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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Texas Tales"

Clyde's Funeral

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
Stories can turn up in weird places. For instance, who would expect to find an account of the Depression-era outlaw Clyde Barrow’s funeral in the self-published memoir of a long-time fiddler-turned-preacher?
Published in Fort Worth in 1975, “The Fiddler Changed His Tune” features the recollections of Carl L. Stewart, who had retired after more than 40 years as pastor of Boulevard Assembly of God Church in Cowtown.

Born near DeLeon in Comanche County on Nov. 16, 1902, Stewart grew up on his family’s farm. When a traveling medicine show came through town, Stewart took in the performance and discovered fiddle playing. With $5 earned picking cotton, he bought one for himself and learned to play it.
Book

When Stewart’s father died of surgical complications at 42, his family had a hard time getting by. Eventually Stewart’s mother left with him and his younger siblings for the then booming Imperial Valley in California. Following the Ranger oil discovery in 1917, Stewart’s mother returned to Texas hoping to lease their farm for drilling.

Just a teenager, Stewart started working in the oil patch and soon embraced the rougher side of life. “I had become a lover of square dances, a habitual cigarette smoker, and a drinker of moonshine liquor,” he confessed in his book. He also admitted to having developed a fondness for shooting craps, playing poker and running “with a crowd that was far from being considered perfect.”

Finally leaving the oil patch, he worked for the Texas Central Railroad followed by a period of time bumming across the country traveling a road, as he later put it, “that led to no good end.”

A transformative experience at a brush arbor revival and meeting a pretty girl he soon married turned his life around. By 1933 he had been ordained as an Assembly of God minister, albeit one who could still saw a mean fiddle.

About the time Stewart found the right road for him, a headline-grabbing young couple named Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker -- they robbed banks and shot people -- sped down a figurative dead end street in a stolen Ford V8. A posse of Texas and Louisiana lawmen finally caught up with them near Arcadia, La. on May 23, 1934 and gunned them down. They were returned to their hometown of Dallas for burial.

“I received a call asking me to come to Dallas to help arrange the private funeral services of Bonnie and Clyde,” Stewart wrote. “I consented and drove to Dallas to view the bullet-riddled bodies. Plans were arranged.”

Thousands lined up outside the Sparkman-Holden-Brand Funeral Home in the 1890-vintage A.H. Belo Mansion on Ross Avenue for a chance to gawk at Barrow’s body. On the afternoon of Friday, May 25, the casket was taken to Western Heights Cemetery in West Dallas. The graveside services began at 5 p.m.

Stewart agreed to participate in a quartet that would furnish music at Barrow’s graveside funeral. Dudley Hughes, the funeral director, would be one of the singers.

“It was a small, private service filled with fear of danger that did not develop,” the retired preacher went on. “Officers with guns joined the throngs of people who filled the streets and yard until the last words were spoken by Reverend Cliff Andrews, a Dallas pastor.”

An ice cream vendor who set up his cart just outside the cemetery entrance did a flourishing business on a hot, humid afternoon.

“One of the last scenes at the graveside was the low flying plane whose pilot dropped a beautiful wreath for Clyde’s grave,” Stewart wrote. “The card on the wreath read, ‘From a flying friend.’”

The air-dropped wreath had been paid for by Dallas police character Benny Binion, who later became a major player in the later development of Las Vegas as a gambling Mecca.

Binion went on to make big bucks, and the Barrow family could have done the same. Some huckster offered Barrow’s parents $50,000 for their son’s body, explaining that the dead outlaw could live on forever as a mummified attraction at a traveling tent show. The Barrows said no, paying $500 to bury their son next to his brother Buck, who had died the year before of gunshot wounds suffered when the Barrow gang had a shootout with police in Joplin, Mo.

In his book, the fiddling preacher took the high road in assessing the outlaw.

“It is not for me to know just how bad or good Clyde Barrow had been,” Stewart concluded, “but I can say that there was much evidence to prove he had many loved ones and friends….”

And that was all he had to say on the subject.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
February 5, 2009 column
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