified as being Ella. But true to my habits, in investigating individuals from the saga of B&C-- don't be surprised if I start calling around town to see what I can learn. Remember those 4 children, eight grandchildren and 9 great grand children?? I would bet they are among those 69 listings. Thanks much for your questions.

Shelley said...

Apparently, Miss Ella was quite traumatized by B&C's death, and even after decades had passed, could not bring herself to view the car in which they died so violently.

If you look, there are many random recollections concerning B&C's various encounters with children. For those "in the know", Bonnie's intense love for babies and children is as legendary as her (alleged) cigar-smoking, pistol-packing ways are for others. And based on what I've read and heard, Clyde was not at all disapproving, and had a soft spot for them himself. We must all remember - Clyde and Bonnie were little more than children themselves.

This touching remembrance by Ella J. Holland is one of my favorites. It illustrates nicely how B&C were when there was no threat of imminent danger, and shows Bonnie's maternal side. Her sister, Billie Jean, became a wonderful mother. Had she not fallen for a man who was condemned to die - one way or another - I do believe Bonnie would have been a loving, caring, devoted mom as well. Bonnie adored all children, and we are left with many pieces of evidence to attest to that fact.

A. Winston Woodward said...

Hello Shelley--

Yes I would agree concerning your observations regarding children and B&C. And for those who read these comments, perhaps a preview-- for some "in the know" know-- what's coming, concerning some "remarkable" new B&C revelations.

Shelley said...

And I, for one, simply cannot wait for you to reveal these remarkable new revelations, Winston!

Being "in the know" and all, one thing seems certain - aforementioned revelations pertain to B&C's relationship with some other children; perhaps "kinfolk", as they say here in the South!

Since my fascination with B&C began in my own childhood (way back when!), this aspect to their story, in particular, grabbed me from the start. I became convinced very early on that they weren't really all "heartless and mean" - and I still believe that to this day.

Clyde was described by some as being "paranoid". If that's an accurate assessment, I'd say that his paranoia was fully justified. He knew what was coming - he just didn't know where, when, or who - was going to do him in.

Obviously, Clyde and Bonnie could trust no one completely, other than each other - and their immediate families. But with children, they could let their guard down. There was no need to be paranoid; there was nothing to fear.

When you take all these random stories of B&C with children - culled from various sources - a consistent pattern emerges. Clyde and Bonnie befriended a great many children along the way. They treated them to ice creams and Orange Crushes; they gifted them with dolls or even bicycles. Or they gave them large (for the time) sums of money, to go to the store and purchase some food for them.

Like Ella Holland, these children did not know that Clyde and Bonnie were notorious outlaws. All they knew was that these people were good to them, and B&C were remembered with great affection for the rest of their lives.

About 10 years ago, a Dallas station produced a B&C documentary followed by a live call-in show, "Open Line". The last caller was an elderly man who recounted his experience, meeting up with B&C on a country road near his home. The old man spoke of them very emotionally, as if he were fighting back tears. He ended his call by stating simply, "I loved them people...."

BarefootOkieGal said...

This seems plausible to me, but I can't understand the comment that Bonnie was not a natural blonde! I've seen photos of her at all ages and it appears that her hair color was just about that of my dad's, who was described as a "towhead" and whose hair, when he was 4 years old, was nearly white. I know that when she was on the run Bonnie dyed her hair (sometimes Clyde's, too!) but everything I have read states that her natural hair color was indeed blonde.

A. Winston Woodward said...

I trust in the 1st hand accounts concerning Bonnie, from witnesses who commented about her-- including mentioning the color of her hair. There are also a number of independent accounts from witnesses found within the Dallas FBI files, who agree with the assessment that Bonnie's hair was most often a reddish shade in color.

The color casket photo (which is an actual color image, not colorized) taken of her-- confirms her hair color upon death. I respectfully disagree, that there's much evidence to support Bonnie being a blond during the period of B&C-- unless as a disguise or temporary hair color. The images of Bonnie as a child-- yes she seemed very much to be a blond. But by her 20's-- that didn't seem to be the case.

Shelley said...

As with brown hair, "blonde" covers a wide spectrum of shades.

I have read - or heard - Bonnie's haircolor described in a variety of ways, such as "dishwater" blonde, or "strawberry" blonde. Ted Hinton referred to her as having "taffy-colored hair that showed a trace of red".

It's true that Bonnie was a "tow-headed" blonde when she was little. We have seen photographs that prove this. But it's also true that hair tends to darken with age. Although her hair appears to be medium brown in grade-school pictures, she once again looks very blonde in the picture of her with Roy, when she was a teenager.

I agree with the Okie Gal - she did color her hair frequently. This was probably an attempt to throw people off, so she and Clyde wouldn't be quite so recognizable. Notice how dark her hair appears in the "picnic" photo, probably taken towards the end. Yet after they were killed, her hair seems to be lighter again.

At times, Clyde would even dress up as a woman so they could drive through towns without arousing suspicion. I'm sure they must have gone to great lengths to disguise themselves when they felt the need. Changing hair colors was just one more way of doing so.

BarefootOkieGal said...

It's true that people with blond hair when they're young don't always stay blond - it's hard to tell with black and white photos exactly what color someone's hair is, and I can definitely understand her hair darkening as she got older. I have read that she often dyed her hair while on the run, and I've seen photos of her in which her hair appears very dark. It's interesting how much pride she did take in her appearance, though, even on the road!