The 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde was one of the films that many consider to be the starting point for the taming of violence in mainstream Hollywood. How much of it was true? Let’s find out.
Enjoy this episode? Help support the next one.
About the movie Bonnie and Clyde
Throughout the history of cinema, there have been a very few movies that hold the distinction of receiving double-digit nominations for the Academy Awards.
Titanic, La La Land and All About Eve are the three atop that list with 14 nominations each.
Today, we’ll be learning about one of those movies receiving double-digit nominations. For today’s movie, Bonnie and Clyde, the 10 Oscar nominations came in 1968. The film would come home with two of those awards, including Best Cinematography for Burnett Guffrey and Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Estelle Parsons for her role as Blanche Barrow.
This was a huge deal at the time, because it was one of the first films to depict murder in a casual manner. In today’s movies, the anti-hero in a movie is a lot more common—in 1967, not so much. For that reason, a lot of film critics and historians point to 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde as being the movie that started making it alright for violence in movies coming out of Hollywood.
But was all of that violence and other things we saw on screen historically accurate?
Learn the true story of Bonnie and Clyde
The movie opens by cycling some photos in the opening credits. Then we see a photograph of Bonnie Parker beside some text on screen that says she was born in Rowena, Texas in 1910. It goes on to explain that she moved to West Dallas, and then in 1931 she worked at a café before her career in crime.
More specifically, Bonnie was born on October 1st, 1910.
But there’s more to the story.
Rowena is a small city 60 miles, or about 96 kilometers, south of Abilene. That’s in southwestern Texas. And I guess calling Rowena a “city” might be giving it a little credit. Just to get an idea of its size, in the 1930 census, Rowena had 1,373 people. More recently, in 2000, 483 people reported living there.
Technically, according to the United States Geological Survey, it’s classified as a Populated Place. That’s defined as a, “A populated place is usually not incorporated and by definition has no legal boundaries.”
So Rowena was never a very big community. But if we could ask Bonnie Parker what she thought of Rowena, she probably wouldn’t remember any of it.
When she was only four years old, tragedy struck her family when young Bonnie’s father, Charlie, died. We don’t really know how he died, but he was only 30 years old so we can only assume it was quite a shock.
What we do know is that was the catalyst for Charlie’s widow, Emma, to pick up her three kids and move them to where her parents, Frank and Mary, lived in Cement City.
Today we know that area as West Dallas, which is exactly what the movie refers to. For a bit of context, West Dallas is the area just across the Trinity River in Dallas.
So it was here that Bonnie Parker grew up. Emma was a single mother raising three kids…even with her parents’ help, that’s not easy. Food was scarce and luxuries were nonexistent.
Perhaps that’s why, in 1926, Bonnie was smitten by a young boy who spoiled her. He was well-dressed, something that made him stand out among boys in the Cement City area at the time, and always seemed to have money for dates. Bonnie loved being spoiled, and soon found herself head over heels.
Six days before her 16th birthday, Bonnie married the boy and became Mrs. Roy Thornton.
Maybe they married too young. Maybe life in West Dallas just made things more difficult. Maybe it was the fact that Bonnie Parker couldn’t have kids—something historians have attributed to an unknown medical procedure she might’ve had that left her barren. Or maybe it was Bonnie’s dreams of living a life that mimicked the stars she saw in the movies.
Before their first anniversary, Roy had started drinking heavily and hitting Bonnie. On top of that, he’d disappear for long periods at a time, leaving Bonnie wondering if he was being faithful.
It was because of these periods of alleged infidelity that led Bonnie to start figuring out how to support herself. And that’s why, just like the movie says, Bonnie got her first job as a waitress at a café.
Some historians think perhaps Bonnie fell into the common practice of prostitution to make ends meet. That’s up for debate, though, because quite honestly we don’t have any proof of it. The primary reason some people think that is because later on Bonnie would write a poem detailing many of the prostitutes in Dallas and the streets they worked at. There were enough verified details that there’s no way she could’ve just guessed it—she had to have at least frequented the area.
So that’s circumstantial proof at best, but therein lies the reason for the debate.
Oh, and Roy dropped out of the picture for Bonnie when he was arrested and sent to prison. She was independent by then, so she didn’t bother trying to go back to him. But technically, he and Bonnie never got divorced.
Going back to the movie, after seeing Bonnie’s photograph, we see a photo of Clyde Barrow. For Clyde, the text on screen explains as being the son of a family of sharecroppers. Unlike Bonnie, Clyde was a thief from a young age, pulling off small-time jobs until being caught and serving two years for armed robbery. Then he was released on good behavior in 1931.
And like we learned about Bonnie, that’s true. But again, there’s more to the story.
Clyde Barrow was born on March 24th, 1909, so almost exactly a year and six months before Bonnie.
He was born on a farm near Telico, Texas. That’s about 250 miles, or 400 kilometers, to the east of Rowena. Despite the distance, Telico was pretty comparable to Rowena in that they were both small communities that were primarily consisting of farming families.
And the Barrow family was no exception.
Although unlike Bonnie, who left the rural Rowena after her father’s sudden passing, Clyde’s childhood kept him around rural Telico.
Like Bonnie’s early days, Clyde grew accustomed to poverty. But that didn’t mean he liked it. Both Bonnie and Clyde had a common theme in their childhood in that they looked up to the stars they saw in the movies—they wanted that life.
Another common theme was that neither saw a benefit to staying in high school. For Bonnie, it wouldn’t help her change her social status. She was poor, and from a part of town that almost guaranteed her lot in life was limited to only a few options—none of them living the Hollywood-style life she wanted.
Similarly, Clyde—or “Bud” as he was called around the house as a child—was fascinated by his older brother’s lifestyle. That older brother, Ivan, had moved to West Dallas and had gone through multiple wives and run-ins with the law. It was a fascinating life compared to the boredom on the farm that Clyde lived. So, when he turned 15, Clyde moved to Dallas.
Oh, and Ivan Barrow’s nickname was “Buck.” He’s played by Gene Hackman in the movie.
Speaking of which, back in the film, after the two introductions to the main characters we get to see them meet. That happens, according to the movie, when Bonnie looks out her window one day to see Clyde trying to break into the car outside her house.
The movie highly implies that this happened in 1931 by mentioning that date in both the brief little bio card for Bonnie and Clyde.
That’s not true.
The real moment when Clyde Barrow met Bonnie Parker, or Bonnie Thornton if you want to use her married name, was actually earlier than that, and it didn’t happen like we see in the movie.
According to a great book called Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde by Jeff Guinn, that happened on January 5th, 1930 when Clyde went to a party with one of his friends named Clarence Clay. As fate would have it, Clarence’s sister was married to a man named Buster—Bonnie Parker’s brother.
So even though the whole scene where Clyde meets Bonnie in the movie is fictionalized, if there is one thing the movie gets right it’s that they seemed to hit it off right away.
Oh, and one of the stories that Clyde tells Bonnie as they’re walking along the street soon after meeting is how he cut off two of his toes. That’s why Warren Beatty’s version of Clyde walked with a slight limp. According to the movie, he cut off his toes to get out of a work detail—something that we see him laughing about in the film.
And that’s true. But it was no laughing matter in real life.
This happened at the Eastham Prison Farm where Clyde served almost a year and a half for a string of crimes like robbery and even murder. Although it’s worth pointing out that there’s not much evidence to suggest Clyde actually killed anyone up to this point. But being associated with killers made him suspect and along with the other crimes, most notably being robbery—Clyde liked to steal cars—he was sentenced to prison on April 24th, 1930.
So that’s flipped from what the movie shows, because in the film Bonnie meets Clyde after he gets out of the prison where he cut off his toes. In truth, Bonnie wrote to Clyde while he was in prison.
As for Eastham, many historians consider this is where Clyde transformed into a violent criminal. Before his stay at Eastham, which was filled with 10-hour days of backbreaking slave labor in the farm’s fields, there wasn’t much evidence to prove Clyde did any killing.
It was in Eastham, though, where he committed his first pre-meditated murder. None of this was shown in the movie, but that was a man named Ed Crowder. Ed was over six feet tall and 200 pounds compared to Clyde, who was 5′ 5″ and only 127 pounds.
That’s Ed being about 1.8 meters and 90 kilos to Clyde’s 1.6 meters and only 57 kilos.
Ed was in prison for life, so he didn’t see much of a reason to try and play by the rules. When Clyde joined Eastham, the back-breaking work was hell—but when Ed started raping him and beating Clyde into submission—that was a new level of hell.
It didn’t help that the guards and plenty of other prisoners knew what Ed was doing to Clyde…they didn’t do anything about it.
Well, except one prisoner. His name was Aubrey Scalley, and for reasons lost to history, Aubrey hated Ed. He told Clyde that if he were to kill Ed, Aubrey would take the blame for it.
So he did. And Aubrey was true to his word.
Still, that didn’t stop the slave labor at the farm, though. Faced with 12 more years on his sentence, Clyde knew he’d die there if he couldn’t find a way to lessen the workload.
He decided the way to do that was to cut off his toes.
Surprisingly, that wasn’t uncommon at Eastham. There’s a report of one of Clyde’s friends he made in prison named Ralph Fults who claimed that he witnessed 14 different prisoners cutting off something in a single week—fingers, toes—to try and be reassigned to an easier workload.
Unfortunately for Clyde, he didn’t really need to do that.
Unbeknownst to Clyde, his mother, Cumie, had been petitioning to get Clyde released from prison. After all, there was no proof Clyde had done any of the vicious things that the others he ran with. And it seemed to work.
Six days after chopping off his toes, Clyde Barrow was released from prison on parole. After managing to survive forced slave labor, rape and such horrible conditions, Clyde promised he would never go back—he’d rather die.
Going back to the movie, soon after meeting Bonnie, Clyde pulls off his first robbery with her. It’s a small store with a “Ritts Groceries” sign out front.
Well, that’s not something that really happened, but it’s indicative of a lot of the smaller robberies Clyde pulled off. Both before and immediately after his time in prison, Clyde was primarily the one who would pull off the robberies. Bonnie wasn’t involved in a lot of those—usually she’d wait outside. And like the fictional Ritts store in the movie, most of those robberies were small-time jobs. Ten or twenty bucks here and there.
Oh, and remember that scene in the movie where Clyde tries to rob a bank for the first time? When he goes in, the bank is completely empty with the exception of one teller behind the counter. Clyde says it’s a stick-up, and demands the money. The teller says, “What money?” and then explains that the bank went out of business three weeks ago.
That actually happened! Well, the scene was fictionalized, of course, and it didn’t happen in Texas like the movie seems to imply, but there was a bank in Missouri. At the time, Clyde had a couple of accomplices, and when they burst into the bank the one person inside said the bank had failed just a couple days earlier. There wasn’t any money to steal.
So Clyde decided to rob another bank in town, which they did a couple days later and walked away with a whopping $110. Well, the two guys with Clyde at the time actually told Clyde there was only $80. It was split up between the group, and the two accomplices took some of the money to go to town to restock on supplies.
They never came back. In all, that bank robbery had earned Bonnie and Clyde a grand total of $25.
That’s the same as about $450 today.
Generally speaking, Clyde didn’t like robbing banks, though. Banks were typically guarded better, in the center of town and drew more attention from the police when they were robbed than small grocery stores and gas stations in more rural areas.
During the Great Depression, which was rampaging the country at the time, many of these small-time robberies were enough to keep Bonnie and Clyde going for a couple days until their next one. Meanwhile, they’d steal cars often and stay on the road to keep away from authorities.
And since we’re on the topic of cars, the next main plot point happens in the movie when they find Michael J. Pollard’s character, C.W. Moss.
C.W. Moss is a fictional composite character. His purpose in the movie is essentially to be someone else in Bonnie and Clyde’s gang that’s not, well, Bonnie and Clyde or, later, Clyde’s brother and sister-in-law.
In truth, there were a number of people who joined Bonnie and Clyde on their criminal spree. Names like Ralph Fults, who Clyde met in prison, or Raymond Hamilton or W.D. Jones.
Most of the people who joined Bonnie and Clyde ended up leaving at some point. Either they were caught by the law or they wanted to distance themselves from the crimes that were being attributed to Clyde Barrow.
That last person I mentioned, W.D. Jones, is probably the primary inspiration for C.W. Moss, because it was W.D. who was there for many of the scenes in the film like the shootout—which we’ll learn about later. It was also W.D. who was afraid of the dark and slept in a chair or on the floor in the same room while Bonnie and Clyde shared a bed. Those are things we see C.W. Moss do in the movie.
Oh, and by the way, throughout the movie we get the sense that Bonnie and Clyde never had an intimate relationship—we don’t see that until the very end. But that’s something historians have debated. Even though W.D. shared a room with them, they’d send him off on little errands so they could have some alone time. After all, they were lovers.
Going back to the movie, we’re soon introduced to Clyde’s brother, Buck. He’s played by Gene Hackman and along with his wife, Estelle Parson’s character, Blanche, they join up with Clyde, Bonnie and C.W. to form what they refer to as the Barrow Gang.
One of the first things they do after reuniting is take pictures. It’s here that we see Warren Beatty’s version of Clyde Barrow pose in front of the car with a Thomason machine gun, or a Tommy gun as they’re commonly called. Then Bonnie takes one in front of the car with a pistol in her hand and a cigar hanging out of her mouth.
The time and place where those photos were taken was changed in the movie, but they are real photos. I’ll make sure to add them to the Based on a True Story Facebook group so you can see them if you want.
Soon after snapping the photos, Clyde says they should take a vacation—head up to Missouri where the law isn’t looking for them. Trying to lay low for a bit, the gang heads to Joplin, Missouri. Things don’t turn out to be very calm, though, when the cops show up. The gang barely makes it out of there alive, although three cops get killed in the process.
That shootout really happened.
What the movie doesn’t really mention when we see Gene Hackman’s version of Buck Barrow join his younger brother is what he was doing before this. He was in prison, serving a sentence for robbery.
Actually, he’d performed the robbery years earlier but managed to escape from prison and stayed on the run for almost two years. Then both Blanche and Cumie, Buck’s mother, managed to convince him to turn himself in so he could serve the remaining four years on his sentence and be done with crime. She wanted to live a normal, honest life.
So that’s what Buck did. He turned himself over on December 27th, 1931 after spending one last Christmas with family. Almost as soon as he was sent back to prison, Blanche and Cumie started trying to get him out. Not by escape, but the legal way, through parole.
And it worked.
One year, two months and 24 days after turning himself over, Buck was released. That’d make it March 23rd, 1933. And he was not released on parole, but he was pardoned!
Blanche could finally have a happy life with Buck without having to look over her shoulder.
Upon hearing of his brother’s release it was Clyde who went to go visit his brother, not the other way around like we see in the film. And the scene wasn’t really like what we saw in the movie.
Clyde, Bonnie and W.D. Jones showed up at Blanche’s parent’s house, where Buck and Blanche were staying, at about 4 AM. Bonnie was drunk and went to bed almost immediately. So I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that’s not when they took those photos we see in the movie.
But it is true that it was here when Clyde suggested a vacation of sorts. He’d always looked up to his big brother, so now that Buck was out of prison he wanted to spend some time with him. A few days later, they started their trek to Missouri.
While in Missouri, they planned to stay for longer than their usual pitstops. After all, it was a vacation. They rented a spot for a month and the five enjoyed living together in one spot for a change.
Well, it’s not like Blanche was on the run before this, so all of this wasn’t quite as special to her. And she probably wanted it to end. If you remember, she wanted Buck to turn himself in so when he got out they could live an honest life.
Buck had just been pardoned; certainly he’d go right back to prison if he were found with Clyde, Bonnie and W.D. Jones—three people wanted for too many crimes to count at this point.
On the other hand, Buck was trying to convince Clyde to do exactly what he had done: Turn himself in, do the time and come out the other end clean. This honest life with Bonnie could be a permanent thing.
In the movie, the shootout starts while the group are gathered in the living room of their place. Bonnie is reading something while Clyde casually looks out the window to see a police car pulling into the driveway. He gives warning that “the laws” are here, Blanche screams and the shootout begins.
“The laws” was actually what Bonnie and Clyde called the authorities chasing them, but that’s not really how it happened.
It was on April 13th, 1932 when Buck, Bonnie, and Blanche were inside their rented apartment. Clyde and W.D. left the place around 4 PM, but were forced to return in short order when their car had engine troubles. No sooner had they pulled their back into the driveway when a police car pulled in behind them.
Although they didn’t know it at the time, the police had no idea who exactly was there—they only guessed it were some illegal bootlegging going on. Remember this was around the time of Prohibition and while it was technically repealed in 1932, in Missouri that only applied to beer.
Upon seeing the cops, Clyde and W.D. wasted no time. Bullets started flying. Although in my research I couldn’t find any proof that three cops had died in the shootout like we see in the movie. One died on the scene and another was fatally injured.
But one was enough. All of a sudden, with a lawman murdered, the Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were wanted for a lot more than theft.
Remember those photos that Bonnie and Clyde took earlier in the movie? The one of Clyde holding the machine gun and Bonnie with a cigar in her mouth?
Well, they never sent those photos—or any others—to the newspapers like the movie implies.
In truth, it was a combination of the group holding up in the Joplin apartment for a prolonged period along with the surprise of being jumped by the cops and the rush to escape. Those factors all played into a massive amount of things being left behind.
That’s how those photos got out. They were on a roll of film that hadn’t been developed, so local newspaper developed and published them.
Oh, and another of the items left behind was a poem handwritten by Bonnie Parker called, “Story of ‘Suicide Sal’.” Same as the photos, the gang never sent Bonnie’s poems to the papers like the movie implies, either.
The American public had faces they could put to the Barrow Gang, as they were called by the papers now. Clyde, the dashing young man and Bonnie, a pretty and rebellious girl doing very unladylike things—smoking a cigar—something ladies of the day typically didn’t do in public.
And so their notoriety grew.
With it, even more crimes were attributed to them both by the media and the police. That’s not to say they weren’t also committing more crimes, too—they were—but there were plenty more crimes attributed to them that they didn’t commit.
That’s something the movie mentions. After the shootout in Joplin, the gang steals a newspaper. As Clyde drives, Gene Hackman’s version of Buck reads to Clyde, Bonnie, C.W. Moss and Buck’s wife, Blanche, in the car.
In the article he’s reading, there’s a long list of crimes being attributed to the gang. An oil refinery in Texas, Sanger City National Bank in Indiana, two Piggly-Wiggly stores in Texas and another grocery store in Missouri.
That’s an oversimplification for the movie, but the basic gist of that is accurate. By that, what I mean is that the publicity Clyde had started to attract was something of a blessing and a curse.
During the time of the Great Depression when people didn’t have money to throw at newspapers, and didn’t want to read more reports about how horrible things were going in the country anyway, the story of the two criminals were something exciting.
Just like the movie stars that the younger Bonnie and Clyde had wanted to fashion their lives after and the stories that helped them escape their own lives for a brief moment in time, the papers were doing that for people around the country with the stories of Bonnie and Clyde.
Of course, that also helped them sell papers, too. It’s not like they were doing it as a service to Bonnie and Clyde.
For their part, Bonnie and Clyde seemed to enjoy the stories written about them. It was almost an escape for them, too.
But the downside of this notoriety in the papers meant that the papers often reported a lot of things incorrectly. For example, it wasn’t Bonnie and Clyde who robbed the Piggly-Wiggly in Texas like the movie says because we know from history that Bonnie and Clyde were in Michigan at the time. But that doesn’t mean the movie is incorrect, because it is true that Bonnie and Clyde were given credit for the crime.
Around this time is something the movie doesn’t show at all, but I think it’s important to point out.
On June 10th, 1933, Clyde was driving with Bonnie and W.D. down the back country roads. Bonnie was in the front seat with W.D. in the back. As you might imagine, there weren’t any street lights. Being night time, it was almost impossible to see. And Clyde was driving fast. Too fast.
All of a sudden, the car flew through a wooden barricade blocking off some construction. Losing control, the car was thrown from the road and rolled over many times.
Surprisingly, Clyde and W.D. were able to walk away from the wreck without any major injuries.
Bonnie wasn’t so lucky.
It’d seem somewhere in there, the car’s battery burst open causing the acid inside to splash on Bonnie’s leg. You could see the bone. It was bad. She would never walk the same again.
Clyde, with his limp from losing the two toes in prison, and now Bonnie’s severe injuries to her leg…they weren’t exactly the glamorous anti-heroes the newspapers of the time portrayed. Or even like what we see in the movie.
Going back to the movie, after going on the run from the Joplin incident, we see things get even worse when there’s another run-in with the law. This time we see a sign out front of the rented cabin they’re staying in that says it’s Platte City, Iowa.
According to the movie, the gang isn’t as lucky in this shootout as Buck gets shot in the head. He doesn’t die, though, and they manage to escape.
While that scene in Platte City was fictionalized for the film, the basic gist was there.
Well, except for the fact that Platte City isn’t in Iowa, it’s in Missouri. For a bit of a geographical refresher, Missouri is the state just to the south of Iowa and Platte City is about 25 miles, or 40 kilometers, north of Kansas City, Missouri.
That’d make Platte City about 85 miles, or 136 kilometers, to the south of the border between Missouri and Iowa.
In the movie, we see Blanche and C.W. Moss go into town to get some food. While they’re there, one of the patrons of the diner notices a gun in C.W.’s belt and calls the cops.
In truth, it wasn’t really someone noticing a gun that tipped off the cops, but rather it was that Blanche, who paid for the rooms, said there were three people there. That’s what Clyde told her to say. But then she went into town to buy five meals.
Plus the manager noticed that Clyde pulled the car into the garage near the cabin Blanche rented backwards—something that was a tip-off they might be criminals since they often did that to be able to make a run for it fast.
In the early morning hours of July 20th, 1933, 13 cops surrounded the two cabins rented by the criminals. Two walked up to the door and knocked on one of the cabins—Buck and Blanche’s cabin. Within moments, gunfire had erupted from the cabins. The cops fired back.
This isn’t something we’ve talked about, but Bonnie and Clyde had robbed armories a couple times, giving them a decent stash of weapons. One of Clyde Barrow’s favorite guns was the M1918 Browning Automated Rifle, or BAR. That was a fully automatic machine gun that was developed for military use in World War I.
The bullets riddled the cop’s cars, but amazingly none of the cops were killed.
In the movie, as they’re escaping the scene, we see things aren’t as lucky for the Barrow Gang. Buck gets shot in the head. Then a bullet ricochets and Blanche’s eyes start bleeding.
Buck suffered a terrible wound in his head after being shot during their escape. Blanche gathered her courage and helped her injured husband to the car, surely saving his life in the process. But at a cost. With Clyde driving, the gang high-tailed it out of there but not before bullets shattered the car’s windows.
Shards of glass had lodged into each of her eyes, effectively blinding her.
Going back to the movie, after the shootout in Platte City, the cops catch up to the gang. They gun down Buck in a clearing. We hear Blanche yelling, “Daddy!” as Gene Hackman’s version of Buck dies and Bonnie, Clyde and C.W. Moss escape to the nearby woods.
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t remember hearing Blanche ever call Buck that at any other point in the movie, so I had to rewind that scene a couple times to make sure I understood what Estelle Parson’s version of Blanche was saying. Yup, it’s “Daddy.” And that really was the term of endearment that Blanche called her husband, Buck. He reciprocated with a term of his own for Blanche, “Baby.”
For what it’s worth, Bonnie’s nickname for Clyde was “Daddy”, too. Bonnie’s nickname was “Honey.” They called each other these nicknames any time they were in town. They didn’t want to accidentally say their real names, have someone overhear and report them to the cops.
One big difference between the scene we see in the movie here in the clearing and what really happened was that Buck didn’t die there. He was shot multiple more times, but when the cops closed in, they arrested both Buck and Blanche and then rushed them to the hospital.
The shooting in the clearing, which was at a place called Dexfield Park, took place on July 24th—four days after the shootout in Platte City.
Buck died five days later, in the hospital, on July 29th, 1933.
Meanwhile, with the focus on Buck and Blanche, Clyde, Bonnie and W.D. managed to slip away. But not before they were injured.
In the movie, we see that Bonnie gets shot after this, but that didn’t happen. Well, she did get hit, but it wasn’t nearly as serious as the movie makes it seem. Mostly it was some buckshot that made her bleed.
If you remember, Bonnie was already injured from the car wreck earlier. That was her big injury.
Clyde was shot, though, in his left arm and buck shot in his face. W.D. wasn’t hit nearly as bad as Clyde, but had mostly superficial wounds.
Back in the movie, after escaping, C.W. Moss takes the badly injured Bonnie and Clyde to his father’s house in Louisiana. They hide out there for a while until they recover from their injuries.
That’s speeding up the timeline quite a bit.
After the shootout in Missouri, they made their way to Iowa. Then they went west to Colorado, north to Minnesota then over to Illinois before going south through Nebraska to Mississippi. They stayed on the move, trying to elude the law enforcement that was after them in full force. Finally, they made their way back to Texas where Clyde left Bonnie to recover for a while he and two other guys he recruited into the gang went north to Oklahoma.
But that didn’t work out. They almost got caught when, as luck would have it, some prisoners broke out of a prison in McAlester, Oklahoma, and lawmen were swarming the area—they were chasing Clyde Barrow, but they thought they were chasing the escaped convicts.
Clyde ended up going back to West Dallas where he could hide in relative safety. Oh, sure, the police there knew that’s where his family was from…they knew where his normal hangout places were. But the people of West Dallas also hated the cops. Remember this was during the Great Depression. On top of that, there was the dust bowl that caused economic hardships like they’d never seen. Life was hard. No one was a fan of the authorities who enforced the laws of the banks that had only made their lives worse.
Going back to the movie, there’s a scene where we see Faye Dunaway’s version of Bonnie reading a poem to Clyde.
This is the real poem written by Bonnie Parker called “The Story of Bonnie and Clyde.”
You’ve read the story of Jesse James
Of how he lived and died;
If you’re still in need
Of something to read,
Here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde.
Now Bonnie and Clyde are the Barrow gang,
I’m sure you all have read
How they rob and steal
And those who squeal
Are usually found dying or dead.
There’s lots of untruths to these write-ups;
They’re not so ruthless as that;
Their nature is raw;
They hate all the law
The stool pigeons, spotters, and rats.
They call them cold-blooded killers;
They say they are heartless and mean;
But I say this with pride,
That I once knew Clyde
When he was honest and upright and clean.
But the laws fooled around,
Kept taking him down
And locking him up in a cell,
Till he said to me,
“I’ll never be free,
So I’ll meet a few of them in hell.”
The road was so dimly lighted;
There were no highway signs to guide;
But they made up their minds
If all roads were blind,
They wouldn’t give up till they died.
The road gets dimmer and dimmer;
Sometimes you can hardly see;
But it’s fight, man to man,
And do all you can,
For they know they can never be free.
From heart-break some people have suffered;
From weariness some people have died;
But take it all in all,
Our troubles are small
Till we get like Bonnie and Clyde.
If a policeman is killed in Dallas,
And they have no clue or guide;
If they can’t find a fiend,
They just wipe their slate clean
And hand it on Bonnie and Clyde.
There’s two crimes committed in America
Not accredited to the Barrow mob;
They had no handIn the kidnap demand,
Nor the Kansas City depot job.
A newsboy once said to his buddy;
“I wish old Clyde would get jumped;
In these awful hard times
We’d make a few dimes
If five or six cops would get bumped.”
The police haven’t got the report yet,
But Clyde called me up today;
He said, “Don’t start any fights
We aren’t working nights
We’re joining the NRA.”
From Irving to West Dallas viaduct
Is known as the Great Divide,
Where the women are kin,
And the men are men,
And they won’t “stool” on Bonnie and Clyde.
If they try to act like citizens
And rent them a nice little flat,
About the third night
They’re invited to fight
By a sub-gun’s rat-tat-tat.
They don’t think they’re too tough or desperate,
They know that the law always wins;
They’ve been shot at before,
But they do not ignore
That death is the wages of sin.
Some day they’ll go down together;
And they’ll bury them side by side;
To few it’ll be grief
To the law a relief
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.
According to the movie, Warren Beatty’s version of Clyde says that he’ll mail that poem to the newspapers so people will remember them.
That didn’t happen. In fact, no one knew about the poem until Bonnie’s mother had it published after Bonnie died. Apparently, Bonnie had given it to her just a few weeks before she died.
Speaking of which, the story of Bonnie and Clyde comes to an end in the movie in an eerily similar fashion to what Bonnie predicted in her poem.
We see someone we haven’t really talked about to this point, Frank Hamer. He’s the Texas Ranger that we saw Bonnie and Clyde kidnap earlier in the movie. They take a photo, humiliating him. In fact, the movie makes it seem like it’s because of that kidnapping that Frank Hamer has some sort of a vendetta against the criminal couple.
None of that happened.
It is true that Frank Hamer was the Texas Ranger who laid an ambush for Bonnie and Clyde. But the real Frank Hamer never met Bonnie and Clyde before the ambush.
In the movie, we see the ambush as being something that C.W. Moss’s father sets up when he makes a deal with Frank Hamer.
Well, we already learned that C.W. Moss was a composite character. One of the characters that went into C.W. was a man named Henry Methvin. He was a member of Bonnie and Clyde’s gang up until the very end.
There’s not a lot of proof about the details of what really happened, but as many people believe, it was Henry’s father, Ivan, who gave Frank Hamer information about Bonnie and Clyde. He did this, allegedly, to keep his own son from getting the death penalty that Bonnie and Clyde would be sure to get.
The movie makes it seem like C.W. knew about the deal between his dad and the authorities, but in truth we don’t really know if Henry knew about the deal. We don’t even know if the deal really happened.
What we do know is that Frank Hamer led a posse of six lawmen from both Texas and Louisiana armed with some of the same Browning Automatic Rifles that Clyde fancied. Since Clyde Barrow was a master of crossing the state line to avoid capture, authorities on both sides of the area wanted him found. They identified a road near Ivan Methvin’s place that they thought Bonnie and Clyde would travel—if there’s one consistent thing about Bonnie and Clyde’s travels, it’s that they kept going back to family.
But would it work? Bonnie and Clyde had somehow managed to escape in Joplin. And again in Platte City. And again at Dexfield Park.
At about 9:15 AM on the morning of May 23rd, 1934, Bonnie and Clyde sped their stolen Ford V8 down that very same back country road. Ivan, Henry’s father, had his truck parked on the side of the road. There was another truck coming down the road.
Clyde slowed his car and stopped next to Ivan’s truck.
There are some conflicting reports about what happened next. One common theme is that everyone agrees it was Deputy Prentiss Oakley who shot first. The bullet hit Clyde Barrow in the head, killing him immediately.
Then the posse opened fire, riddling the car with 130 bullets.
Clyde Barrow was 25 years old when he died. Bonnie Parker was 23.
KEEP LEARNING WITH MORE RESOURCES
- Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – Plot Summary – IMDb
- Bonnie and Clyde (1967) – IMDb
- The Story of Bonnie and Clyde by Bonnie Parker
- 1968 | Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
- Bonnie and Clyde – Wikipedia
- Bonnie and Clyde (film) – Wikipedia
- GNIS Detail – Rowena
- 1940 Census Enumeration District Descriptions – Texas – Runnels County – ED 200-11, ED 200-12, ED 200-13, ED 200-14
- Cumie Barrow Obituary – Texas – Tributes.com
- Cumie Barrow, mother of 1 – Ancestry
- Red Crown Tourist Court – Wikipedia
- Bonnie and Clyde — FBI
- Rare images of the Bonnie and Clyde death scene
- Bonnie and Clyde History: Bonnie and Clyde Q&A– Does a Photograph of Bonnie Parker and Frank Hamer Exist??
- FBI — Bonnie and Clyde
- FBI — FBI 100 – Bonnie and Clyde
- FBI — Year of the Gangster, Part 2
- Bonnie and Clyde Shot and Killed | World History Project
- Henry Methvin – Wikipedia
- Amazon.com: Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde eBook: Jeff Guinn: Kindle Store
- Amazon.com: My Life with Bonnie and Clyde eBook: Blanche Caldwell Barrow, John Neal Phillips: Kindle Store