The History of Bonnie and Clyde
Bonnie and Clyde were outlaws, bank-robbers, and cold blooded killers. Their crime spree took place from 1932 to 1934 and ranged through countless states including, Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. Overall the pair, accompanied by a handful of interchangeable Barrow Gang members (Buck and Blanche Barrow, Floyd Hamilton, Ralph Fults, and Henry Methvyn, etc.), are said to have killed 15 persons including nine law officials.[i] Clyde Barrow had a criminal record prior to his work with Bonnie. Barrow was incarcerated in Texas’ Eastham Prison for armed robbery. Bonnie Parker was a small town waitress from West Dallas before turning to crime.[ii]
The Great Depression influenced the two of them immensely. When the stock market fell drastically on October 29, 1929, the United States fell into a great economic slump. From 1929-1934 there was a steady increase in unemployment which peaked at 25% in 1933.[iii] While Republican President Herbert Hoover desperately proposed solutions in Acts, Bills, and even a National Credit Association, he was unsuccessful in pulling America out of this crisis. The general public suffered greatly during this period – houses were foreclosed, banks closed, the value of the dollar dropped, hunger was widespread, and many families were reduced to living in shanty towns. Urban workers were hit hardest. Wages were lowered, hours cut, and laborers were laid off. Rural Americans suffered significantly as well. American agriculture had turned to a large scale mechanized system, leaving many smaller scale farmers without work. On top of this, there was a drought which encompassed most of the United States. Specifically, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas were referred to as the Dust Bowl.[iv] Also during the early 1930s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) attempted to reassert its authority and importance to the American public. The FBI compiled national crime statistics and began to focus on “a series of small-town bank robbers such as John Dillinger, Bonnie Parker, and Clyde Barrow with whom the Bureau could deal effectively.”[v] They also created the “Ten Most Wanted” list and became more active in the quest to find, capture, or kill such outlaws.
These were the conditions in which Bonnie and Clyde lived. Those sympathetic to the pair believe that it was due to these harsh conditions that they turned to robbing banks. It is hard to determine if Bonnie and Clyde were ruthless murderers or just two desperate people who had nothing to lose and got caught up in a chase they couldn’t end.
[i] Walter Prescott Webb, The Texas Rangers. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1965), 539-43.
[ii] John Treherne, The Strange History of Bonnie and Clyde (New York: Stein and Day, 1986), 23-49.
[iii] Robert F. Himmelberg, The Great Depression and the New Deal (Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 2001), xviii – 12.
[iv] David E. Kyvig, Daily Life in The United States, 1920-1939 Decades of Promise and Pain (Westport, CN: Greenwood Press, 2002), 188.
[v] Ibid., 152.