My Life with Bonnie and Clydeby Blanche Caldwell Barrow
Bonnie and Clyde were responsible for multiple murders and countless robberies. But they did not act alone. In 1933, during their infamous run from the law, Bonnie and Clyde were joined by Clyde’s brother Buck Barrow and his wife Blanche. Of these four accomplices, only one—Blanche Caldwell Barrow—lived beyond early adulthood and only Blanche left… See more details below
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Bonnie and Clyde were responsible for multiple murders and countless robberies. But they did not act alone. In 1933, during their infamous run from the law, Bonnie and Clyde were joined by Clyde’s brother Buck Barrow and his wife Blanche. Of these four accomplices, only one—Blanche Caldwell Barrow—lived beyond early adulthood and only Blanche left behind a written account of their escapades. Edited by outlaw expert John Neal Phillips, Blanche’s previously unknown memoir is here available for the first time.
Blanche wrote her memoir between 1933 and 1939, while serving time at the Missouri State Penitentiary. Following her death, Blanche’s good friend and the executor of her will, Esther L. Weiser, found the memoir wrapped in a large unused Christmas card. Later she entrusted it to Phillips, who had interviewed Blanche several times before her death. Drawing from these interviews, and from extensive research into Depression-era outlaw history, Phillips supplements the memoir with helpful notes and with biographical information about Blanche and her accomplices.
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My Life with Bonnie & Clyde
By Blanche Caldwell Barrow, John Neal Phillips
UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESSCopyright © 1939 Farrar & Rinehart, Inc.
All rights reserved.
View from a Cell
People only live happily ever after in fairy tales. In my case, it seems it was a crime to have ever met Buck Barrow. I was brought up by a kind, loving, law-abiding father, without the aid of a mother. But when I met Buck it was a case of true love from the first. I knew I loved him more than I had ever loved anyone before, more than I could ever love anyone else for the rest of my life. And he loved me the same, if it is possible for a man to love as a woman does. I don't think I am the only woman who loved a man so much. But because I loved Marvin Buck Barrow, married him, was loyal and true to him, and to my marriage vows to the bitter end, I am now serving a ten-year sentence in prison.
I am not guilty of the crime charged to me. But I am guilty of loving my husband so much I couldn't bear to have him leave me, not knowing what hour of the day or night I may receive word of him being riddled by bullets fired from some officer's machine gun. I am asking all who may read this story, was that a crime? Even though I knew my life was in danger I went with him wherever he went. Rather than live without him, I chose to face death with him.
Blanche Caldwell Barrow in the Missouri State Penitentiary for Women, 1933. (Courtesy of Rhea Leen Linder)CHAPTER 2
Editor's Note: 1929 and 1931
On Monday, November 11, 1929, the date Blanche Caldwell Callaway met Buck Barrow, the weather in Dallas, Texas, was cloudy and 72 degrees. It was Armistice Day (now Veterans Day), exactly eleven years after the close of what was then referred to as "the Great War"—World War I. At 11 A.M., there was a moment of silence throughout the city to commemorate the event, commencing with a blast from a siren at the Adolphus Hotel on Commerce Street. Later a parade wound its way through the downtown streets and past a reviewing stand constructed on Harwood Street in front of city hall.
On Elm Street, theaters and vaudeville houses planned various patriotic programs. At the Melba Theater it was possible to view, among other things, a short motion picture documentary called Over There Today, which focused on the rebuilding and restoration campaign in France since the close of the war. At the Palace Theater, where Clyde Barrow once worked as an usher, the house organist, Billy Muth, was to play a medley of songs titled "Recollections of War," followed by a program by the Highland Park High School band, fresh from its first-place triumph in a battle of the state's best bands at the Texas State Fair the previous month. In addition, local NBC radio affiliate WFAA scheduled an American Legion Armistice Day program beginning at 10:40 A.M.
The Great War and its immediate legacy were still very much a part of the American psyche in 1929. The events in Dallas that day were not unlike those in most cities and communities across the United States. Indeed, so prominent were the memories being honored that Armistice Day that there was no indication whatsoever in the news of those two days of economic doom that had passed so dramatically into history only a couple of weeks before—"Black Thursday" and the subsequent "Black Tuesday," collectively marking the start of that difficult era called the Great Depression. Nevertheless, those two days only represented the most radical of the initial stock market losses.
Between the first week of September 1929 and Armistice Day, the stock market plunged 48 percent, and the worst was yet to come. Nevertheless, the average American could not imagine such news could affect them. This was especially true in Texas, where the events on Wall Street were viewed as extremely distant "northern" problems, nothing to concern Texans.
On July 3, 1931, the day recently divorced Blanche Caldwell married Buck Barrow, the news in Texas was dominated by the ticker-tape parade for aviators Wiley Post and Harold Gatty held the day before in New York City following completion of the first ever around-the-world flight. It served to divert attention for a while from the deepening economic crisis of the burgeoning depression.
The Texas economy, although rather diversified, was still largely agricultural, producing timber, fruit, and livestock, as well as oil and gas, among other commodities. Despite this, the vast majority of the production force at the time was made up of sharecroppers and tenant farmers, most of whom had suffered the effects of dire poverty long before the crash of 1929. Between 1920 and 1930, many of these people had quit farming and moved to urban areas in hopes of finding a better life. Indeed, it was that very reality that drove Henry and Cumie Barrow, Buck's parents, to abandon the unprofitable drudgery of working on someone else's land and move to Dallas in 1921. Between 1920 and 1930 the population of Texas had risen 25 percent, but Dallas's population almost doubled, largely due to this flight from agriculture. Nevertheless, for most of these economic refugees the relief would be short-lived. By 1931, Dallas and other Texas cities were beginning to feel the effects of the expanding recession.
President Herbert Hoover, initially supported by Texans (in 1928 Texas voted Republican in a presidential election for the first time), was by 1931 finding himself largely vilified, not only by Texans but across the nation for his apparent inaction with respect to the economy. "The economy is fundamentally sound," said Hoover in October 1931. "The depression is just a passing incident in our national life." Others, whether by way of diversion or out of utter ignorance, chimed in: "I don't know anything about any depression. What depression?" announced banking mogul F. P. Morgan on returning from a European vacation. And industrialist Henry Ford said, "These are really good times!" By then, however, unemployment stood at 8 million nationally and manufacturing had dropped 35 percent. Within a year, the latter would plunge another 25 percent. But more immediate for Texans was that fact of sagging agricultural income, which for most farmers was never very good but had fallen 25 percent since October 1929 and would pass the 50 percent mark within a year. At a time when the average national income was a mere $1,500 annually, farm households subsisted on $167 a year.
In Texas and across the nation anti-Hoover sentiment was increasing. Growing communities of homeless citizens began sprouting in most large urban areas. The cardboard and scrap-wood shelters of these displaced people came to be known as "Hoovervilles." Likewise, the empty, out-turned pockets of the unemployed were called "Hoover flags," newspapers used by transients as park bench covers were called "Hoover blankets," and the various unsavory creatures snared and boiled for dinner, in lieu of anything better, were referred to as "Hoover hogs." In Texas, some tagged armadillos "Hoover hogs" but usually the term described rats.
I got a divorce from my first husband on June 5, 1931. On July 3, 1931, I married Marvin Ivan Buck Barrow at America, Oklahoma. We bought our marriage license at Idabel, Oklahoma, near where my father lived. Dad liked Buck, as did most everyone else who met him. Buck had many friends. Dad thought I would be happy. And I was. But it didn't last. I was too happy for it to last.
I did not know Buck was in trouble when I met him, but if I had known, it wouldn't have kept me from loving him. So I married him and went with him to Jacksonville, Florida, for our honeymoon. Then I learned he was an escaped convict from the Texas state penitentiary at Huntsville, Texas. Of course, this cut me deeply and left me broken-hearted. It was more than I could understand. The man I loved so dearly was an escaped convict. But I loved this man who was hunted by officers of the law. I vowed he would never get in trouble again if I could help it. I begged him to reform. He said he loved me, as I did him. He said he wasn't a criminal at heart. He told me he was tired of that kind of life and since he had met and married me he wished he were free from the sentence hanging over him. I told him that before we could become happy he must go back to prison and finish his sentence, which was four years for burglary. We couldn't run from place to place hiding from the law. So I begged him to give himself up and go back to prison. I was sure he wouldn't have to stay long.
On December 27, 1931, after spending Christmas in Dallas, Texas, with Buck's mother, we drove to Huntsville, Texas, where the main prison is located. We drove up to the front of the building and sent for Warden W. W. Waid to come to the car. He did. Buck told him why he had come back, to give himself up and serve his time. Warden Waid was very kind to both of us and told us we had done the right thing. I was crying because I could hardly bear to leave Buck behind those cold-looking gray walls.
It was like cutting my heart out with a knife to know I would be separated from him. I had sent the man I loved back to prison, which to me was almost as bad as sending him to his grave. Buck kissed me goodbye and walked up the stone steps behind the warden to his office, or wherever he needed to go to change into prison clothes and begin serving the rest of his sentence.
I hated to be away from him just a short time. I loved him so much. I knew every hour away from him would seem like years and I hardly knew how I could bear to send him back to that horrible place. But when he was free again we could be happy together for the rest of our lives. The happiness we dreamed of would be worth waiting for.
Buck's mother, two of his sisters, and one of their husbands had gone with us. The sisters and husband wanted to go on one of the prison tours. Buck's mother and I weren't interested so we went to the visitors' area and waited for Buck's suit, the one he had worn to prison.
While we were there Buck came through dressed in white prison garb. He was with a guard. That was almost too much for me to bear. I was unable to control myself. I began screaming and crying. Buck just smiled when he passed me. I knew I was making it harder for him. But I couldn't get myself under control. Several people were in the visitors' area, waiting to visit someone. Everyone looked at me as if I had gone crazy. Someone asked what was wrong with me. Mrs. Barrow told them the man who had walked through with a guard was my husband. Then they seemed to understand.
I went back to Dallas to stay with Buck's mother for a while. I cried all that day and night until I was sick from crying. Before returning to prison Buck had made his mother and his family promise they would take care of "his baby," as he always called me. "Baby" was a pet name he had for me and I had always called him "Daddy." This may sound silly and cheap to some people—he was only eight years older than me (I was twenty when we were married and he was twenty-eight). Still, he seemed to feel that since I was so much younger than him that he had to worry about me. He was so afraid something would happen to me if he wasn't with me all the time, as if I were just a baby and needed someone to care for me.
Soon after Buck's return to prison, I went to work at a beauty shop in a town about one hundred miles from Dallas. I will not give the name of the town, or of the people for whom I worked for fear of embarrassing them. I don't want to hurt them by connecting their names with my story. They were very kind and understanding.
I sold the car Buck left me and spent most of the money trying to get Buck a parole or pardon. I thought that a lawyer would do him some good. The one I hired only took my money and gave me many false promises, which did me no good.
Days and weeks went by, which seemed like years to me. In February 1932, I visited Buck and his brother Clyde, who was serving a fourteen-year sentence for several minor crimes. Mrs. Barrow was still working trying to get Clyde paroled and was sure he would be free soon. She had asked me to see him, Clyde, while I was visiting Buck. I was to tell him to be good because she was sure he would be free soon. Clyde was walking on crutches because he had cut off two of his toes with an ax while cutting wood at Eastham prison farm. He did it so he would be sent to the Walls where Buck was.
Before Buck returned to prison, I met many of his friends and most of his people, including his younger brother Clyde. So I already knew him. Buck and I visited Clyde at a Texas prison farm called Eastham No. One. Buck also sent me to see him several times alone. Clyde told me many things that happened in prison. He also wanted to escape. He said he couldn't do fourteen years.
On the outside, Buck had been working on Clyde's case. He supplied money to Mrs. Barrow to pay for lawyers. We were sure Clyde would be given a parole when he had been in prison two years, but Clyde couldn't believe it. He begged me to bring a gun to him, but I refused. I wouldn't help him escape. But I would do anything else I could to help Buck's brother win a parole, but only if he wanted to reform and not go back to the same old law-breaking game. Clyde said if he could get out he would go straight, but he couldn't take fourteen years at Eastham. He said if he didn't make a parole soon he was going to get out of there anyway he could. He was really doing hard time.
Buck went with me twice to see Clyde. I was very worried during both those trips because Buck had escaped from another prison farm just across the river from Eastham. I was afraid some one would recognize Buck and arrest him. We were about the only ones who visited Clyde, sent himmoney, or tried to do anything for him. His sister Nell visited him twice. His mother visited once or twice. Although Clyde knew Bonnie Parker at the time and had been keeping company with her before he went to prison, he said he only received a few letters from her while he was at Eastham. Then on December 27, 1931, Buck went back to prison.CHAPTER 3
Buck Makes a Pardon
Editor's Note: 1932–1933
While she waited for her husband's return from prison, Blanche Barrow worked part of the time as a licensed beautician for Buck's older sister, Artie Winkler, at the Cinderella Beauty Shoppe in Denison, Texas. She also lived for a while with Buck's parents in their cramped, three-room quarters behind the Star Service Station in West Dallas.
On February 2, 1932, Buck's younger brother Clyde was released from prison where he had been serving time for burglary and auto theft. Seething with hatred, the younger Barrow began almost immediately to finalize plans he and a fellow inmate named Ralph Fults had initiated while still incarcerated together. They were going to form a gang with the specific intention of raiding the Eastham prison farm, where both men had been held and where guards and inmates alike had viciously brutalized Barrow. By early 1933, owing to a number of circumstances, Clyde Barrow had not yet staged the raid, but as we shall see, it remained foremost in his mind. Vowing never to be taken alive, he was wanted for five murders before the first anniversary of his release from prison. And more deaths would follow.
Nationally throughout 1932, the economy continued its downward spiral. Although people could escape for a while with movies like A Farewell to Arms with Gary Cooper or Red Dust with Clark Gable and Jean Harlow, the mood of the average citizen was probably best summarized by Bing Crosby's hit song, "Buddy, Can You Spare a Dime?" Despite his support of a farm relief bill, President Herbert Hoover's image remained that of an ineffectual leader. "There is nothing more we can do," he said, but a growing number of Americans refused to believe it.
On March 7, 1932, three thousand demonstrators demanding jobs marched on the Ford Motor Company's River Rouge plant in Michigan. Dearborn police stopped the march with tear gas, but the demonstrators pelted police with rocks and frozen mud in the zero-degree weather and then rushed Gate No. 3. Machine gun fire erupted. Four marchers were killed and sixty wounded in what has since been called "the River Rouge massacre."
Excerpted from My Life with Bonnie & Clyde by Blanche Caldwell Barrow, John Neal Phillips. Copyright © 1939 Farrar & Rinehart, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
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