Bonnie and Clyde Come to Wellington, Texas

Wellington, Texas is in Collingsworth County, located where the Texas border departs from the Red River and heads due north, on the eastern edge of the Panhandle.  At its peak, Wellington’s population was around 3,700 people and since the 1990s, it has hovered around 2,000 to 2,500 people.

Wellington was reportedly named by one of the founders in honor of Britain’s Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, who defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.  It is the birthplace of several nationally known individuals, including songwriter and composer Jimmy Webb and NASA engineer John Aaron, noted for having having provided key engineering assistance to the crew of the Apollo 11 spacecraft that enabled them to return from their aborted lunar mission.  Citizens from Wellington also figure into the story of the crime spree of Bonnie and Clyde.  The account that follows combines several published accounts.  While the accounts differed in some respects, the basic story follows.

On June 10, 1933, the duo and W. D. Jones were heading north toward Wellington, driving a car they had stolen earlier in Madill, Oklahoma.  As they were speeding along, they missed a detour sign where a bridge was out over the Salt Fork of the Red River.   Clyde realized his predicament at the last minute, veered away from the river bed and went over an embankment.   Their stolen Ford 2 door sedan hurtled into the underbrush and crashed nose first, catching fire.  Amazingly, no one was killed.  Lawman Ted Hinton writes in his book “Ambushed” that Clyde and W. D. escaped but that Bonnie was trapped inside the wreck.

Two farmers named Pritchard and Cartwright heard the wreck from the Pritchard farmhouse, about 200 yards away.  The farmers came along and pitched in to help free Bonnie, but not before she suffered burns from the wreck.  Some accounts state that she was burned from acid when the car battery broke apart or exploded.  The helpers carried her back to the Pritchard farm house where Mrs. Pritchard and Mrs. Cartwright (daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Pritchard) treated Bonnie’s wounds.  As Bonnie was being treated, Clyde returned to the wreckage and retrieved some of their weapons.

The “Good Samaritans” soon realized that they had just rescued a group of desperados, but Sam Pritchard would later say that they were crash victims that needed help.  When Clyde returned to the Pritchard farm house, he was upset to find that Mr. Cartwright had left, ostensibly to call a doctor.  Cartwright had actually seen their guns in the wrecked car.  When things settled down at the farm house, Cartwright had left to find a nearby phone and call the sheriff, George T. Corry.  A short time later, Clyde came into the house with his shotgun and warned the Cartwrights and Pritchards not to try anything.  After suggesting that Bonnie be treated by a doctor or she would not survive, Mrs. Cartwright may have panicked and tried to get to the door, holding her baby in her arms.  Another account said she may have only been trying to lock the door, but W. D. reportedly called out for her to stop and almost simultaneously shot at her, wounding her just above her hand.  Her husband tried to stop the blood flow as the outlaws planned their next move.

Shortly after the shooting of Mrs. Cartwright, the bandits heard an approaching car, which turned out to be that of Sheriff Corry and town marshall Paul Hardy and was followed at some distance by an a doctor in his car.  The bandits had suspected something and were able to surprise the lawmen as they approached the farm house.  No shots were fired, but had the lawmen opened fire, they likely would have both been killed at the scene.  After quickly packing their belongings and taking Corry and Hardy as hostages, the bandits shot out the tires of the Pritchard’s car, stole the officers’ car and headed into Oklahoma.  They were trying to make a rendezvous with Buck Barrow, Clyde’s brother, about three hours to the east in Oklahoma.

When they reached the meeting point near Sayre, Oklahoma, they got out of their vehicle.  There had been some discussion of killing the officers, but Clyde decided instead to tie them up and leave them.  The bandits used barbed fencing wire to bind the handcuffed officers to a cottonwood tree, finishing this as Blanche Barrow, Buck Barrow and Ray Hamilton drove up.  The officers eventually freed themselves, but by then the bandits were gone.  The gang later abandoned the sheriff’s car by driving it through a fence and into a thicket, burying it up to the running boards in the soft sand.  They continued on in Buck’s car, driving completely across Oklahoma and into Arkansas before stopping.  Once again, they had managed to slip away from the law.

The Cartwrights and Mr. Pritchard all survived the incident.  Sam Pritchard passed away in 1968 at age 90, having worked as a self employed farmer in Wellington most of his life.  Gladys Cartwright (born in 1910 as was Bonnie) recovered from her gunshot wound and lived until 2006.  She and her husband Lonnie had three children.  The baby she was holding when she was shot was “Little Ralph” who died of appendicitis at age 6.  Alonzo “Lonnie” Cartwright worked most of his career as a cotton ginner in Wellington.  Lonnie died in 1979 at age 73.    Paul Hardy went on to a career in law enforcement.  Hardy died in 1967 at the age of 83.  Sheriff Corry lived well up into his late 70s in West Texas and was interviewed many times about the Wellington incident.

The Barrow Gang did not fare as well.  Buck Barrow died less than a month after the incident due to complications from a head wound he received in a gunfight with authorities in Joplin, Missouri.  Ray Hamilton was executed for murder in 1934.  In less than a year from the Wellington incident, Bonnie and Clyde were both killed in the Louisiana ambush of May, 1934.  At the time of the Louisiana ambush, W. D. Jones was in the Dallas County jail awaiting trial.  Jones was tried and convicted of “harboring” in a federal trial of several individuals.  He was also convicted and received a 15 year sentence in Texas for having committed “murder without malice” for the killing of a deputy sheriff.  He served a total of six years in the Huntsville Prison before he was paroled.  After his release, Jones lived the rest of his life in Houston.  He gave interviews occasionally about his years as a driver for the gang.  When the feature film, Bonnie and Clyde, came out,  Jones accompanied reporters from station KPRC-TV to view it. At the time of his death a few years later, he had been working as a truck driver for Northside Concrete Company.  Jones died at age 58 after a late night altercation in 1974 in which he was shot three times with a shotgun.

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