by John Neal Phillips
Bonnie and Clyde:
The 10 Fast Years of Ralph
University of Oklahoma Press 1996
by John Troesser
title doesn't mean he spent ten years running with Bonnie
and Clyde, it means that Ralph had 10 fast years. Bonnie
and Clyde only lasted about 27 months start to finish. They lived fast, loved
hard and died young, but the corpses they left behind were far from beautiful.
See what happens when you go to Louisiana. Bonnie
never saw her 25th birthday.|
Ralph came from the same North Texas beginnings
as Ray Hamilton and Clyde
Barrow. Mr. Phillips suggests that witnessing a hanging at the Collin County
Jail in his childhood might've had an affect on Ralph, since he came from a solid
family. Ralph was from tiny Anna
(Collin County), while Ray and Clyde were boyhood friends in West Dallas, an area
so bad in the 30s they tore it down and put in a slum.
Frankly, we thought
we had had our fill reading about the Barrow-Parker
gang. We picked up this book to verify a robbery in Cedar
Hill and became entranced by the author's crisp and methodical storytelling.
It's easy to detect a sympathetic tone, but through his detailed accounts,
the reader cannot help but see that the clichés of reformatories being prep schools
and penitentiaries being finishing schools for criminals were facts of life in
the 1930s. Clichés, like generalizations, usually come from somewhere.
The brutality of the old prison system and the cheapness of life partially explain
the desperation of the male gang members. But it also raises the question of why,
after escaping, they wouldn't pull just one last job and move out of state rather
than risk returning to the barbaric, brutal conditions of Eastland
Some of the myths are explained, while others are shattered. Blanche
Barrow, Clyde's sister-in-law, died of cancer in 1988 and Fults fell to cancer
in 1992. Fults (after his release) actually helped pass legislation that drastically
and humanely altered the way the system did business. His parole became a contribution.
The reader is also introduced to characters that could be the subjects of
their own books. One of which was "Uncle Bud" Russell who drove the Huntsville
Prison Bus (actually a converted truck), transporting over 115,000 men to jail
during his career and logging more than 3,250,000 miles. That's right, over 3
What's left out of many histories is the incredible array of
wounds and injuries that the gang had received. When Clyde drove the car over
a bridge that was out, and into the Red River bank (see Red
River Plunge Bridge), Bonnie sustained burns on her leg and back that required
her to walk with a cane up until the day of her death. In one particular firefight,
both Bonnie and Clyde had bullets through both knees and only learned of them
when they attempted to walk. Buck's head wound from Joplin left him with a hole
that exposed his brain. Ironically he died of pneumonia after an infection caused
by removing a sliver of bullet from his chest.
Fults survived 3 prison
escapes, gunshots, numerous car crashes (2 in a five day period), stabbings, and
prison beatings yet lived until 1992. Hamilton experienced more of the same, except
for the electrical charge that he never got over. Only Gary Gilmore made a more
sporting departure than Ray Hamilton.
The book would interest the curious
reader if only for the weight of the story. The underlining social issues and
psychological observations are lagniappe. It should be required reading for those
seeking careers in criminal justice.
The Rabbit in Winter
relief is in short supply, but it is there. Bonnie
was furious that the photo of her smoking a cigar was taken for truth. Barrow
did give kidnapping victims bus fare home and Bonnie's
Easter present to her mother was a rabbit named Sonny Boy. Now, Clyde
didn't like Sonny Boy's smell, so he bathed him and the rabbit seemingly went
into a coma from the cold. Bonnie
was heartbroken, so Clyde
pulled over, built a fire and defrosted the limp lagamorph just a day before he
was presented to Mrs. Parker.
Family reunions were arranged by having
a soda bottle thrown into Mrs. Barrow's yard. She would tsk-tsk at the inconsiderate
litterers and then fish the message out. She would then call the Parkers and invite
them over for "Red Beans." Bonnie loved red beans and so that was the chosen code
word for a visit.
of the details, which we've never seen in print, is that the Bonnie
and Clyde death car (on the local sheriff's request) was towed in front of
the local High School and the children were shown the corpses as an example. Ringgold,
Louisiana students had a good answer for "What did you learn in school today?"
The reason for the fascination with the Barrow-Parker
gang is, of course, their highly condensed and volatile lives, the timeless
themes of good versus evil, instant gratification and youthful rebellion all set
before the backdrop of class distinction, hopeless futures and Modern Times. The
subject will continue to create interest and fifty years from now, this book will
still be quoted and referred to in bibliographies of lesser books.
© John Troesser
First published August, 2000
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