My parents talked about Will Rogers like they knew him.
I remember being a little disappointed when I figured
out that they didn’t. They also spoke often of the Duke
and Duchess of Windsor. I grew up with enough nursery
rhymes and fairy tales to know that kings and queens
and dukes and duchesses didn’t hang around Texas and
Oklahoma like Will Rogers. So I had no illusions about
the British Royal Family’s arch romantics
(not that they claimed them) being even close to my
parents’ circle of acquaintances. As for another
famous couple of my parents’ day – Bonnie Parker and
Clyde Barrow – I didn’t hear about them until the movie
“Bonnie and Clyde”came out. Isn’t that just the way
it goes? Later I heard my parents’ Bonnie and Clyde
story – a stronger connection to fame than their Will
Rogers scrapbook and their admiration for the renowned
Duke and Duchess. I’m pretty sure I’ve told it before
in “Dome.” Bear with me. My parents were stopped at a
roadblock on the Red River sometime between 1927 and
1934 when the authorities were trying to catch Bonnie
and Clyde in this part of the country. I’m guessing
the incident happened between ’31
(the year my parents married) and ’34, the year
Bonnie and Clyde died in a hail of gunfire in an ambush
in Louisiana. Mother’s parents had given her a Model
A roadster when she graduated from high school.
That’s what she and my father were driving that day.
They must have looked suspicious, even if Daddy was
a mustachioed pipe smoker and Mother didn’t smoke
cigars. Both my mother and Bonnie were strawberry blondes.
Clyde was a good-looking man who parted his dark hair
on the left. The same description fits my father.
Happily, Daddy didn’t try to run the roadblock.
If you think that’s a farfetched notion, think again.
I’ve read the reminiscences of another couple that
considered not stopping. Whether the roadblock was
the very same one, I don’t know. Roadblocks must have
been set up all up and down the river. But it must
have been that same day – an Easter Sunday when Bonnie
and Clyde stole a Model A roadster in Altus, Okla. Lawmen
apparently hoped to catch the car-stealing, bank-robbing
pair if and when they crossed back into Texas.
Hoye Walser and his fiancée Kathleen Gibson were the
couple that almost didn’t stop. Their Bonnie and Clyde
story isn’t that different from my parents’ tale –
just more exciting. Walser and Gibson were also in a
Model A roadster.
Bill Neal’s book “Our Stories: Legend of the Mounds”
include a firsthand account of the Gibson-Walser experience
told from her viewpoint: “We arrived at the South side of
the Red River bridge which took us to the Texas state line.
ALL OF A SUDDEN, police sirens blew from everywhere.
Hoye’s first thought was to take off as fast as he could
go, but something stopped him. Police were on each side
of the car with submachine guns pointing at each one of
our heads – two on my side.
“When they got a look at us, a policeman said ‘Go.’
“… We were still wondering what it was all about.
“The next day the report came out. Bonnie and Clyde were
spotted in Altus on a Sunday evening, but dodged the police
and got away. “Bonnie and Clyde got away by forcing a
moving van to put the Model A Roadster up in the van and
then calmly driving away. After all, they were not new at
Neal’s book includes another Bonnie and Clyde story –
one about the time Geneva Seibert and her father, Irvin
Seibert, and a hired hand, Alton Parker, drove from Medicine
Mound to East Texas to visit Bonnie and Clyde. Bonnie was
apparently Alton Parker’s sister. The story is based on an
interview given by Geneva Seibert, who was about 13 or 14
at the time of the circa-1933 motor trip to the Piney Woods.
“… it was a big, old abandoned farm house and Bonnie and
Clyde were there – with a hostage. She remembers that the
hostage was an older man who was seated in a chair in one
of the rooms, firmly bound and gagged. Bonnie and Clyde had
thrown mattresses on the floor, and Geneva recalls they each
had a pistol under their mattress. At any rate the visit
seemed to go well. Bonnie and Clyde, she recalls, ‘were
just like ordinary folks.’ She continues, ‘There was no
cussing or rough language. Everybody seemed to be having
a good time. They dug a pit in the front yard and started
a fire and cooked supper. We had quite a visit, and then
we all went to bed.’ The next morning the Seiberts and
Alton Parker, Bonnie and Clyde and the hostage all got up
and exchanged pleasantries, whereupon Geneva and her father
and Alton Parker then returned to Medicine Mound.
‘Daddy warned me in no uncertain terms, never to mention
this visit.’” So, there you have it – two Bonnie and Clyde
stories right out of Medicine Mound. Don’t think the tourists
don’t like to hear them. It’s the rowdy outlaws who imbue
this part of the country with tourist appeal. If we overlook
our Bonnie and Clyde connections, we’re letting tourist
dollars go elsewhere.
May I suggest we need a Bonnie and Clyde Trail?
Trails are all the rage now. I love trails myself. Quanah
managed to make the state’s official Panhandle-Plains Wildlife
Trail. The Forts Trail comes close to us. A Lakes Trail
now in the making skirts Hardeman County. Bonnie and Clyde
must have loved trails too – making them, at least. Always
on the run, they left tracks everywhere. One of the most
famous Bonnie and Clyde spots in this part of Texas is north
of Wellington near the site of the 1939 bridge over the Salt
Fork of the Red River. Wildsteps. Com – official Web site of
the Panhandle Regional Marketing Council – tells the
significance of the bridge and the nearby site where Bonnie
and Clyde crashed into the river in 1933. “This is one of
the two metal truss bridges in Texas that are of this size.
There is a historical marker by the bridge for the point in
Collingsworth County where bank robbers Clyde Barrow and
Bonnie Parker plunged into the river and held a local family
hostage. The area around the bridge, Pioneer Park, is a very
scenic park with RV hookups and campsites.”
Trust me, that’s a very tame version of the episode.
The bridge is one the Texas Department of Transportation
would like to demolish in the name of necessity and progress.
Sounds good. But in this part of the country, necessity
requires us to depend on our colorful history – especially
our outlaws – to grab tourists dollars. Call it highway
robbery, if you want. It’s one of the best things we have
going for us. As for progress, I think we’d do well to think
about the progress TxDOT has made in building safety rest
areas with informational tourism kiosks to clue in the
traveling public about what’s interesting about the part
of the country – the stuff of Bonnie and Clyde.
Shall we shoot ourselves in the foot and let the bridge go?
I don’t know all the ins and outs of TxDOT’s plans for U. S.
83 and the Salt Fork of the Red. I do know one thing about
that picturesque old bridge. When it’s gone it’s gone.
Collingsworth County will be minus a historic structure
that could have anchored the Bonnie and Clyde Trail.