23 will mark the 70th anniversary of the Louisiana ambush that brought
an end to depression desperadoes Bonnie
Parker and Clyde Barrow. But without an event that occurred more
than four months earlier near the Houston
County community of Weldon,
the ambush might have not happened. On January 16, 1934, Bonnie and
Clyde, accompanied by James Mullens, engineered the escape of Raymond
Hamilton, their one-time partner in crime, from Eastham Prison west
Using a pair of pistols smuggled by Mullens and his older brother
into a culvert near a prison woodpile, Hamilton and fellow prisoner
Joe Palmer killed Major Crowson, a work gang guard, and wounded another,
Olin Bozeman. They then fled with three other work gang prisoners,
Henry Methvin, Hilton Bybee and J.B. French. To cover the escape,
Barrow and Mullens fired rifles into the air.
While French fled into the surrounding woods, the others headed toward
the sound of the horn of a stolen black Ford on the Calhoun Ferry
Road, where Bonnie was waiting.
While Methvin is often described as a member of the Bonnie and Clyde
gang, he was actually in Eastham on unrelated charges and simply saw
a chance to escape when the breakout occurred. He piled into the Ford
with everyone else.
Driven by Barrow, the car headed for Hillsboro,
skirted a police dragnet over central Texas, and headed for Fort
Worth, where they dropped off Bybee. Texas Prison Director Lee
Simmons. was profoundly embarrassed by the escape. Dallas
Sheriff R.A. Schmid told the Dallas Morning News he had earlier warned
Eastham officials Hamilton was plotting his escape. Schmid quoted
a prison official as saying, "Why, Hamilton is as gentle as a male
manicurist. He's just like any other prisoner."
Simmons was infuriated by the comments. He persuaded retired Texas
Ranger Frank Hamer to come out of retirement and capture Bonnie and
Clyde. Hamer discovered that Methvin, the accidental escapee, had
a family at Arcadia, Louisiana. He and Simmons struck a deal with
Methvin's father that his son's prison term would be commuted if Bonnie
and Clyde's whereabouts were disclosed.
On April 13, Bonnie and Clyde visited the Methvin home in the company
of young Henry. On May 21, they attended a party at Blake Lake, Louisiana,
and were scheduled to return to the area two days later.
dawn on May 23, 1934, a posse of lawmen from Louisiana and Texas,
including Ranger Hamer, hid in the bushes along an old country road
near Gibsland. As the morning sun broke through the trees, Bonnie
and Clyde appeared in a 1934 Ford they had stolen from a couple in
Kansas. When they saw the ambush and attempted to flee, the posse
opened fire. Bonnie and Clyde died instantly.
Before their bodies arrived at the Arcadia furniture store that doubled
as a funeral home, passers-by battled police for glimpses of the car's
bloody cargo. The crowd tore at the car and the bodies inside, hoping
to take away keepsakes of the notorious couple, such as locks of hair.
Raymond Hamilton, who had been caught earlier, was executed for his
part in the Eastham prison escape and the death of the prison guard,
although fellow escapee Joe Palmer maintained that he had fired the
shot that killed Crowson.
Today, while everyone still wants to known where Bonnie and Clyde
were killed seventy years ago, no one seems to care much about the
little corner of East Texas
where the events that led to their death were set in motion four months
Things Historical May 11, 2004 Column.
Published with permission
A weekly column syndicated in 70 East Texas newspapers
Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association.