is an unincorporated town in Runnels
County settled by Central Texas Czechs and Germans. It's 50% of
civilization between Ballinger
Angelo (the other 50% is Miles,
Texas). The current population is about 466.
according to legend, was named after (what was then) the future daughter-in-law
of the founder's son. The marriage never took place, so the town never
knew their namesake. She didn't show up at the town's centennial celebration
in 1998 either. Rowena
was Bonnie Parker's hometown, although it's not announced on the signs
that you see when you enter town.
early. The movies would have you believe she was a waitress drawn
to Dallas' city lights like the proverbial moth to a flame. If that
was the case, she should've been famous for being the world's only
four-year old waitress. No, Rowena
can't be blamed for the way Bonnie turned out. It was all those under-tipping
businessmen in North
Texas that drove Miss Parker to hang up her apron and withdraw
money that wasn't hers.
Bonnie's father was a bricklayer by trade. If there had been a few
more bricks to lay in Rowena,
maybe Bonnie's father would've joined the Union and built a vine-covered
bungalow in Rowena and Bonnie could have gone to Baylor and could
have become a librarian and could have raised her two sons to be carpet
salesmen and her daughter to be a Park Ranger for the Texas Parks
and Wildlife Department in East
Texas, but that didn't happen.
There were only a few brick buildings in Rowena
and it's entirely possible that Bonnie's father worked on them before
he abandoned the family. One of these buildings was a bank. The bank
was in Rowena and so was Bonnie. That's our title and we're sticking
and its bank sat there for years without being disturbed. The Czech-German
families would save up their cotton
money and take long vacations back to the " Old Country" in Fayette
County. We checked with Rose Wynette Neff, (granddaughter
of P J Baron, who founded the town) and she consulted her scrapbook
that contains most, if not all, of Rowena's
She found that the Bank had actually had two attempted robberies before
Doc arrived. One in 1936, which has few facts available and one on
July 10, 1924. Eighteen- year-old John Keys and his partner-in-crime
Virgil Harding engineered the 1924 fiasco. These were two teenage
boys from San
Angelo who "used no firearms," but they did, however, have
They attempted to blow the vault door at 12 noon. The blast injured
several bank employees and both would-be robbers were captured in
short order. It certainly gave the tellers something to talk about
the rest of the afternoon.
We won't go into the Newton Brothers Inc. except to say that they
were as non-violent as The Barrow-Parker Group was. Both gangs left
Texas rather than keep stealing the same money over and over again.
The Newton Brothers lived to ripe old ages and paid their debt to
society. They weren't rehabilitated since they weren't all that bad
to begin with. As Jess Newton put it: "We just wanted the money like
any other businessmen." They spent their retirement back home in Uvalde,
"robbing" their beehives instead of banks.
Let's just say the Newton Family had a few more black sheep than are
usually allotted. Maybe their mother shouldn't have read them to sleep
with outlaw stories (which she did). "Doc" Newton, who as a sheep
was a little blacker than the others, found himself selling onions
in Runnels County in 1968 long after they had all "gone straight."
His "partner" was a 45 year-old onion salesman named Robert Talley,
who had never run afoul of the law before. In 1968 there was a Hardware
Store next to the Rowena Bank and Doc "fancied some of them guns."
He had given up robbing banks, but at 77 years of age, he wasn't afraid
of starting a new career robbing Hardware Stores.
While getting change in the bank for his onion stand (Doc knew his
onions), he noticed that there seemed to be a doorway behind the tellers
connecting to the gun shop. He immediately figured that if he could
break into the bank, it would be relatively easy to then jimmy the
door to the gun shop.
Well, later the next night, they had their pick-up ready with a full
tank of gas and they knew that the nearest police were in Ballinger,
eight miles away. They had cased the bank for alarms (the Newtons
were good at this) and didn't see any. What they didn't know was that
there was an alarm connected to a telephone that would ring if a robbery
were attempted. The phone rang and the man who answered it was "Butch"
Lisso. Mr. Lisso lived above his liquor store that just happened to
be across the street from the bank.
The Ballinger Police arrived when Doc and Bob were still trying to
get into the hardware store. They shot the interior of the bank into
splinters and brickbats. A brick wall protected Doc and Bob from bullets,
but. the Sheriff clubbed Doc when the pair surrendered which gave
Doc a severe concussion.
When the Bank President arrived, he gave the Sheriff a tongue lashing
for shooting up his bank and then cussed him for clubbing a 77 year-old
man. He insisted that Doc be given a blanket to protect him from the
February cold. Who said bank presidents are heartless? It's those
To wrap things up, the national press picked up on the story (Life
magazine) and Rowena
got its 15 minutes of fame. Now, after 32 years, most people in Runnels
County are unaware it ever happened. Bob Talley pled guilty and got
5 years. Doc spent 8 months in a prison hospital due to his concussion.
Doc pled guilty to a Judge in Fort
Stockton before the Federal Court could find a map with
on it, thus protecting him from Federal bank robbing charges. So now,
if you stop at an onion or honey stand anywhere south of Waco,
don't bring Rowena
into the conversation. He just may be Bob Talley and if he is - he
probably wants to forget it.
Both Bank and Hardware Store sit vacant in Rowena
today and are currently for rent.
© John Troesser
First published November, 2000
Our special thanks to Rose Wynette Neff of Rowena for her telephone
interview and for getting out her scrapbook.
The Newton Boys: Portrait of an Outlaw Gang by Willis & Joe Newton
as told to Claude Stanush & David Middleton. State House Press 1994.
Day I Rode with the Newton Boys by Linda Kirkpatrick
More Texas Bank Robberies