Thursday, August 5, 2010

Bonnie, Clyde and Me-- The Foreword & Introduction-- Billie's Intent, Revelations & Depression Age Realities

A quite interesting aspect of Billie Jean Parker Moon's previously unseen manuscript-- is it's unique foreword & introduction. In it's unfinished form, it's a bit difficult to envision-- how what exists of Billie's book would have been revised from it's 2nd draft, to become a more unified and complete work. As such the foreword is identified, but what would likely be the introduction-- who's words paint a vivid and most passionate picture of Depression Age life, just appears-- sandwiched in between the foreword and Billie's 1st Bonnie and Clyde account of the Sowers ambush.

Be it incomplete, Billie's manuscript is uniquely important for what it is-- a most "remarkable" and welcomed addition to Bonnie & Clyde History. I thought you might enjoy reading this insightful foreword with it's revealing look into Billie, and snapshot of the times in which she and Bonnie and Clyde lived. Within these colorfully patterned words, are melded a vivid portrayal of Depression Age life-- along with Clint Kelley's impressions of Billie, and Billie's reasoning for wanting to publish a book on Bonnie and Clyde. I have searched without success so far for Mr. Kelley-- as I would like very much if possible, to speak with him concerning Billie's effort of which he was involved.

What I believe are Kelley's descriptions of the Depression Years, jump off the page so nicely at times-- that I wonder if like Billie, he too was a product of those tough and hellish years?? Based on the tenor of expressions used, I feel that may have been the case. I as many of you, have read numerous accounts of the Depression. But I've never read an expression of the 1930's quite like this. This dynamically phrased introduction, seems to bring the strained realities of those hardened times front and center.

You'll note one current politically non-correct term, which within the years of The Great Depression I would suppose appropriate-- whereas now, this racially charged description would be considered decidedly out of bounds. I find it intriguing, this term was still used in the 1970's in writing of the 1930's. However the "furor" over this word, wouldn't erupt fully until the 1990's. Don't shoot the messenger-- but instead enjoy all of what I feel is a telling look at Billie's motivation for wanting to write her book-- plus a unique insight into the times of Bonnie & Clyde. Of particular note are Billie's feelings concerning the Methvins, and her admission that she might have made a similar deal concerning the ambush-- should she have been in a position to save Bonnie. Wow!! As usual, accounts from Billie's manuscript are re-told verbatim. I believe this time, I've only corrected a spelling error or 2 along the way-- where they obviously needed to be. In the words of Clint and Billie Jean--

"Billie Jean Parker Moon is a rare lady who has mastered the art of forgiving and, in some cases, forgetting. She bears no anomosity toward anyone, even though her life and her family were irrevocably shattered during the three bullet-spattered years her sister Bonnie rode the outlaw trail with Clyde Barrow. With hindsight born in the 40 years since those fateful days, Billie has sorted out her feelings and has attempted to sort out the fact and fiction surrounding the famous duo. In this book, she is not attempting to vindicate Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. She is trying, simply, to set the record straight. "I want to tell their side of the story as they told it to me during those years when it actually was occurring," she said."

"Bonnie Parker was never in any trouble at all until she met Clyde Barrow. But when the trouble started, she stood by him and rode out the storms. In the process, since Billie was extremely close to her only sister, she found herself drawn into situations on which the law frowned. In one case, Billie was arrested and charged with the slayings of two motorcycle patrolmen, killed in a brief battle with elements of the Barrow gang. She wasn't there, as later was proven to the satisfaction of officials, but her arrest and confinement would have left scars on a lesser person. Eventually, she was sentenced to serve a year in prison as an accessory to Bonnie and Clyde."

"W. D. Jones, a member of the Barrow gang for several months, did exactly what Clyde Barrow told him to do if he ever was arrested. Jones gave police a statement saying Bonnie and Clyde had forced him to join the gang and keep him with them through use of force. Jones also said in the statement Billie was a member of the gang. While it was true that she frequently rode with Bonnie and Clyde and helped nurse them after shootings and assorted accidents, she never actually participated in any crime perpetrated by any member of the gang."

"In retrospect, Billie says she can't really hate even the Methvins, who "sold out" Bonnie and Clyde in 1934 and set up the ambush that led to their bloody deaths. "Old man Methvin was simply trying to save his son (gang member Henry Methvin)," Billie said. "I can understand his making a deal with the law to help kill Bonnie and Clyde in return for charges being dropped against Henry. If I could have made the same deal to save Bonnie, I might have done it."

"The only man she really hates is a former friend whom she refuses to identify. He was the man who drove the family car on a windy night in Grapevine when Bonnie and Clyde almost were killed as they attempted to meet with their families. "That man sold them out for a used car and a few dollars, she said. "His only motive was profit. He didn't have a son to save like Mr. Methvin did." Billie's close association with Bonnie and Clyde during their period on the run has given her valuable insights to their lives and valuable details of their triumphs and failures. As a "non-member" of the gang, she is the only person associated closely with the facts who can afford, emotionally and legally, to disclose details."

"Writing a book with Billie has proven difficult because of this attitude she has built up over the intervening 40 years. She has, in some cases, refused to name people involved with the gang, even though those names are well-known and already have been associated publicly with Bonnie and Clyde. "I know how I would feel if one of those people wrote a book and used my name," she said. "I've stayed out of the public limelight since Bonnie and Clyde were killed and I wouldn't appreciate someone stirring all that up again."

"While some people would attempt to capitalize on such a relationship, Billie has not. Ironically, her neighbors in a quiet section of Mesquite, Texas, where she resides, have no idea she is the sister of Bonnie Parker. And that's the way Billie wants to keep it. "My only interest is telling people some of the things Bonnie tried to tell them before she died." Billie said. "The kids led a rough life and they wouldn't want anyone-- then or now-- to follow in their footsteps."

Clint Kelley
January 1975
Dallas, Texas

"The world was a miserable, wretched place to be in the 1930's. It was a time when death lurked around every street corner-- death which could be as slow as starvation or as quick as a whistling machinegun bullet. It was a time when normally strong men took the easy way out and suicides became as common as sunrise. It was a time when bedraggled mothers worried because their spindle-legged children were sporting painfully bloated stomachs, heartbreaking symptoms of malnutrition. And it was a time when the pall of despair lay more heavily over the countryside than the air pollution and stench of more modern times."

"It was not a time for decision-making. Everyone and everything-- including the immediate future-- was in doubt. But it was a period when decisions were forced.. when they were wrung from the hearts and souls of every person by sheer force of poverty and circumstance. Texas, like the rest of the world, was in turmoil. While a handful of men were getting rich in the massive oil boom, the average citizen was hard-scrabbling a niggardly existence in which the staff of life was being whittled shorter with every skimpy meal. Farmers and laborers worked 18 hours a day for short wages, hoping and praying times would get better and the dinner table eventually would be laden with something besides the beans and cornbread which stood between them and death."

"The 1930's were tough times-- for everyone, everywhere."

Billie Parker Moon's manuscript is © 2010 The Bonnie & Clyde History Blog by A. Winston Woodward-- with all rights reserved. Many thanks


Anonymous said...

I happen to have an old dictionary and the definition of niggardly that Billie uses in her manuscript means "sparing expense or covetous." Before this word was turned into a racial slur it was a perfectly acceptable word that had nothing to do with race.

BarefootOkieGal said...

Another treat! The more of Billie's writings I read, the more I grow to admire her - she showed such love and loyalty to her sister and to the man her sister loved; although her natural impulses may have very well led her to betray Clyde to save Bonnie, I don't think that meant that she didn't care for Clyde - I think it was merely that she loved her sister deeply and would have done anything she could to save her, even if it meant the death of someone else she cared for. She had to have spent so much time in turmoil, and yet she comes across as a very caring, very warm person.

While I was born long after the Great Depression, my parents were affected by it - my mother was born in Oklahoma in 1925 and she had siblings who were much older, and the stories they had to tell! They would travel to Texas and and other nearby states to work in the cotton fields or whatever fields needed to be worked. My grandmother would bake a batch of biscuits and because they could not afford butter, they ate them with lard. My grandfather was often gone, as he would search for work in nearby towns and when he got lucky, everyone else was left out in the country without the car (they owned a beat-up old Model A, I believe.)

Believe it or not, my mom says they were better off than city people, because they could gather wild food - my relatives ate polk salad, although it can be poisonous if not prepared correctly; they also picked other wild greens and fruits that they ran across. They ate possums, rather reluctantly. (Possum is greasy, according to my mom.) Another aspect of living in the country during the Depressing instead of the city was that country people tended to stick together and if a family was desperate, neighbors would somehow find a way to help out, whereas my grandfather would tell the kids stories of the cities and how mean the people were getting and how hard it was to come in from the country looking for work, because the people in the cities resented that.

My dad never talked much about how the Depression affected his family (he lived in Missouri and Iowa during that time) but he did say that he gained 20 lbs. his first couple of weeks in the Army...

It really makes me feel as if I understand B&C better because I was able to listen to my family's stories of the Depression, and how desperate people were. Many young men turned to stealing when they could not afford to buy; Clyde was probably no more larcenous than other young men, but he paid a higher price than most of these young men, many of whom grew up to be respectable citizens who looked back on their desperate days with shame, although at the time they felt they had no choice.

I think B&C were a product of their specific times. If Clyde had been born 10 years earlier or later, he could have become a soldier and fought in either WWI or WWII - he may have been an excellent soldier, given his love of guns and his daring and lack of fear! If times had not been so hard, perhaps Bonnie could have pursued some type of acting or singing career - as it was, there was no time or money to make dreams like that come true.

I am so enjoying Billie's manuscript!

A. Winston Woodward said...

As mentioned, in the 1930's the more traditional definition of the word niggardly-- was seemingly appropriate. However-- based primarily on the David Howard incident which occurred in 1999, as well as other well documented controversies related to this term from 1999 and beyond-- the "traditional" definition of niggardly has been augmented by the more modern, and less acceptable racial slur.

Clint Kelley is clearly the author of Billie's foreword-- and it's my feeling Mr. Kelley may have also written what I consider the introduction, which includes this term. These writings are from 1974 and 75.

I don't normally publish anonymous comments-- but I thank you for your contribution. Please identify yourself next go round. Thanks.