Friday, August 13, 2010

A Guy Named Barrow-- Believed Published for the 1st Time Since 1934

Here's one you don't see every day. During the desperate years of the Depression, outlaws like Bonnie & Clyde captivated the public's imagination. To many, B&C were wild and unpredictable killers-- but to some, it seems they served an unlikely role as anti establishment heroes. In 1934, a woman named Myrtle J. Potter wrote a poem which was published in a Dallas newspaper. For nearly 7 decades, Myrtle's poem lay dormant within the archives of The Dallas Public Library.

9 years ago, in scouring these archives for Bonnie & Clyde materials-- Shelley Mitchell helped uncover this gem of a B&C memory while researching with Jimmy Ray Gillman. Now Shelley's been most kind, in offering the Myrtle Potter poem for all to enjoy here on The B&CHB. Many thanks to Shelley, for sharing this unique piece of 1930's commentary with us. It's believed, this is the 1st time Myrtle's poem has been published in any truly public medium since 1934. So please enjoy this colorful offering, including it's wonderful Depression Age language and slang.

To me, this is a most interesting commentary on Clyde Barrow, in that some of Myrtle's expressions almost seem sympathetic to him-- while it's ending appears to suggest a solution in dealing with Clyde, which had an eerily true ring to it. *Note the last 2 stanzas of Myrtle's poem and the date below it-- and then consider, the events which occurred but just one month later. As always-- I welcome your comments.

Guy Named Barrow

Thar's a big drive on, and it's nationwide
For a guy named Barrow, and his first name is Clyde
He's a fresh young squirt from the Longhorn State
And makin' his rounds in a Ford V- eight

He's been a-bustin' inter banks, and abreakin' outer jails
Ascarin' the wimmin, and arobbin' the males
And he killed two cops, the goshderned fool
Now he's gone and shot himself a constibule

For a long time he's been acuttin' such capers
And agittin' his name inter all the blamed papers
Till Ma down in Austin got her dander up
And decided to ketch this onery pup

So she ups and puts a price on his head
Says she wants Clyde Barrow alive or dead
Now the cops are some worried, fer all they know
That's he's as void of a conscience as hell is of snow

And, as no smart cop wants to jine the saints
They don't look where he is, they just look where he ain't
And these fellers don't deserve no blame
If I was a cop I'd do the same

For they had Barrow once, locked him tight in a cell
And Ross let him out, so what the hell?
Now it's up to somebody to ketch him agin
So let that thar Pardon Board go fetch him in

If this was a rule, thar ain't no doubt
They'd be a derned sight carefuller who they let out
Now, up in the country where I come from
They'd make short work of this son of a gun

They'd jist set on the fence sorta innocent like
Till this pole cat come afriskin' down the pike
And as he passed by, they'd just cut loose
And fill both his eyes with terbaccer juice

Myrtle J. Potter
April 16, 1934
Dallas, Texas


Shelley said...

I've always loved this poem, and hope everyone else is enjoying it as well. It has an authentically vintage "feel" to it, replete with down-home Texas humor. And to be interpreted correctly, one must attach a thick southern drawl to these clever words!

Many years after this poem was written, "Bonnie & Clyde" - the movie - DID get a few things right. They WERE anti-establishment heroes to many amongst the poor and downtrodden. That rebellious nature is what resonated so well with audiences in the late '60s.

"Guy Named Barrow" also reflects paradoxical elements to the story. Yes, Clyde was an outlaw, but there is a decidedly reverential undercurrent to this whimsical ode. The press often referred to them as being the "phantom fugitives", and a large segment of society cheered them on.

While this poem's great from start to finish, I am particularly fond of this stanza: "And, as no smart cop wants to jine the saints, they don't look where he is, they just look where he ain't"! This seemed to be a prevailing attitude, and apparently, most of the people who came in contact with them were none to eager to point "the laws" in the right direction.

BarefootOkieGal said...

This is fabulous! This is a contemporary piece of writing that gives an outsider's view of the Barrow gang, right down to the fact that everyone knows that someday B&C WILL be stopped. The writing does seem overall rather sympathetic - depicting their crimes rather humorously, describing Clyde as a "goshdurned fool" and an "ornery pup."

It's a well-known fact that they were being written about even while they were still alive - in the pulp magazines and other lower-class writings, mostly - and I believe that it is in those mostly-fictional accounts of B&C's supposed activities that we can find the worst depictions of B&C - the tabloids came up with some pretty wild ideas about their lives and times, but I'm guessing that times haven't changed at all - people like to read gossip and innuendo, and I'm sure that the contemporary writings on B&C are chock-full of that sort of thing. It's fascinating to me to see B&C from the eyes of not the law, nor their family members, but of an outsider who is writing solely based on what she knew about them from already published materials.

The story of B&C is so complex that it is always good to run into new sources of information - even erroneous information can sometimes give you a good idea of how B&C were viewed by others during their own lives. I would be interested in finding and reading some of the flashy tabloid/detective magazines of the time - that would be a good way to catch yet another glimpse of B&C, as seen through the eyes of the pulp media. Somewhere in all of the readings, all of the family stories, all of the police records, and in the stories and poems and everything else that was written about them, the true story of Bonnie and Clyde lies. I think the challenge is picking out the facts from the fiction!

They definitely had a hold on the public's imagination from the time Bonnie became publicly associated with the gang until the time they died. I find it interesting that this poem makes no mention of Bonnie!

BarefootOkieGal said...

One of the big differences, I feel, between the time of Clyde and Bonnie and the times today, is that back in those days, outlaws very often could count on common-place citizens to keep quiet as to their activities - I believe a large part of this is due to depression-era sensibilities, when even honest men might understand the troubles that set some people down the outlaw path and perhaps say, "There but for the grace of God go I." There were a lot of people who saw them as heroes in one way or another, whether that honor was deserved or not. In the only "outlaw viewing" story that my family ever told, the outlaw was Pretty Boy Floyd, the spotter was my Aunt Marie, and this was about 1932 or 1933 in Talequah, OK. Aunt Marie spotted Pretty Boy (everyone recognized most of the outlaws of the day) in a grocery story and pointed him out to my grandmother. My grandma took one look and told Aunt Marie not to stare at him or bother him in any way, "'cause everyone's entitled to go buy some groceries without being pestered to death," or words to that effect. I am pretty certain that if B&C had showed up at my grandparents' door, needing help, they would have gotten it. That was just the way people of a certain class behaved, once upon a time...

Shelley - I read the poem in my best "Second-hand Okie Drawl," which is mighty powerful and manages to convince people that I was NOT born right here in California, and it does sound better that way!

It's still interesting to me that Bonnie is not mentioned in the poem - wonder if the gal who wrote it might have had herself a tough of a crush on ol' Clyde... (GRIN!)