Texas | Book
by John Neal Phillips
Bonnie and Clyde:
The 10 Fast Years of
University of Oklahoma Press 1996
Reviewed by John
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.
never saw her 25th birthday.
Ralph came from the same North Texas beginnings as Ray Hamilton and
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
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 million.
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.
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.
published August, 2000
More on Bonnie
More Texas Books
My Life With Bonnie & Clyde by Blanche Caldwell Barrow
Bonnie and Clyde: A Twenty-First-Century Update