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The Downhill Slide for the Barrow Gang

Updated on January 28, 2013
Joe Palmer, Bonnie Parker, and Clyde Barrow
Joe Palmer, Bonnie Parker, and Clyde Barrow | Source

Bonnie's Painful Ride

For three days, Clyde worked his way through Oklahoma and Kansas. Blanche got medical supplies at drugstores during the trip every day for Bonnie, and Clyde stole a new Ford V-8, which gave the Gang two cars. They stayed overnight in Pratt, Kansas, taking one cabin, but money was running out. Buck and W.D. pulled a few quick jobs, while Clyde stayed at Bonnie’s side.

On June 15, the Gang reached Fort Smith, Arkansas. They rented two plush cabins with garages, where the stolen cars could be housed. Clyde spoke to a Dr. Eberle, who examined Bonnie, and urged a hospital stay, or at least a nurse be hired.

Clyde’s good side showed through at this critical time, and he displayed his loyalty due to Bonnie’s long-standing commitment to him. He wanted her to have the comfort of a loved one, so he left Bonnie in care of the Gang, and drove eight hours non-stop to West Dallas, where he picked up her sister, Billie Jean, at a meeting place. The area was crawling with police, as they heard about Bonnie’s injuries. Deputy Ted Hinton actually saw Clyde and Billie Jean heading back to Fort Smith, but by the time he got turned around, they were gone.

Brown's Grocery
Brown's Grocery | Source

Bonnie's Addiction and the Robbery of Brown's Grocery

Dr. Eberle wrote a prescription for Amytal, and Bonnie soon had a dependency on that. When she needed a fix, she would become quarrelsome, and even Buck snapped back at her, which was totally unlike him. Within a few days, the Gang needed money again, Bonnie showed a few signs of improvement when Clyde began using another disinfectant on her. The Unguentine kept the scabs on her legs too soft to heal properly. He also weaned her off the Amytal. Buck and W.D. committed a few small business robberies well away from town, and he stayed with Bonnie and Billie Jean, as he feared that Bonnie would bully her little sister into letting her have Amytal again.

On June 23, Buck and W.D. made a stop in Fayetteville, about sixty miles from Fort Smith. They decided on Brown’s Grocery, and parked a block away. Buck stayed in the car, and allowed W.D. to handle this. Mrs. Brown and a bagger were the only two in the store. W.D. got $20 from the cash drawer, and took 35 cents that the youngster had in his pocket. He also got the keys to the delivery truck from Mrs. Brown, but she let him find out that the battery was dead. On the way out of the store, he knocked down a small girl. He finally got the truck started by rolling it down a hill, jumping back in, and popping the clutch. After all this, he decided that he didn’t want it after all, and parked it back up the hill. W.D.’s clumsy theft attempt gave Mrs. Brown plenty of time to call the authorities.

Marshal Henry D. humphrey, 51 years of age
Marshal Henry D. humphrey, 51 years of age | Source

Marshal Henry Humphrey and Red Salyers

51-year-old Marshal Henry Humphrey was in the mood to capture some desperadoes. The day before, while making his early morning rounds, he had been captured by two gunmen who’d taken his flashlight and pistol, then tied him up with baling wire, and left him on the floor of the bank while they made off with the safe. They tossed the safe in the lake, as they couldn’t get it open, and the entire $3,600 that was inside was recovered. I might mention that this was not the work of the Barrow Gang.

Humiliated by the capture the night before, Humphrey was prepared to redeem himself. He was driven to Highway 71 by Red Salyers, a part time Crawford County Sheriff in his maroon Ford. They spotted a car driving the opposite direction, occupied by someone that they knew. Right behind it was Our Gang, but the lawmen didn’t notice the plate number. A short time later, they heard a loud crash, as Clyde ran right into the back of the car that was ahead of him. The sheriffs finally turned around, then noticed that the Ford was the wanted car. Buck and W.D. didn’t give them the chance to make it to their car, whose front end was bashed in. Marshal Humphrey ran toward Buck, who blew him into a ditch. Deputy Salyers fired from behind the car with his measly 7-caliber bullets. W.D. had a 20-round clip in his BAR, but was a terrible shot, and missed his target. Buck and W.D. got in Salyer’s maroon Ford four door. Salyers fired several shots, one of which struck the horn, and another clipped the tips off two of W.D.’s fingers. Marshal Humphrey died of his wounds after the weekend.

Billier Jean Parker(dark hair) with Bonnie Parker
Billier Jean Parker(dark hair) with Bonnie Parker | Source

A Car with a Medical Bag!

Buck and W.D. needed to get back to the motor court right away, but first, they needed to ditch the maroon Ford. They spotted another car three miles later, and stopped it at gunpoint. They nearly made it back to the motor court, but found the bridge blocked. They dumped the car and walked back on foot, staggering back to the cabin at about 10 p.m.

The little Ford coupe couldn’t take all of them to safety. Clyde told Buck and W.D. to begin packing. Since Bonnie would need to lie down in the woods, Clyde stripped the bed, and left $10 on a bureau, as the owner’s daughter had volunteered to nurse Bonnie several times. He took the women to a safe camping spot and returned for the men. They decided that the manhunt would be in their area soon enough, so all six of them crammed into the coupe, and they headed for the Ozarks.

On June 26, Clyde found exactly what he was looking for. Dr. Julian Fields of Enid, Oklahoma, left his medical bag in his Ford V-8, which was parked in a hospital parking lot. His car was taken from the parking lot, which turned up outside Enid, but the medical bag was gone. The bag contained everything for a burn victim. With all that bouncing around in the car, at least she would be somewhat comfortable with sulfates and morphine. However, they no longer had sufficient firepower again, which had mostly been left at the motor court. They also had to get Billie Jean Parker back to West Dallas. After stealing a larger car, Clyde took Billie Jean just over the line to a Texas town, Sherman, got her a new dress, and put her on a train for home.

Red Crown Tavern
Red Crown Tavern | Source

From Colorado to Kansas

They spent the 4th of July in Pueblo, Colorado, and by the 7th, they were thirty-five miles from Enid at a tourist camp. The Barrow brothers hit the National Guard Armory at Phillips University and came away with a large amount of BARs and pistols. There was so much artillery, that it wouldn’t even fit in the bathtub. They also had plenty of ammo and a pair of powerful binoculars. Then the Gang camped out in the country for the next few days. Blanche usually drew overnight guard duty, as Clyde was concerned about pursuit.

By the second week of July, the Gang moved to the Iowa and Kansas areas. In postcards home, they said that Sis was getting better, but in all reality, Bonnie’s leg was atrophied, due to lack of movement. She hopped for the rest of her life, and either Clyde or W.D. had to carry her to the toilet. She wanted to stay with Clyde, no matter what, and the Gang no longer feared that she would die.

On July 18, the Gang showed up in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and robbed three gas stations in succession, which took about ten minutes. Newspapers estimated their take at between $125 and $150. Clyde headed south, and found another Ford V-8 to steal. About twenty miles out of Kansas City, they stopped at the Red Crown to spend the night, as long rides bothered Bonnie physically. It was against Buck’s better judgement to be in such an area, but Clyde wouldn’t listen. Police were on high alert since June 17, which was when Pretty Boy Floyd and company stormed Union Station to rescue Frank Nash, as they attempted to take him to Leavenworth by train. Clyde wanted to prove who was boss, rather than exercising appropriate caution.

Besides Bonnie being newly crippled and W.D.’s second set of gunshot wounds, Bonnie and Clyde were both feared and famous, which gave them somewhat of a sense of invulnerability. Clyde was only 23 and Bonnie 22, so their fatalism was tempered by their youth. “Someday” for them was always a long way away.

Coffey(left) and Baxter(right)
Coffey(left) and Baxter(right) | Source

Sheriff Holt Coffey and Captain William Baxter

The Barrow Gang had no clue that the Red Crown Tavern was a gathering place for the local police and highway patrol. Since there were no radios, officers and their superiors would often meet somewhere at mealtimes to exchange information. The Red Crown was a top spot, as food was so good there. On July 19, the proprietor or an employee of the Red Crown mentioned the strange people at the cabins to Patrol Captain William Baxter, along with the fact that they ordered more meals than they registered people for, the windows had paper taped across them, and they paid for everything with change. Baxter put the location under surveillance. Someone also mentioned these people to Platte County Sheriff Holt Coffey. Coffey and Baxter were friends.

Coffey begged Sheriff Tom Bash of Jackson County to help with armored cars, bulletproof shields, tear gas, and machine guns. Coffey insisted that the Barrow Gang was in town, Bash finally agreed to one armored car and a few officers. It was learned that the license plate matched on a stolen Ford V-B from Dr. Fields in Enid, Oklahoma. Clyde foolishly kept that plate, so Baxter felt that there was even more proof that the Barrows were holed up at the Red Crown. By midafternoon, Coffey and Baxter were planning their raid. They wanted to attack after dark, as they knew that Blanche had paid for a second night.

At some point, Clyde or Blanche walked to the local druggist for Bonnie’s medical supplies. The druggist contacted Coffey to advise him about the purchase. The sheriff was convinced that Bonnie Parker was at the Red Crown.

Red Crown gas pump attendants, circa 1933
Red Crown gas pump attendants, circa 1933 | Source
Doors at Red Crown Inn where shootout occurred
Doors at Red Crown Inn where shootout occurred | Source

The Red Crown Shootout, July 20, 1933

Buck and Blanche discussed that night before bed that they were tired of being bossed around by Clyde and were ready to head for Canada. She went to the grocery store across the street for soap, and everyone stopped talking once they saw her. She told Buck that the people were acting oddly, and he told her to tell Clyde. Buck thought that they would be all right there until morning, and Clyde said the same.

Shortly after 1 a.m., Coffey and Baxter closed around the cabins and the armored car was steered around to the front of the garages. Coffey knocked on the door, and identified himself. He was told to wait just a minute, and was soon greeted with a barrage of weapons fire. The bullets from the BARs smashed into the shields and knocked both Coffey and Baxter backward.

Clyde yelled for W.D. to take the inner door from the cabin and start the Ford. Once he did that, Clyde yelled for him to open the garage door, but W.D. was too afraid to do it, due to the large amount of weapon fire. Clyde pulled open the door, saw the car in front of the garage, and opened fire with the BAR. The armored car was riddled with bullets, wounding driver George Highfill in both legs. A bullet struck the horn, and the shrill sound of the horn mixed with the loud gunfire in progress. Highfill eased the car several dozen yards to the right, giving Clyde his opening to get the V-8 through.

Bonnie hopped to the V-8, and Clyde and W.D. jumped in. Buck and Blanche had to leave the cabin via the front door. Buck got a bullet in the head, removing part of his skull. Blanche looped her arm around Buck and helped Clyde drag him into the car, and W.D. gave covering fire. Clyde floored the Ford straight out onto Highway 71. Everyone was shooting and the back window of the ford was blown out. Blanche lay across Buck to keep him from further harm, but the glass splinters drove through both her eyes. Clyde took a corner and drove off into the night.

Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, Champions of Luck

Don't forget to stay tuned for another segment on the charmed life of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.

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    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      There's plenty more for you to see. Thanks for the kind words.

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

      I have found this series you've written very compelling and look forward to the next installment. Excellent job with this Deb!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, girishpuri. Any people like this in the history of India?

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Jackie. I like to narrate these in a matter-of-fact way. There were sure some interesting tales, though!

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Alicia, they are sure a hoot in a few places, as they didn't have the touch on bank robberies, until Raymond Hamilton showed up.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 4 years ago from The Beautiful South

      How horrible...great storytelling though. ^

    • girishpuri profile image

      Girish puri 4 years ago from NCR , INDIA

      very very gud

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      It's amazing and horrifying to read about how violent these people were and how much harm they did to others, but the story of their exploits is certainly interesting to read! Thanks for another edition in the Barrow Gang series, Deb. I'm looking forward to the next hub in the series.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Precisely, Jim. Until Bonnie and Clyde had proven themselves, they really didn't consider them dangerous, until it was too late for some of them. In view of the gangs and robbers of the 30's, several laws were enacted, especially making bank robberies a Federal offense.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Thanks, Kawi. It sure has been an interesting ride, in more than one way.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      You are so welcome, Martin. There are sure a lot of interesting stories that come with the Gang, eh?

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 4 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      Those lawmen were terribly careless with their lives, considering that they knew they were dealing with real desperados. This is a gripping story Deb. The twenties and thirties were alive with gangs of outlaws it sounds like, all over the country really. Lack of radio cars made it hard to "head 'em off at the pass."

    • KawikaChann profile image

      KawikaChann 4 years ago from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place

      WOOOOOWWWWW! Great writing! Voted you up/awesome/following. Peace. Kawi.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Again, thank you for all the trouble (even though you like it) you went through to bring us this.

    • aviannovice profile image
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      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Yes, Billy, these were just kids. It was amazing what they did in their short lives.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I had no idea they were that young. Talk about living a full life in a short time. Great series, Deb!