Bonnie and Clyde’s crime spree was short, only a few years, but whenever there happened to be an event involving them in a small town, people living there remembered it. There were at least two such events in North Texas’ Wise County.
On the east side of Decatur, on old Business Highway 81, there is a former Texaco Station covered in native stone. It is part of a group of buildings that once included the station, a cafe and a tourist court. Built in the 1920s, it was actively in operation for many years. My family remembers that the cafe near it was called the Whistle Stop Cafe much of the time, since the railroad tracks ran right across the highway from it. It was a burger joint and a teen hangout back in the day. One of the owners had later covered the stone exterior of the gas station and the tourist court in petrified wood and it still looks that way today.
The local legend is that Bonnie and Clyde stayed in the Decatur tourist court within weeks of the Louisiana ambush in which they were killed. Like many such stories, there is no documentary evidence to support it, but the local tale has still endured.
Not far from Decatur is Alvord, a few miles up the road. There’s a similar story that my grandparents told my father, my aunt and uncle. Grandpa lived near the intersection of a cross street and old Business 81 that served as “main street” in Alvord. Around the corner from their (now demolished) old frame house was a boarding house that fronted Highway 81 and was operated by a Mrs. H. The boarding house property and Grandpa’s were joined by a creek that ran diagonally along the back of both lots. My dad and his sister both remembered details that they were told, and the incident happened when they were both still little children living in Alvord. Mrs. H.’s rooms rented for $1.00 a night and one night their customers included Bonnie and Clyde. Mrs. H. had said that during the night she peeked through the keyhole to observe Bonnie pulling the curtains aside to check the grounds outside. There’s no firm evidence to support this story, but like the “Petrified Wood” tourist court story in Decatur, the boarding house story has been passed down by Alvord folks for over 80 years.
These are the two locations that we understand are connected with Wise County. In addition to these, there is a former “joint” now on the campus of Arlington Baptist College where the outlaws used to have dinner. There is also a hotel located in the Fort Worth Stockyards area that displays a handgun that Bonnie supposedly left in her rented room. There are numerous locations in Dallas County. There are no doubt dozens of Texas stories like these that cannot be documented in books or newspapers and are only supported by hearsay, but that is the way of Texas folklore.
There is, however, an earlier story that can be verified. The gang was preparing for an assault on the Eastham Prison and had driven to Amarillo to pick up two brothers who were going to join them. They arrived in Amarillo but the brothers (yet unidentified) were not located, so the trio (Clyde Barrow, Ralph Fults and John “Red” Hamilton) headed back to North Texas. On April 14, 1932 they stole a car in Memphis, Texas only to have it break down after hours in Electra in front of a business. A city employee by the name of McCormick saw their vehicle parked in front of a warehouse and called Police Chief James Taylor to report it.
According to newspaper accounts, Chief Taylor and another city employee by the name of Harris drove over to check and spotted Clyde walking into town. When they stopped to question Clyde, he pulled a handgun on them and relieved them of the Chief’s weapon. McCormick then arrived, only to be captured as well. Red Hamilton had fled, but Fults and Barrow loaded their victims in the car belonging to a captive and drove them about 8 miles south of town where they were released unharmed. The former captives walked to the Lazy J Ranch nearby and reported in to authorities. They told of one of the bandits having apologized for the inconvenience but also saying that they “could not afford to go to jail.” Clyde and Fults then circled back and headed north into Oklahoma to continue their journeys.
Fults was a passenger with Clyde, Bonnie and Hamilton when their car got stuck in the mud in March, 1932 after an unsuccessful burglary attempt of a hardware store in Mabank, Texas. This time, Clyde and Hamilton escaped on foot, but Bonnie and Fults were captured. We don’t know how Bonnie’s arrest was resolved, but Fults was sentenced to 10 years in prison two months later, only to be pardoned by Gov. Miriam “Ma” Ferguson in early 1935 shortly before she left office. Hamilton went on to join the John Dillinger gang and die in April of 1934 from wounds he suffered in a shootout with police. Clyde’s future, of course, is well known.
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