"No man but the undertaker will ever get me..."
“You've read the story of Jesse James
of how he lived and died.
If you're still in need;
of something to read,
here's the story of Bonnie and Clyde.”
-Bonnie Parker, “The Trail’s End”
I have to confess: I have been infatuated with the story of Bonnie and Clyde for some time now. It’s hard not to be. The tale is so undeniably sexy. Two lovers running from the law, robbing banks during the great Depression? It’s classic.
So I was really surprised when reading Bonnie and Clyde: the Lives Behind the Legend this summer (yes, that is how I actually spend my free time) that the tale we usually hear about the duo is pretty bland when compared with the real thing. Bland but romanticized. In other words, Bonnie and Clyde didn’t just rob banks, giggle, and screw all the time. Shocking, right?
First things first: neither Clyde nor Bonnie was particularly big or menacing. Bonnie was barely 4’11, and Clyde just 5’3 (source).
Bonnie Parker also wrote poetry. Her poem “The Trail’s End” (the beginning of which is posted above) tells their story. She specifically blames the police for forcing them-specifically Clyde- to turn against the law.
“They call them cold-blooded killers
they say they are heartless and mean.
But I say this with pride
that I once knew Clyde,
when he was honest and upright and clean.
But the law fooled around;
kept taking him down,
and locking him up in a cell.
Till he said to me; "I'll never be free,
so I'll meet a few of them in hell"
As early as 16, Clyde had a criminal record for turning in a rental car late. According to Shneider, the author of Lives Behind the Legend, after this incident the police would pick him up for any crime committed in the area, and he was not able to keep a job. So, as Bonnie suggests in her poem, Clyde turned to full-time crime as his only option.
The vague middle of the story is fairly well known: Clyde met Bonnie at a party; there were several robberies (mostly of gas stations, and little family groceries, and only a very few banks.); a few killings… Oh, but those famous pictures taken? The ones where Bonnie is pictured with a cigar in her mouth? She didn’t actually smoke. The cigar was borrowed as a joke from Buck, Clyde’s brother and fellow member of the “Barrow gang.” (55
) What is more, it is often claimed that Bonnie never fired a shot during her time as an outlaw.
With almost a year to go until their bloody end, Clyde and Bonnie were in a horrific car accident, leaving Bonnie’s leg so badly burned that she was never able to walk properly again. She mostly hopped or was carried by Clyde
. Buck died in a shoot out with the cops not long after. As Bonnie wrote,
“They don't think they're too smart or desperate
they know that the law always wins.
They've been shot at before;
but they do not ignore,
that death is the wages of sin.”
When they were finally shot down, it was after being lured into a trap set by the parents of one of their fellow gang members.
“Some day they'll go down together
they'll bury them side by side.
To few it'll be grief,
to the law a relief
but it's death for Bonnie and Clyde.”
Knowing that their end was not long in coming, Bonnie made her mother promise to bury them together. However, her mother was so angry at Clyde- who she believed was at fault, that that they two had to be laid to rest at entirely different burial grounds.
There is really so much more to the Bonnie and Clyde story than I have been able to write about here... For instance, there was a period of time near the end of the story when Bonnie was carrying around a rabbit in the Barrow getaway car to give to her family as a gift. There was also talk among the gang of Bonnie and Clyde's bad hygiene- they would laugh at anyone who brushed their teeth. There is a certain kind of fatalism about the two- both knew that it couldn't end any way other than death. And it wasn't fun either. Even as famous bank robbers, they always had to sleep in the woods, or when they were lucky, in motels. They couldn't return home because of the police.
If you are interested in the full story, I really urge you to read Bonnie and Clyde: The Lives Behind the Legend. It may seem a little awkward at first, because it's strangely told from Clyde's point of view, but it gives so much more detail to the over-glamorized the story that we all know.
Other useful sources:
http://texashideout.tripod.com/quotes.html (quotes from the Barrow Gang, police, and relatives)