Saturday, May 8, 2010

Billie On Bonnie & Clyde

Within her handwritten journal, Billie Parker provides wonderful insights into her earlier days with Bonnie-- as well as looks into Bonnie & Clyde happenings from an insider's point of view. In this installment, Billie delves into Bonnie's married life-- as well as reliving school girl memories of her sister, family conversations from their clandestine meetings with B&C and pointed recollections from Ft. Smith. As Billie says of Bonnie--

"When she married Roy Thornton, they rented a furnished house & Bonnie would not move in until mother Buster & I agreed to live with them. They sure didn't do me a favor for I had to walk 4 miles to school-- Bonnie would walk half way to school with me each morning & meet me half way in the after noon. She worried not for her self-- but for the ones she loved."

"After she left with Clyde, when ever we went out to meet them we talked mostly about the events of home-- Styles-- hair, clothes-- food. She was very evasive about other things-- She would never have my mother worry. She was always so clean, had her make up on to perfection her hair always clean & fixed so pretty. She never wore masculine clothes. She would kiss my mother over & over & always tell her at the end of our visits, mother don't worry & be happy-- you still have Billie & Buster."
"To my knowledge I don't think Bonnie could drive a car. I never saw her drive & never heard her mention driving. When she & Clyde had the car wreck in 1933-- her legs were burned so bad that she never straightened her right leg again-- I was with her during this time. We had to leave the motel as Clyde was running short on money. We had to have clean sheets & blankets for her to lie on so we took them from the motel & Clyde left money for them on the nite stand in the room. Money that he could ill afford. But that was Clyde & Bonnie. We stayed days & nites in woods. Bonnie & I would talk for hours-- about every thing-- a lot about things that could of been."
We'll soon come to the end of Billie's Journal, as 14 pages of hand written notes can go fast. One more installment will follow, where Billie writes of Bonnie's generosity and feelings for her mother Emma. But not to worry, as among materials which have recently come my way-- are transcriptions of some Billie interviews not published for many years. I feel most fortunate, to have been entrusted with these rare materials-- and couldn't be happier to share their insights with all who love this history. More next time.


BarefootOkieGal said...

These are some more interesting family memories! It's interesting to me to think what Bonnie and Billie might have whispered about... "...things that could of been."

I had an opportunity to read a couple of Bonnie & Clyde books over the weekend - the one by Milner and the one written with Marie Barrow, and one thing that stands out clearly is Bonnie's determination NOT to be separated from Clyde. Her mother told her many times during her visits that she could surrender and probably not get too much time; even Clyde acknowledged the fact that while it was far too late for him ever to turn back, Bonnie might still be able to do so. No matter what anyone said to her, though, Bonnie was determined to live and die with Clyde. When she and W.D. were hiding after the Dexfield Park attack, and they both thought Clyde had been killed, Bonnie expressed her desire to die, too, if Clyde were gone. There has been a lot of debate as to whether Bonnie deserved to die as well as Clyde, but everything I have read about Bonnie and her feelings on the matter seem to indicate that whether she deserved to die with Clyde or not, she certainly WANTED to die with Clyde and to be with him until the end.

A. Winston Woodward said...

From the accounts we're aware of, I agree that no matter what-- it appears, Bonnie made her choice to die with Clyde.

I'm always intrigued by those who ask whether she deserved to die?? I wonder whether some really mean "morally"-- whether Bonnie deserved to die?? Those who support the law so vehemently within this saga, certainly seem to feel Bonnie deserved to die-- although many would take them to task for their viewpoint.

As I see it, Bonnie consciously made her choice-- and I'm not sure it's up to others to question her ultimate sacrifice, which you would think she fully understood. Now based on Bonnie perhaps having other concerns to worry about around the time of the ambush, which may or may not be true-- I'm not convinced the timing of B&C's deaths was optimal, where any time would be considered as good as the next. I believe there's reasonable evidence to show, B&C had plans beyond Bienville Parish.

Shelley said...

There's no doubt Bonnie's wishes were to die with Clyde. That being said, her violent ambush death remains controversial, nevertheless.

And with good reason. Bonnie, being the dramatist that she was, saw herself and Clyde through a very romanticized - and fatalistic - point of view. How many of us see things the same way at 23 as we do when we are, say, 53?

A perfect example would be Blanche. She was every bit as passionately devoted to Buck as Bonnie was to Clyde. Yet, she did "hard time" in prison - then went on with her life. She never forgot her love for Buck, but she did live on to become older and wiser.

I am one of those who believes that Bonnie's life should have been spared, somehow. If the "laws" were so smart, they could have figured out a way. Yes, she was Clyde's willing accomplice and sometimes she even loaded a few guns for him. But I do not believe that the level of her criminal behavior justified her killing. No way. Just as Blanche was "rehabilitated" and became someone's respected wife, so too could have Bonnie, in time. I think that she was far too young to have been resigned to the fate of a premature death.

BarefootOkieGal said...

Some people feel that when Bonnie smuggled the stolen gun to Clyde so he could break out, she had done something that was completely out of character for her - her family members have said that she was frightened of guns and loud noises, but for the love of Clyde, she committed her first crime. Bonnie, in love, appears to have been one of those women who will do whatever it takes to prove her love; if she had fallen in love with anyone other than Clyde, she more than likely would have been prone to dramatic declarations and passionate demonstrations of love and affection, as this seems to have been part of her personality. Because Clyde was an outlaw, though, proving her love for him meant ultimately giving her life to die with him.

Bonnie was so young and had such a romantic outlook on things that I'm not sure she ever looked past the "romance" and "glory" of dying in a hail of bullets beside the man she loved at the grim reality of such a death... and yet, when I look at some of the photos (especially the picnic photo, in which Clyde is cleaning the guns)I see something in Bonnie's eyes that seems to indicate that perhaps the dream is wearing a bit thin... but I think her determination was intact.

BarefootOkieGal said...

I think that the biggest problem of taking Clyde without taking Bonnie is the fact that I don't believe she would have allowed it to happen. I do not think that Bonnie would have allowed Clyde to be captured, and although I don't believe her to be a cold-hearted killer, I can imagine her doing whatever was necessary if she had weapons available and Clyde were in danger. I don't think the police had the opportunity to separate Bonnie and Clyde in order to take Clyde alone.

If she had not been killed, I think Bonnie probably would have gone on to lead her life, although she may always have looked back on her time with Clyde as the most exciting and happiest she'd ever spent. (Again, that romantic streak!) I just believe that Bonnie and Clyde could not have been separated so Bonnie could be taken alive, because I don't believe Bonnie would have allowed it! She had already committed herself to dying with Clyde, and I don't think she would have allowed for any other scenario.

A. Winston Woodward said...

I view Bonnie's expression within the picnic photo as being one of resignation concerning her fate. There's debate concerning when and where that photo was taken. I'm on the side, that believes that pic may have been taken in Louisiana near the end.

As far as taking Clyde without Bonnie, it seems reasonable to think she wouldn't have wanted it that way. But I always consider the following scenario.

What if with 6 lawmen from the posse, a couple or more Federal Agents and likely local help if needed-- they could have split up into small groups of snipers, and staked out locations in Bienville Parish B&C were thought to have frequented. This would include The Cole House hideout, the Sailes corner store, Sailes gas station etc-- places where not a lot of public activity was present. Also just as today-- not many roads provide access to these locations, so assassination opportunities may have presented themselves via local roads as well. A question I've asked (although perhaps unrealistic)-- why not try to pick off Clyde?? Then Bonnie may have been saved.

This wouldn't have provided much of a choice for Bonnie-- except whether to surrender or fight herself at that point. It's quite possible, that in the heat of the moment and without Clyde-- she may have just collapsed and been captured. However the '30's were unique times both for criminals and the law. I don't feel there was sympathy for Bonnie Parker in lawmen's eyes-- therefore no attempt to save her. And although it's interesting for us to consider alternatives-- it's really not fair for us to look back from our vantage point today, with our different moral and social outlooks-- and feel it should have been otherwise.

BarefootOkieGal said...

It's interesting that you mention that the law probably had no respect for Bonnie by this time - when you read some of the things they had to say about her, it surely seems to show that lack of respect, if not out-and-out disgust! Given the fact that Frank Hamer at least believed that Bonnie was pregnant, it helps show the law's attitude toward Bonnie; pregnant or not, she deserved to die just as much as Clyde did.

You know, it's common knowledge that Bonnie was infuriated about the cigar photo being circulated, and she was right - it DID damage her reputation, and those joking pictures did a lot to convince people (especially the law) that she was cold-hearted and bloodthirsty and just about every bad thing that a woman could be in that time and place - probably a prostitute, no doubt getting a thrill at seeing people shot ("Look there - his head bounced just like a rubber ball!")- I wonder if the knowledge that people believed her to be a monster added to her determination to die with Clyde? Bonnie has always been described as a friendly person who'd go out of her way to chat people up - maybe she felt that if everyone really believed those bad things about her, she didn't want to be captured and made into some sort of sideshow attraction. Can you imagine the circus that The Trial of Bonnie Parker would have become?

The interesting thing is, I don't think that most people thought of Bonnie as an evil person, despite the media. My mother and her siblings were young when Bonnie and Clyde were roaming around the country, and she said that most people she knew felt a little sorry for Bonnie - such a tiny little thing, and they actually ADMIRED her determination to stand by her man. As far as Clyde - well, they were children of the Depression, too, and they went to places like Texas to pick cotton, and I think they felt a certain sympathy for him, too, and maybe a bit of envy - picking cotton is no fun, and I think it was while they were doing work like this that my mom and her siblings would talk about the famous outlaws of the time - not wishing that THEY were outlaws, too, but maybe just wishing they weren't out picking cotton!

I think Bonnie could have been taken alive, if a specific plan had been made to do so; I don't know if anyone seriously considered it. Could this mean that the police did not consider Bonnie worth saving? Hmmmmm... I hate to make accusations against police officers, especially since at one time I considered becoming a police officer myself (although my eyesight was too poor, even with glasses) - but it does seem that they just resigned themselves to killing the pair. Perhaps they did not want to leave either of them alive because they hated the legendary "BONNIE AND CLYDE," and only by destroying both of them could they destroy that legend!

A. Winston Woodward said...

My feeling is, the way in which B&C were annihilated-- made them martyrs. I don't feel it could reasonably be thought, making B&C martyrs was a goal of the ambush posse, Lee Simmons or Governor Miriam "Ma" Ferguson.

There's little doubt Bonnie fired weapons at peace officers, and she reportedly loaded weapons that may have killed people. Also, Bonnie was obviously an accessory to a dozen or more killings. I don't buy the distinction drawn between killing and murder in the case of The Barrow Gang. Because they committed illegal acts they were confronted-- and based on their actions, lawmen were killed/murdered/lives ended. To me, dead is dead-- because of them.

It doesn't appear Capt. Hamer revealed any particular consideration based on his knowledge, that at least he thought Bonnie was pregnant. But for the Dallas files, we'd likely never know of Frank Hamer's info concerning this gained from informants. But to me, Hamer's reaction wasn't out of character for the famous Texas Ranger. People sometimes say Frank Hamer was a ruthless lawman. My response to that comment is usually "and your point is"?? My question has to be-- did Capt. Hamer tell the rest of the ambush posse of his knowledge (true or false)-- in advance of their waylay??

Many would ask what difference does it make if Bonnie was pregnant?? Today it seems to make a difference to those sorting through this history. But back in '34-- this question was wondered as well. 2 of the posse members apparently battled booze and died fairly young. Professor Carroll Rich who knew both Henderson Jordan and Prentis Oakley told me, neither man had killed anyone before or after B&C. It's been reported that Sheriff Jordan's hair turned white not long after the ambush. I often wonder, whether either man had trouble with the fact they killed a woman-- or perhaps a pregnant woman??

That's a fair question, at least for me-- as I'm very much in the thick of my investigation into a BP pregnancy. The results thus far are interesting-- to say the least.

BarefootOkieGal said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly that creating the Bonnie and Clyde legend was probably the LAST thing in the lawmen's minds at the time! It's ironic that the fact that they died in that horrific barrage of gunfire just solidified that image!

Frank Hamer was definitely a tough man who wouldn't hesitate to kill a man in the course of his duties, but in the context of his time, that does not make him a "ruthless killer" - I'm not sure of the exact legal issues that might be brought up today over the ambush of Bonnie and Clyde, but back in the OLD days (and Texas lawmen definitely tended to operate under the OLD code) a jury trial was not necessarily necessary to condemn a criminal; everyone remembers the old wanted posters that said, "Wanted, Dead or Alive." I think that attitude was still alive and well in the time of Bonnie and Clyde, whether it was strictly legal or not. Judging by the actions of some of those who had been involved, they obviously had been affected by the ambush. Granted, everyone who was involved knew they would be killing Bonnie as well as Clyde, and despite what they may have felt about her crimes, at the time it really wasn't the practice to deliberately target a woman.

Your comment about "dead is dead" is right on. Clyde didn't seem to be one who killed just for the sake of killing, but it was his actions that led to most of the situations in which he felt he had to kill or be killed. There was no reason for Doyle Johnson to die except that he made Clyde mad because he tried to prevent his car from being stolen. From Clyde's point of view, he probably saw that killing as more-or-less justified - he needed the car, Mr. Johnson was in the way, and that probably triggered that lightening-fast temper that some of Clyde's contemporaries describe.

I am looking forward to any information regarding a possible pregnancy. If Hamer had informed the men, that very well may have weighed heavily on their minds - killing a woman they believed to be pregnant would have been something that they, as lawmen, had probably never been asked to do before. Remember, females were treated a bit better than males when it came to the criminal justice system!

As always, I am enjoying the discussion - hope I don't sound too ignorant - and I'm looking forward to any new revelations!

A. Winston Woodward said...

I have an original newspaper from the time of B&C, which carried an article about the Texas Legislature voting to remove the phrase "Dead of Alive" from the State's posted reward for Clyde Barrow. I've never really understood that action. 1930's bleeding hearts showing compassion for a killer?? I wonder what it meant, for Texas politicians to have voted such as that?? Was that vote somehow a message of protest to Governor Ferguson, concerning an issue such as the overcrowding of jails-- which was a valid political hot potato at the time??

Historically regarding The Great Depression, you hear of public outcry against institutions and government-- resulting in a populous form of rebellion and anti-establishment expression. This grass root dissent, is sometimes linked to feelings of compassion and support for dust bowl outlaws such as B&C. But what does it mean, for a governmental authority to have voted an element of compassion for B&C?? A most interesting question.

BarefootOkieGal said...

You know, I had read that after Eastham, Texas law officers wanted a poster offering $2,500. for Clyde, with the poster reading "Wanted Dead." Cooler heads prevailed, and the $2,500. was then offered for Clyde "Dead or Alive." Given the feelings toward them at the time, I can't understand why they would back down even further and remove the "Dead or Alive" notation!

I believe that whatever the posters read, every officer understood the implication: Texas, at least, wanted Clyde dead.

Then we could go on and discuss Texas politics and politicians of the era... My Gawd! I've actually heard people suggest that Texas was a very progressive state for having a female governor; apparently they'd not been aware that "Pa" Ferguson had been kicked out of office!