Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Controversy in Arcadia??-- Where is Prentiss Oakley??

Now this is the damnedest thing. During this past Ambush anniversary weekend, the park created within the former walls of Congers Furniture Store and Mortuary in Arcadia, LA-- was dedicated in the memory of Sheriff Henderson Jordan. The new Henderson Jordan Memorial Park bears a plaque, which lists all the ambush posse members "except" Prentiss Oakley. The plaque notes Jordan was one of six law enforcement officers who participated in the ambush of Bonnie and Clyde, but goes on to name only 5 of them-- thus leaving out native son Oakley?!?

Within comments Henderson Jordan made, he always seemed quick to acknowledge Oakley-- and both are buried within the same cemetery, just down the road from this location. As Deputy Sheriff Oakley (who later served as Bienville Parish Sheriff)-- has been recognized with almost universal agreement, as being the man who fired the fatal shot that felled Clyde Barrow-- many are asking why he would be omitted from his rightful place on this plaque??

An update--
Upon speaking with Professor Carroll Rich who hails from Arcadia, LA-- knew both Jordan, Oakley and their families and who has great concern over this apparent oversight-- Dr. Rich suggested I contact Mayor Eugene Smith of Arcadia. Mayor Smith and I had a pleasant conversation, ranging from this topic to other areas of B&C History-- which he seemed well versed in.

Mayor Smith was straight forward and offered no excuses. He said he's not sure how Prentiss Oakley was left off the plaque, but would work to remedy it. Professor Rich suggested that perhaps an additional plaque could be placed next to the present one, commemorating Oakley. Hopefully if that's the solution, both plaques would remain in place, as Mayor Smith told me that apparently someone has "already" attempted to vandalize the new memorial plaque, leaving it loose upon it's base.

A further update-- After speaking with Mayor Smith, I've now been told city officials have removed their plaque after being displayed for less than a week. Perhaps while the brain trust at Arcadia is deciding how to better secure their plaque-- they'll decide to include the name of Prentiss Oakley upon it. My thanks to Shelley Mitchell for the photo.


Shelley said...

The glaring omission of Prentiss Oakley's name on the new Henderson Jordan Memorial Park plaque is not the only faux pas made by Bienville Parish officials, it seems.

The last sentence on the plaque reads: "Bonnie and Clyde were responsible for thirteen murders (including nine law officers) and numerous robberies during their four year crime spree."

First off, just who are they counting as one of these 13 "victims" -- Big Ed Crowder - or Wade McNabb?? Twelve is the most widely accepted number of true victims actually killed by the Barrows. Even if we overlook this exaggeration, we cannot disregard the other. "FOUR YEAR crime spree"??? I think NOT!!!! As we all know, Clyde and Bonnie had less than a 2-year run before being shot to pieces on that Louisiana country backroad 76 years ago. True facts should be well-confirmed before placement on historical markers for all to read, generations from now. I was more than a bit stunned when I unveiled the plaque to read it, two nights before the dedication.

A. Winston Woodward said...

At least within recent memory, I keep seeing 13 as being the most commonly expressed number of Barrow Gang killings. All are entitled to their opinions concerning Barrow Gang victims-- including those killed by Barrow himself.

I stand with those who count Wade McNabb, as the 13th victim. McNabb was most likely killed by Joe Palmer while a member of The Barrow Gang-- and likely in the company of Barrow & Methvin. Jim Knight and I discussed this for a B&CHB feature last year. He singled out McNabb as not only a Barrow Gang victim, but as being the only Barrow Gang hostage killed as well.

In my view, Crowder should not be considered as a Barrow Gang victim-- as his murder (likely committed by Clyde)-- was an individual killing without Barrow Gang organization.

If you count the Denton, Texas incident on November 29th, 1929 involving Clyde, Buck and Sidney Moore as being an early Barrow Gang crime-- and include all Clyde's organized incidents through May 23rd, 1934, you end up with a period of more than 4 years-- interrupted by Clyde's prison time. If you're only counting from the killing of Malcolm Davis to the end-- that's just about the 17 months many site.

But how can you not include Temple, Carlsbad, Stringtown, Hillsboro, and Kaufman-- which would encompass a period of 25 months?? As killings occurred within that grouping, I go with 2 years and 1 month (including Kaufman with Bonnie Parker)-- as being the Barrow Gang reign of terror.

As far as Clyde killings, Clyde himself bragged of 6 by June 10, 1933. However, that would encompass all the killings to that point not counting John Bucher. If you count Doyle Johnson as a W.D. Jones killing, and give Clyde 1 of 2 at Grapevine, I believe you still end up with 6. I think 6 for Clyde is a pretty safe bet.

BarefootOkieGal said...

When something like this happens, I always wonder if it was a deliberate omission or just a slip-up by someone. I am willing to bet that many people who see the plaque are asking the same question, because in the part of the country where the ambush happened, people usually KNOW the whole story, at least when it comes to knowing the names involved. I've seen Oakley named in a number of writings as the man who likely fired the fatal bullet into Clyde - I wonder if the makers of the plaque left his name off because the park is named for Henderson Jordan, and maybe they felt it would detract from his image.

As far as the "four years" figure for the Barrow gang - that might be debated, but if one is claiming that "Bonnie and Clyde were responsible..." then I think they should be counting only the time that Bonnie was an active part of the Barrow Gang, which was not even two years. There were a lot of different versions of "The Barrow Gang," and there are a lot of different stories about who killed whom, but Bonnie and Clyde did not have a four-year crime spree!

Shelley said...

We are all well aware that Clyde Barrow was heavily involved in criminal activity long before Bonnie joined him. No one is disputing that fact. But the plaque reads "THEIR four year crime spree" - and that is incorrect.

Bonnie did not begin her fugitive run with Clyde until AFTER she was released from the Kaufman jail, in June of 1932. Prior to this, she still lived at home with her mama, and maintained a relatively "normal" existence. Yes, she kept company with Clyde, but she was not yet a full-time active participant in his criminal capers. From '30 to '32, Clyde was just one of many undistinguished youthful offenders in the crime-infested streets of West Dallas (and he spent at least half that time imprisoned!). So it cannot be said with any degree of accuracy that "they" had a "crime spree" that lasted 4 years!

Although I do feel truly sorry for the innocent men who lost their lives due to their encounters with the Barrows, I do not consider either Big Ed OR McNabb to be in that category. Both were vicious, sadistic men who preyed upon those who were smaller and/or weaker than themselves. Big Ed brutalized and sodomized poor little Clyde until he could take it no more. What else was Clyde gonna do? - report him??? HA! A lot of good that would have done!!! There was only one way for Clyde to end it, and he did. He had little choice, other than to endure possibly another dozen or so years of more of the same. Since he had no intention of going on as Big Ed's "bitch", it was a matter of survival. Some of us, including myself, would say this was a case of justifiable homicide.

Wade MeNabb was a similar case, with Joe being his victim. Joe Palmer was not a well man. He was plagued with an array of serious illnesses. McNabb tortured and beat him (and others, as well) for the sheer enjoyment of doing so. His was what I would call a "retaliation killing". It was a vendetta - and Palmer got his revenge. I doubt Clyde (much less Bonnie) had much stake in this. For that matter, do we really know for sure that they were even there when Palmer put an end to this evil perpetrator???

In my opinion, the true "victim" list should stand at 12 - or even less. Like many others, I still do not believe Clyde killed Howard Hall of Sherman, Texas. Nevertheless, I do not debate his inclusion as one of twelve. And I would agree that Clyde may well have killed as many as half of these men, but we will never know for sure about some of them.

I just think that historical markers and plaques have an obligation to get their facts straight, as much as possible. Unfortunately, many do not. Take the Grapevine marker, for instance. It states that the "infamous criminals" Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, (alone), shot and killed Wheeler and Murphy there on Easter Sunday, 1934. Not a single word mentioning Henry Methvin's clear and direct involvement in this crime! To me, that omission of truth is both misleading - and unconscionable.

BarefootOkieGal said...

In the books I've read there is some debate as to the actual size of "Big Ed" Crowder - some accounts put him at 6" tall and 200 lbs., whereas "The Life Behind the Legends" states that he was about 5'8" and weighed 151 lbs - but there's very little debate about his treatment of Clyde. Whether he was a very large man who could dominate others with his sheer physical force or if he was just a smallish man (not much bigger than Clyde, actually) he was still in a position in which he could abuse other prisoners, and I believe that he was known as the sort of guy who'd do that.

Many people who knew Clyde say that prison changed him in a lot of ways, and everyone agreed that he would do anything in his power never to end up in prison again. I can't help but think of "The Grapes of Wrath" - Mrs. Barrow could very well have asked Clyde the same questions that Ma Joad asked her son: "... I got to ask you - you ain't mad?... You ain't poisoned mad? You don't hate nobody? They didn' do nothin' in that jail to rot you out with crazy mad?" Unfortunately, unlike Tom Joad, Clyde appears to have come out of prison very, very angry indeed. (Ma Joad, in the novel, goes on to explain to her son how she had known Pretty Boy Floyd's family and that they were good people, but that prison had made Pretty Boy "mean-mad," and I think her further comments could well be said to fit Clyde Barrow as well as Pretty Boy Floyd). I certainly don't excuse Clyde Barrow - he was, after all, a grown man (still mighty young, though) able to make his own decisions. Still... without men like Big Ed, maybe there would not have to have BEEN an ambush...

A. Winston Woodward said...

It's somehow most fitting, that the Wellington incident will soon see renewed attention here. I seem to put more credence in Clyde's own words, as expressed to Sheriff Corey and Marshal Hardy-- regarding his "admitted" tally of killings than some do. Clyde boasted to Corey and Hardy, regarding having to kill 6 men as of June 10th, 1933. This of course could include Ed Crowder and not include Doyle Johnson.

To me, Clyde's admission is important. I feel it makes sense to pay attention to this now available and credible eye witness account, rather than just suppose which murders were committed by whom-- based on less reliable info.

Staunch Barrow Gang defender's tallies are almost always less, within discussions such as this.

BarefootOkieGal said...

Clyde was always pretty open and honest about who he'd killed and why, and I don't see any reason he'd have had to either inflate or deflate the number of killings he'd personally committed - his family members tended to believe him when he said he didn't kill a particular person because, as they said, he'd admitted so many horrible crimes to them, why would he lie?

Shelley said...

BarefootOkieGal makes an excellent point here. Clyde, I believe, was always truthful with his family when it came to who he killed and why. He vehemently denied killing Howard Hall of Sherman, and that is one of the reasons why I believe someone else committed this crime. While he 'fessed up to so much, it seems pointless that he would lie to them about other incidents.

As for the memorial plaque, this may well prove to be a costly mistake for the small town of Arcadia to absorb. I don't see "how" they could possibly just "add" Prentiss Oakley's name to this bronze(?) plaque. In fact, I'd say that would be impossible. The only way they can now rectify this error would be to start all over with a new plaque. I have no idea what that might cost, but my guess is that it'll be quite expensive to replace. How they managed to overlook Oakley in the first place is beyond me!