This Friday marks the 80th Anniversary of one of the most infamous of all executions ever carried out by Texas authorities. This particular execution did not take place on Texas soil, nor by way of seemingly conventional means. For it was May 23, 1934 at a few minutes after 9 AM, that six gunmen ambushed and viciously shot to death a young couple who were driving down a lonely two lane road in Louisiana. The first shot took part of the young man’s head off. As he was the driver, the car went off the road. When the young lady, who was the passenger screamed, the gunmen proceeded to fill the young couple with bullets. The events so described are in my judgment among the most vile and vicious of deeds related to the account of BONNIE AND CLYDE…….
Most folk have heard of “Bonnie and Clyde”; mainly due to the 1967 film which told the story of their vicious and bloody two year crime spree which lead to the deaths of more than a dozen, and which terrorized the Southwest to the degree of hysteria. Clyde Chestnut Barrow and Bonnie Elizabeth Parker are among the most famous of all Dallas-ites. The story of their crime spree being so widely known, I would like to briefly address “The Story Behind The Story”, for as is so oftentimes the case with hardened criminals: There is most definitely “a story behind the story”….
By no means do I wish to glorify or justify the deeds of this young Dallas couple. Clyde Barrow, the leader of “The Barrow Gang”, was a hardened criminal and a cold blooded killer. The role of Bonnie Parker in the violent deeds of the gang is oftentimes exaggerated to the point of femdom style glorification. Her role was depicted thusly mainly due to pictures of her clowning around with a cigar in her mouth which were printed in most of the nation’s newspapers during the heat of the pursuit of local peace officers who were desperately attempting to capture the true killer of the group, her lover, Clyde Barrow. Although Ms Parker will likely forever be characterized in folklore as a cigar smoking, gun toting murderess, the truth is she may very well have shot no one.
As to Clyde Barrow himself, his life of crime reads like so many others who choose such a path: 1) He was the product of extreme poverty, and 2) He was hardened by prison life.
When Clyde Barrow’s family moved to West Dallas (no longer exists as an entity as such, incorporated by Dallas in 1954. Basically lies between west Dallas and the city of Irving), they were so poor they had no place to live. Clyde’s father, like many other tenant farmers, was starving along with his family due to drought and famine. The Barrow’s were so poor that upon their arrival to “the city” they lived out of his wagon under the Trinity River viaduct. When Mr Barrow bought the family a tent, that was a social upgrade, for they then became citizens of “Tent City” which was a crowded dwelling place of the many homeless who migrated to West Dallas during the 1920’s….
One of Clyde’s first encounters with the law was when he was arrested as a teenager for stealing turkeys. One is lead to wonder: Why steal turkeys? One is lead to speculate that perhaps he stole because he was hungry. Why was young Clyde Barrow hungry? And that brings us back to “the story behind the story”: Clyde Barrow was the product of extreme poverty. Yet poverty was but the beginning of the social demise of Clyde Barrow….
His deeds as a petty thief eventually lead to prison. It was while in prison that Clyde Barrow became a hardened criminal. Clyde Barrow was a small young man, and his size and youth made him vulnerable to the extremely violent class within prison. Clyde was repeatedly sexually violated by one particular prisoner. Receiving no help from the authorities, Clyde took matters into his own hands, and at an opportune time,he beat his assailant to death. This was a major step in Clyde Barrow’s social decline. There were several prisoners who later attested to the fact that his prison experiences hardened Clyde into a cold blooded killer. So bad were his experiences in prison, that Clyde actually chopped off part of his own foot in hopes of receiving a medical release!
Clyde Barrow, hardened criminal and cold blooded killer was a victim of society and the penal system. Society all too oftentimes turns its back on the poor and the uneducated. Clyde Barrow was poor and uneducated. The Penal System all too oftentimes only serves to harden young offenders who are incarcerated within, Clyde Barrow being a specific case in point.
I have no answers to the social conditions which lead Clyde Barrow to his murderous crime spree. I have no justification for the terrible deeds of Clyde Barrow. But even now, some 80 years after the cold blooded murder of Clyde Chestnut Barrow and Bonnie Elizabeth Parker at the hands of “Peace Officers”, I simply ask this question:
Could society be at least partly to blame for the Clyde Barrows of the world?:
Sometimes I wonder,
What sort of fellow,
Might have been,
The infamous Clyde Barrow.
If as a very young boy;
He would not have lived under the Trinity River viaduct;
On account of the fact;
That at dirt farming; his poor daddy just could not make a buck.
Yeah I wonder what thoughts ran thru young Clyde’s mind;
As at night he may very well have been starin’;
From his family’s “home” in the old Tent City;
At the lights of Dallas as they were a glarin’.
Yeah I cant help but wonder;
If things would not have differed for the likes of Bonnie and Clyde;
If instead of growin’ up poor in old West Dallas;
They had grown up in a home with plenty to provide.
Would the death wish that characterized this dynamic duo;
Have developed within Bonnie and Clyde;
Would they have met such a violent end;
On that Louisiana ride;
If society could have seen fit;
To provide for the likes of Bonnie and Clyde?
And sometimes I wonder;
As I see the poor on the streets of Dallas;
If I am seeing a Bonnie or a Clyde in the making;
Who will bear against society a similar malice.
Yeah, as I see the poor on the streets of Dallas;
I cannot but these very thoughts ponder;
Yeah, as I see the poor on the streets of Dallas;
I cannot but think about Dallas’ own Clyde Barrow.
(Note: I count myself very lucky to have been raised in the comforts of a nice home in Carrollton; a suburb of North Dallas with clean streets and good schools. It was a great place to grow up and develop into early manhood when I did so in the 1970’s. I actually consider myself damn lucky when I consider the environment that young Clyde Barrow grew up in just a few miles South and about 50 years earlier….)