Tuesday, August 23, 2016

When Reality Seems Stronger Than Lore.. Why Does Frank Hamer Get An Enormous Pass In Bonnie & Clyde History??

You know.. for a pair of thieving, murdering outlaws-- Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow sure could inspire great reputations in others.  And Capt. Frank Hamer, a lawman famous both inside and outside the pride and constraints of The Texas Rangers.. is to my way of thinking, perhaps the best example of Bonnie & Clyde aiding a reputation.  For when one examines Capt. Hamer outside the realm of Bonnie & Clyde History.. one finds an epic lawman's career.  Not just any lawman's career.. but rather the vaulted career of a lawman who's exploits, spanned both the end of the Wild West period, up until the time of fairly modern lawman of the '40's and '50's.

But despite all his heroic doings prior to Bonnie & Clyde-- I don't think many would disagree, his Bonnie & Clyde participation made him a lawman's immortal.  But in reality.. is his reputation within this history as chronicled over the years accurate and thus truly justified??  That is the question here.

Frank Hamer in 1915.. when Lawmen rode horses.

The Sherman Riot

To many, Hamer's exploits are legendary.. from taming cattle rustlers in his early days, to thwarting death plots and even dispersing opposing violent protesters in a 1940's U.S. Senate race. Then there's my personal favorite-- Frank Hamer's participation in the May 1930 Sherman Riot.  George Hughes an African American farm worker, had admittedly raped a white woman as retribution for back wages owed.  Hughes was arrested and scheduled for trial at the Sherman, Texas Courthouse. However, with angry mobs having gathered each night outside the jail, and the trial proceedings halted due to violence-- Hamer and a small contingent of men were dispatched to the courthouse to maintain order and protect Hughes.

By that time National Guard troops had been sent to Sherman to stop the 5000 or so angry people from enacting their own justice. And with Hughes locked in a court vault for his own protection, gasoline was thrown through a courthouse window and ignited. When the courthouse was torched, it was too late for Hughes or those sheltering him. Despite the efforts of Hamer and his men, George Hughes died in that court vault that day.. and when finally broken into, an already dead Hughes was removed, dragged through the streets, hung from a tree and burned.  

Hamer did his best.. and although eventually overwhelmed.. the character of a lawman intent on remaining true to his duties and enacting them without prejudice, is a telling testament to his character.  So too, are his skirmishes with political leaders and the consequences for him in bucking political-types, where he had little tolerance for cronyism.

Hamer's Bonnie & Clyde Participation

However, now we get to his participation in the take down of Bonnie & Clyde.. perceived acts which may inspire the greatest contribution to his legacy. To me, it's fair to ask.. were those legendary exploits really legendary at all.. or rather, inventions or embellishments of others for Hamer's benefit?? Whether inventions or embellishments are for others to decide. However, I feel there's strong factual evidence to support a different reality for Hamer within Bonnie & Clyde History.. a reality quite different from the one portrayed over the many decades now since 1934.  

Some would have you believe the addition of Frank Hamer to the search for Bonnie & Clyde, had the fearless outlaws and survivors of numerous near brushes with death.. "shaking in their boots" and looking over their shoulders-- cowering at just the thought of Hamer tracking them.  And some would have you envision Hamer being involved for a much longer time period than was actually the case. 

Hell, at least one movie portrayal now, has Hamer active as early as Dexfield Park.  And.. many feel Hamer, through great expertise and toil-- disciphered the travel patterns for The Barrow Gang.. and thus was able to anticipate their moves into Louisiana, and take advantage of that knowledge to lay in wait to gun down Bonnie & Clyde.  

But in reality.. that form of Hamer legend sure seems a lot like "home cookin".. with authors after the fact, recounting Hamer's Bonnie & Clyde exploits-- as if enacted by some chosen Messiah in the form of a quite human aging lawman.  For decades, it appears supporters of Hamer had their way in telling their versions of Frank Hamer's role within this history without rebuke-- for no one could prove Hamer historic embellishments otherwise. Evidence to the contrary didn't exist.. or so it seemed. Oh, but it did-- however the truth was.. key evidence just hadn't come to light.

However, with release of FBI's Dallas Bonnie & Clyde file 26-4114 about 10 years ago now.. many Bonnie & Clyde myths have needed a re-write, and others have bitten the dust.  And to me, so too did myths concerning Frank Hamer's participation within this history.

Myths Vs. Reality

Based on the remarkably complete more than one thousand page Dallas file.. revealed and documented with dates and exhaustive law enforcement comment-- concerning Hamer and the end for Bonnie & Clyde, the following is now known..

There "was" a deal struck to betray Bonnie & Clyde in Louisiana. A deal involving the Methvin family and go-betweens developed by men loyal to Bienville Parish Sheriff Henderson Jordan.  Thus, these were Louisiana informants.. which had nothing to do with Capt. Frank Hamer.. and not informants Hamer developed or had prior knowledge of.  

The U.S. Bureau of Investigation was active in Louisiana hunting Bonnie & Clyde for about a year prior to May of '34.. ever since the Sophie Stone incident.  Thus the Bureau was aware of informant activity and potential for Bonnie & Clyde betrayal prior to May of '34.. and the Bureau itself was much more involved in tracking Bonnie & Clyde, than was known prior to 2006. 

Within a memo date March 17th, 1934 from Dallas SAC Frank Blake (Bureau Dallas Field Office)-- to Bureau Director J. Edgar Hoover-- it was noted, that Lee Simmons had employed Frank Hamer to apprehend Clyde Barrow.  A commission requested by Lee Simmons as a result of the embarrassment of the Eastham Prison break in January 1934.  So Frank Hamer's tenure within Bonnie & Clyde History in reality, spanned just a short time.    

Although the action was increasingly in Louisiana.. When Hamer was supposedly involved in figuring out Bonnie & Clyde's travel patterns (an activity where documentation would be useful)-- Capt. Hamer "was" documented attempting to locate the source of a green dress in and around Dallas-- reportedly purchased for Bonnie. An action shared by Bob Alcorn who was searching for this lead along with him.  Info concerning the green dress, was furnished by Hamer to Joplin Chief of Detectives Ed Portley on a Dallas, Texas Hotel letterhead.. March 29th, 1934.

As revealed in a Bureau telegram from SAC Blake (Dallas) to SAC Whitley (New Orleans)-- "Parties" logically Hamer and the Boys from Texas were supposed to arrive Shreveport on April 20th, 1934.. but instead were noted to be arriving the following day.. Saturday April 21st.  Also Lester Kindell, the Bureau agent on the scene was to be notified of the parties arrival. 

April 24th, 1934 was the 1st of 3 reports noting the meetings concerning the "sell out" involving both the Methvins and informant John Joyner. The other reports were dated April 30th and May 14th.   The April 24th memo is of considerable importance for this purpose, as it provides a firm timeline for Hamer concerning his participation with the already developed take down.

SAC Whitley (New Orleans)-- states on April 22nd, 1934, he interviewed Deputy Sheriff Oakley at Arcadia and then telephoned Hamer to proceed to Arcadia the next day.  On April 24th, Whitley and Hamer met with Sheriff Henderson Jordan and Deputy Sheriff Oakley, where they all made the trip to Castor, LA to meet with the informants, Dr. Sledge of Castor and John Joyner (a good friend of the Methvins)-- who lived just 2 miles from them.

It was learned at that meeting, that a deal had been arranged.. whereby The State of Texas would "wipe the slate clean" concerning Henry Methvin in exchange for Barrow and Parker being "put on the spot".  This confirms a deal already in the works, (but interestingly the Texas contact seems unknown)-- when Hamer makes his 1st appearance in Louisiana concerning the sell out. Hamer then assures Joyner he can secure the guarantee of freedom for Henry Methvin in writing to help seal the deal-- as he has the promise of the prison Mgr who works with the Governor, and they will release any prisoner if it will aid in apprehending Barrow.  

Whitley then notes Henderson Jordan will keep The Bureau apprised of the situation. So it can be inferred, that Jordan is in control of the deal.. and those within his jurisdiction. It's also noted, Hamer then leaves immediately for Huntsville, Texas, to secure the documents needed. 
So seemingly within one key report.. all the proof needed concerning Hamer's true participation in the end game including dates, places and details.. concerning the deal developed in Louisiana by others which led to the capture of Bonnie & Clyde. Did Hamer join Louisiana lawmen and participate with them.  Yes, of course.. beginning on April 24th.  Did he provide crucial assistance??  You bet!! But were any of his actions the "catalyst" for Bonnie & Clyde's capture?? Concerning all the documentation available now, not available in decades past when a different "reality" was told.. with all respect, I don't see how anyone can make that case.            

A telegram dated April 27th, further notes Hamer and Bureau Special Agent Lester Kindell were to meet in Shreveport.  Don't forget the Bureau's involvement in Louisiana beginning in 1933.
Then of course there was the ambush posse. Despite his notoriety, the reality was, the ambush posse was not Frank Hamer's posse. Rather, that jurisdiction rested with Bienville Parish Sheriff Henderson Jordan.  So despite impressions to the contrary.. the Texas lawmen present that day were guests.. and as it turned out apparently weren't even sworn in with legal authority.  But in 1934, just a formality.. easily forgiven when Bonnie & Clyde were dead.
So in fairness-- did Hamer play a large role in helping to facilitate the deal struck with the Methvins to betray Bonnie & Clyde.. as a credible liaison to Texas Governor Miriam "Ma" Ferguson?? Absolutely, for that is documented as well.     

But also in fairness to this history-- it wasn't Hamer's info that led to Bonnie & Clyde's betrayal.. it wasn't Hamer's informants.. it wasn't Hamer's deal of betrayal.. it wasn't Hamer's jurisdiction and wasn't Hamer's posse.  So how did this history get re-told to benefit Hamer so greatly??  Perhaps.. just the sheer will of his family and biographers.. aided by a history with details lost in the shadows for so long.  

And please let me state.. I have nothing against the valiant and heroic Texas lawman Capt. Frank Hamer.  If anything, I respect and hold dear his staunch stand against wrong and corruption among those who looked to direct Hamer without honesty and sacrifice.  However, despite his lauded life's achievement within law enforcement-- is it fair to have Hamer's stamp so indelibly affixed to Bonnie & Clyde History, with him as it's grand "savior" and champion??

Not to me.. for I call this history like I see it-- and based on the evidence as it exists, I don't view Hamer in that light.  

Now once on the ground in Louisiana and privy to happenings there-- did Frank Hamer contribute greatly to ambush plans??.. which BTW, did not originally include Sailes as it's focal point-- as the original plan, was 1st reserved for the area around Terrell Methvin's home well away from Sailes.  "Yes, Of course".  However it's fair to ask, without Jordan, Oakley, their informants and the U.S Bureau of Investigation's nearly year of preparation in Louisiana-- where would Hamer be within his quest for a Bonnie & Clyde solution.. within an increasingly B&C rich Louisiana?? Unknown-- but not likely where he found himself thrust into on April 24th, 1934.                 

Photo of Ambush Posse to my way of thinking.. the way they should be thought of.  A team effort, led by Louisiana lawmen.
And BTW-- as it's been said so many times by those touting Hamer seemingly as some mythical figure, or by those promoting books which portray him as close to such-- that it was Hamer who killed Bonnie & Clyde.  "Oh I dunno".. seems that honor went to Prentiss Oakley-- who put a bullet into Clyde's head, and thus with something telling him to fire before the other 5 lawmen present that day in May of '34.. his 2 deadly shots in rapid-succession.. ended Bonnie & Clyde's reign of terror.

To me, I don't see how it can't be said with assurance.. that Henderson Jordan and his Deputy along with their informants provided the ways and means to capture Bonnie & Clyde.. along with the assistance of 4 Texas lawmen.  And based on lore passed down over many decades-- a most fortunate Texas lawman kneeling next to Sheriff Jordan.. seemingly benefited most.