I grew up knowing the story of Bonnie and Clyde as well as I knew the fairy tales my mother read to me. In fact, in family stories, one of our distant (always emphasized in the telling) cousins was rumored to have sheltered them from time to time. And if you dug long enough, you were sure to find a common ancestor. My family, however, did not see them as the glamorous bank robbers portrayed in the film. We knew the Barrows gang as reckless killers who robbed and killed anyone who got in their way. In their brief run they are said to have killed 13 people, as many as 9 of which were law men. But contrary to the myth that they only targeted banks, they usually robbed small stores or rural gas stations since it was easier to escape detection. Their take was usually small and they were constantly on the run.
Bonnie Parker was not the pistol packing, cigar smoking desperado depicted in the press and crime magazines of the time. She, never smoked cigars – the famous photo of her with a cigar in her mouth was staged as a prank. And as for the pistol-packing outlaw, Bonnie was not actively involved in the shootings, and probably never killed anyone, but only drove the getaway cars.
Bonnie grew up in the depression, the child of a single mother after her father died when she was four. Life was harsh and they struggled to get by. But Bonnie loved music and the stage. She performed in school pageants and talent shows and excelled at writing. She told her friends they would see her name in lights someday, a dream that ironically came true– but in a sadly distorted way.
Both Bonnie and Clyde were devoted to their families and made frequent trips to Dallas to visit. When they had money, they sent it to their families; when they did not, the families sent them food and provisions.
While in prison in 1932 after a failed hardware store burglary, Bonnie wrote a collection of 10 poems called “Poetry from Life’s Other Side,” One of these, “The Story of Suicide Sal,” about an innocent country girl lured by her boyfriend into a life of crime, was left
behind when the gang escaped the police in Joplin, Mo. Two weeks before her death, apparently sensing that the end was near, Bonnie wrote a poem for her mother called “The Trail’s End” that ended with the stanza:
Some day they’ll go down together;
And they’ll bury them side by side,
To a few it’ll be grief—
To the law a relief—
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.
We may never know the true story of Bonnie and Clyde, but their poignant love story shines through. For Bonnie and Clyde it was love at first sight and their love endured overwhelming hardship. Bonnie was still married to her first husband, shocking behavior in those days. Clyde was a hardened criminal constantly on the run. But Bonnie remained a loyal companion to Clyde, although she believed their violent deaths inevitable. Their daily lives were difficult as they struggled to evade discovery, resorting to campfire cooking and bathing in cold streams. In 1933, Bonnie was injured in a car crash and badly burned. She never regained full use of her leg and often had to be carried by Clyde.
After two short years on the run, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were killed in ambush on an isolated stretch of highway in the piney woods near Gibsland, Louisiana, about 50 miles from the farm where I grew up. A combined total of about 130 rounds left their bodies so riddled with holes that embalming was almost impossible. More than 20,000 people attended Bonnie’s funeral, and flowers arrived from all over the country, some said to have been sent by John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd.
Today, you can find Bonnie and Clyde memorabilia – and a t-shirt – at the Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum in Gibsland, La. On display are some of Clyde’s guns, Bonnie’s red hat, and grisly photos of the ambush scene. The car in which they were killed is in a casino in Las Vegas; its price being beyond the budget of the little museum in Gibsland. Until recently, the museum was managed by the son of one of the arresting law men but is now under new ownership. The new owner says he may move the museum to nearby Arcadia if he can’t fix the roof.
In 1972, a small monument was erected at the ambush site. Over the years, it has been riddled with bullet holes and covered with entwined hearts and initials of young lovers, apparently hoping for a Bonnie and Clyde romance.
Sadly, against their wishes, the two were buried in separate cemeteries near Dallas. Bonnie was still wearing the wedding ring from her first marriage when she was buried. She was 24 years old.
Bonnie and Clyde; Wikipedia; Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum, Gibsland, La.,
Bonnie and Clyde; Lovers on the lam, www.biography.com
10 Things you may not know about Bonnie and Clyde, www.history.com
Bonnie Parker’s Poems, texashideout.tripod.com