Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

Films >> Bonnie and Clyde (1967) >>

See the extensive bibliography (divided into print, video/audio, and online resources) below the historical context essay.

[1] Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow became two of the most famous characters of the 1930’s through their exploits as bank robbers and murderers in the rural central states of America. The couple’s exploits caused them to be one of America’s most sought after “public enemies” as they terrorized banks, shop owners, and the general public during the age of great gangsters. They were contemporaries of the likes of Al Capone, Jon Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, and the Barker gang, all of whom set America on edge as they murdered, stole, and were constantly on the run from law enforcement.

[2] Bonnie Parker was born October 1, 1910, in Rowena, Texas. Bonnie was the second of three children who, at age three, had her father die. Her family led by her mom moved to West Dallas where they lived in poverty. However, Bonnie was an honor roll student who excelled in the classroom, especially in creative writing and poetry. She married briefly at age sixteen, to a man who also was a criminal.

[3] Clyde Barrow was born March 24, 1909, in Ellis County, Texas. He was the fifth of seven children in a family of poor farmers. His first arrest came in 1926 when he was caught by police with a rental car he had failed to return. After multiple arrests for varying reasons, usually involving stolen goods, Clyde was sentenced to Eastham Prison Farm in April 1930. While in prison, Clyde was sexually assaulted multiple times by another inmate, until Clyde killed him with a pipe, Clyde’s first murder. Clyde left the prison much more violent than when he entered, and his poor experience in prison caused Clyde to seek revenge against the Texas prison system. This experience also led to Clyde deciding that he would never return to prison and would rather die in a hail of bullets than go back, which is exactly the fate he would later meet.

[4] The details of how Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow met is not clear; however, it is suspected by many that they met in 1930 at a friend’s house. Most historians believe that they immediately were attracted to each other, and her love for him allowed her to follow him into all sorts of trouble. After his parole in 1932, Clyde worked with Raymond Hamilton and some other local criminals in holding up small stores and businesses. In one failed robbery attempt in 1932, Bonnie was caught and jailed but was later released by a grand jury. She promptly rejoined her lover, Barrow, and continued with the Barrow gang robbing gas stations, restaurants, and small-town banks. The Barrow gang also included Hamilton and W.D. Jones and later Buck and Blanche Barrow, Clyde’s brother and sister-in-law.

[5] This Barrow Gang killed their first sheriff on August 5, 1932, right after Bonnie was released by the grand jury. Following this incident, the Barrow Gang murdered their first civilian, Howard Hall, while robbing his store on October 11, 1932, in Sherman, Texas. They made out with $60 from this robbery that cost an innocent shop owner his life. One of the more prominent figures in the Barrow gang, before the addition of Buck and Blanche, was W.D. Jones, who was sixteen years old when he joined the gang. Jones was initiated his second day in the gang by killing Doyle Johnson on December 26, 1932, as they stole his car. A few weeks later, they killed another sheriff deputy, Malcolm Davis, on January 6, 1933, bringing their total killed to five in just a few months.

[6] The gang really transformed shortly after the March 22, 1933, release of Buck Barrow and subsequently his joining Clyde, Bonnie, and W.D. in the Barrow gang. Buck was accompanied by his wife Blanche as they met up with Clyde and the gang in Joplin, Missouri. Many suspect that Buck and Blanche were visiting with Clyde to try to convince him to turn himself into law enforcement, when the suspicious activities of the gang at their apartment in the town led to an altercation with the authorities that dramatically shifted the direction and notoriety of the gang. The police had received calls of suspicious activities that they believed to deal with bootlegging, so they decided to search the place. However, the gang came out firing, with Clyde using his weapon of choice, the BAR (M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle). Clyde killed one officer, and Buck severely wounded another as the gang speed off, leaving many of their belongings behind, including a large arsenal of weapons and ammunition, a camera with unexposed pictures of the gang, and a poem written by Bonnie. With this incident, the gang made the national newspapers, and their fame grew.

[7] The gang drifted around Texas and the South, and even began to rob banks and stores in Minnesota and Indiana. In one case the gang kidnapped Dillard Darby and Sophie Stone in Ruston, Louisiana, while stealing Darby’s car. The gang took them along with them and dropped them far away from home. The gang did the same thing to many other people, either sheriffs or civilians, and sometimes gave them money to get back, earning them even more attention in the national media. However, Bonnie and Clyde, and the Barrow gang earned their notoriety in their willingness to kill anyone who crossed their path. This ruthlessness caused the gang’s once Robin Hood-like appeal to sour in public opinion and led to their status as public enemy number one. With this fame, the gang had to adjust their habits and no longer could risk eating at restaurants or staying at hotels. This infamy brought more pressure to the couple, and their once glamorous lifestyle on the run began to fade. To further their troubles, Clyde crashed a car while driving through Texas with W.D. and Bonnie in it, and battery acid covered Bonnie, resulting in 3rd degree burns on her leg. The handicapped Bonnie could only hobble around, jumping on her good leg, or have Clyde carry her. The gang met up with Buck and Blanche and hid out in Arkansas while Bonnie nursed her serious burns. However, Clyde and Buck failed while attempting to rob a store and killed a sheriff’s deputy and had to go on the run, with Bonnie still not healed.

[8] Bonnie and Clyde, along with Buck, Blanche, and W.D. escaped to a Kansas City, Missouri, suburb and rented two cabins with garages. The gang again acted extremely suspicious and drew more attention to themselves by covering their windows with newspapers and paying in coins. The owner of the tavern alerted the highway patrol, and the authorities were later alerted again when Blanche was spotted buying medical supplies and bandages. Those selling medical supplies in most of the south had been notified that either Bonnie or Clyde had been injured and to alert authorities if they were seen. The highway patrol, the sheriff, and police officers from nearby Kansas City armed themselves with Thompson Machine guns and an armored car and circled the cabins. However, these police officers were no match for Clyde, Bonnie, W.D., Buck, and Blanche, all of whom were armed with the far superior Browning Automatic Rifle and were able to blast their way out after short circuiting the armored car with their bullets. Law enforcement did not give chase since they were discouraged after the bloody shootout. In this shootout, Buck was gravely wounded with a bullet smashing the side of his head, and Blanche was blinded by shards of shattered glass in both eyes.

[9] The Barrow gang then raced off to an abandoned amusement park near Dexter, Iowa. Here they camped out for a little while until neighbors noticed the bloody bandages and called in their local police officers. The officers surrounded the gang yet again, but Bonnie, Clyde, and W.D. Jones escaped on foot, while Buck was shot in the back and Blanche was captured. Buck Barrow died July 29, 1934, of pneumonia that was a result of the surgery to remove the bullet from his back and to repair his skull. W.D. Jones separated from Bonnie and Clyde, and the duo was alone once again. They decided to lay low and only robbed stores and such to afford food and supplies to keep them going. However, in November of that year, while in Texas, Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed by Dallas area law enforcement when they tried meeting their families. Each was wounded in the leg, yet again they escaped arrest and were on the move.

[10] In January of 1934, Bonnie and Clyde pulled off one of their greater feats, as they helped Henry Methvin, Raymond Hamilton, and a few others escape Eastham prison. This planned breakout was a way for Clyde to get back at the Texas Department of Corrections. However, during the breakout, one of the escapees killed a correctional officer, and this caused all of Texas state law enforcement to gear up to finally bring an end to the marauding Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. The state asked former Texas Ranger Frank A. Hamer to hunt down the duo, and he accepted their commission as a Texas Highway Patrol officer and a special investigator for the Texas Correctional system.

[11] On April 1, 1934, Bonnie and Clyde were reported to have murdered two Texas Highway Patrol officers in a brutal fashion. One witness had reported that Clyde and sidekick Methvin opened fire and cut down the officers. The witness then said they say Bonnie walk up to the two dying officers and execute them with a shot each to the head. However, this witness’s story was later disproved. Methvin opened fire on the officers thinking that was what Clyde wanted, when it is assumed that Clyde just wanted to capture them and take them with them on their ride. Bonnie did not execute the men but either went over to try to help them or slept through the entire gunfight. Many people suspect that part of Methvin’s eventual plea deal had him confess to the murders of the two officers and say that he acted alone. A little while later Clyde and Methvin killed another officer, this time in Oklahoma. With all this killing of law enforcement officers, public opinion grew greatly negative, and the public called for the extermination of the ruthless marauding gang.

[12] Hamer had been researching Bonnie and Clyde’s tactics and found that they stayed close to state lines, using the state lines to escape law enforcement who would have no jurisdiction in the other state. Hamer also found that they were using Methvin’s family home as a place in which to regroup if the gang had become separated. Hamer met with the Methvin family and began working details out with them to help capture the gang and take out Bonnie and Clyde, in exchange for Methvin being pardoned. So on May 22, 1934, Hamer and a posse of other Texas law enforcement officers set up an ambush point in the bushes near Methvin’s Bienville Parish, Louisiana, home. They remained in waiting and had Methvin’s father sitting on the side of the road near their ambush point to help get Clyde to stop in the trap. On May 23 at 9:15am, Bonnie and Clyde came roaring down the road in their stolen Ford v8 and stopped once they saw Methvin’s father. The officers opened fire when the couple tried to get away, and they fired a combined 130 rounds at the couple. Clyde was killed instantly with a burst of bullets to his head, but Bonnie did not die as easily. The ambushers reported hearing Bonnie scream as the car was riddled with bullets. Bonnie and Clyde each were shot around twenty five times as the officers unloaded their BAR’s, then shotguns, and then pistols into the car as it crashed into a ditch while on fire.

[13] The bodies were taken to a funeral parlor immediately as people from all over came to the town to see and hear about the death of the famous duo. One ironic note regarding the bodies was when Dillard Darby, an undertaker whom the Barrow Gang had kidnapped earlier in their career and whom Bonnie joked would someday work on her and Clyde, joined in the embalming and preparations of their bodies. While the couple had wished to be buried next to each other, the Parker family would not allow this, and so they were buried in separate cemeteries in Dallas.

[14] A great deal of controversy has surrounded the death of the couple, especially that of Bonnie Parker. Historians have searched through tons of paperwork and were only able to find a single warrant for Bonnie, and it was for aiding the escape of Clyde Barrow across state lines. Hamer was quoted as saying that he felt somewhat bad for killing her, but it was either the officers or her. Many people also question the posse that killed the gang, as the six officers were from three different agencies, all with differing plans and agendas. Many people feel like the ambush was unfair as the couple was given no warning of the violence that would ensue.

[15] Bonnie and Clyde, the leaders of the Barrow gang killed a total of nine law enforcement officers and several civilians in their reign of terror that stretched from 1932-1934. They became media darlings early on in their careers since they were a group who was striking back and revolting against the capitalistic world that had ruined the lives of so many American men and women in the Great Depression. However, their robbing from the rich began to be overshadowed with their killing of police officers and civilians who stood in their way. By the time of their deaths, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow had become public enemy number one and were sought after and wanted in many states in the central part of the United States. The country breathed a sigh of relief when the couple was murdered, but the legend of Bonnie and Clyde has grown since their death through song, film, and books. Bonnie and Clyde, along with the other gangsters of the 1930’s, took America on a rollercoaster ride of emotions and shaped the way the American system of law enforcement worked.

Print Resources

Algren, Nelson. "The Pursuit of the Pixie-Eared Elephant. The True Story of Bonnie & Clyde: As Told by Bonnie's Mother and Clyde's Sister. [Former title Fugitives] Ed. Jan I. Fortune. New York: Signet New American Library, 1968.
Well known writer Algren's distinctive take on our duo: "Who were Bonnie and Clyde? They were outcasts of the cotton frontier. They were children of the wilderness whose wilderness had been razed; who came to maturity in the hardest of times. Clyde might have survived to a sad old age by chopping cotton. Bonnie might have knocked about as a sharecropper's wife or a prostitute until worn out by hard use. The two chose, instead, to give everyone a run for their lives. And, having once committed themselves, made a run which verged on the uncanny."
Barrow, Blanche. My Life with Bonnie and Clyde. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 2004.
This book is the only book written by a member of the Barrow gang, as Blanche, Clyde's sister-in-law, was the only one to make it out of early adulthood. This book is a compilation of Blanche's memoirs that she wrote while in prison from 1933 until her death in 1939. The memoirs were edited by John Neal Phillips, a gangster historian, who had interviewed Blanche on multiple occasions, and these recollections of the interviews are also added. A very interesting book since it actually shows the inside of the Barrow gang.
Guinn, Jeff. Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2009.
Guinn's book is an attempt at throwing out all the myths created by Hollywood and the romanticism of gangsters about Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Bonnie and Clyde were not competent criminals and lived anything but a glamorous life on the run, as they usually resorted to camping out of their stolen car, eating nothing but beans and sausage. A very interesting and well researched look at the criminal couple, and a good effort at debunking many myths that surround them.
Kennedy, David M. The American People in the Great Depression: Freedom from Fear, Part One (The Oxford History of the United States, V. 9). New York: Oxford UP, 2003.
A history of the Great Depression, beginning with the Presidency of Herbert Hoover and concluding with that of FDR, that covers all of the New Deal legislation and what went on in America during one of history's most trying times. A great history of America in the 1930s.
Krause, Emma, and Nell Barrow Cowen. Fugitives: The Story of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker as told by Bonnie's Mom and Clyde's Sister. Dallas: The Ranger Press, 1934.
Offers the unique view of the outlaw couple as told by their relatives. Discusses the feelings felt by the relatives as well as insights that hadn't been told before, offering a more human view. The storytellers are much more sympathetic to Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow than most historians.
Milner, E.R. The Lives and Times of Bonnie and Clyde. Carbondale: Southern Illinois P, 2003.
Offers an account of the criminal couple as real people. Explains how they only killed when they had to, and while the book is not sympathetic to their crimes, it still paints them as people who had made mistakes. Also discusses the environmental effects of the Great Depression on the actions of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.
Polenberg, Richard. Era of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933-1945 A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin's, 2000.
This book is an amazing collection of letters that were written to President Roosevelt and members of his cabinet throughout the Great Depression. These letters offer great insight into the minds of people as things happened to them, and these letters cover a great spectrum of people from African Americans to children to everyday people who felt the need to either beg FDR or congratulate him.
Schnieder, Paul. Bonnie and Clyde: The Lives Behind the Legend. New York: Henry Holt, 2009.
The book, while well researched, is a distracting offering of the story of Bonnie and Clyde. Schneider tries to strip away the sensationalism of the story by using the words and thoughts of those involved in the lives of the Barrow Gang. However, these thoughts and words take away some meaning from the research and add some fictionalized dialogue.
Shlaes, Amity. The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007.
Abstract: "It's difficult today to imagine how America survived the Great Depression--only through the stories of the common people who struggled during that era can we really understand it. These people are at the heart of this reinterpretation of one of the most crucial events of the twentieth century. Author Shlaes presents the neglected and moving stories of individual Americans, and shows how through brave leadership they helped establish the steadfast character we developed as a nation. Shlaes also traces the mounting agony of the New Dealers themselves as they discovered their errors. She shows how both Hoover and Roosevelt failed to understand the prosperity of the 1920s and heaped massive burdens on the country that more than offset the benefit of New Deal programs. The real question about the Depression, she argues, is not whether Roosevelt ended it--it is why it lasted so long.
Terkel, Studs. Hard Times: An Oral Tradition of the Great Depression. New York: The New Press. 1970.
Terkel's book is a compilation of interviews that the author conducted with a variety of people about their experiences during the Great Depression. This famous book gives the reader a variety of viewpoints since his interviewees ranged from children to adults, from poor to rich. It is interesting to see first-hand how the Depression affected everybody.
Toland, John. "Sad Ballad of the Real Bonnie and Clyde." New York Times Magazine 18 February 1969.
Toland tells the story of the real Bonnie and Clyde and separates facts of the movie from its overwhelming fiction. The article documents the real characters that made up C.W. Moss, like W.D. Jones who was a sexual partner for both Bonnie and for the homosexually leaning Clyde. It also discusses how Bonnie and Clyde were just punks who were looked down upon by all of society, even fellow criminals of the period. A strong and interesting account of real history being separated from reel history.
Toland, John. The Dillinger Days. New York: Random, 1963.
Toland's book was one of the main influences and sources for Newman and Benton's script. The focus is John Dillinger, who was Public Enemy Number One during the Great Depression. Dillinger fancied himself a modern-day Robin Hood, avoided killing at most costs, and enjoyed robbing banks with flare and skill. Toland also spends some of the book discussing other gangsters that ruled the time, like Baby Face Nelson, Machine Gun Kelly, and, of course, Bonnie and Clyde, who were considered less of a threat and less artistic in their crimes than the other gangster heroes of the time.
Treherne, John. The Strange History of Bonnie and Clyde. New York: Stein and Day, 1984.
The story of Bonnie and Clyde as told through a compilation of interviews of eye witnesses, family members, and fellow Barrow gang members. Treherne discusses the movies on the subject and uses psychological reasoning to understand what and why Bonnie and Clyde did on their several-year run from the law.
Webb, Walter Prescott. "Frank Hamer: Modern Texas Ranger." The Texas Rangers. Austin: U of Texas P, 1965.
This biography of the officer who tracked down Bonnie and Clyde contains a first-person account of the final encounter.

See Also

Fortune, Jan I. Fugitives: The Story of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker As Told by Bonnie's Mother and Clyde's Sister. Dallas: Ranger Press, 1934.

Hendley, Nate. Bonnie and Clyde: A Biography. Westport: Greenwood P, 2007.

Hunter, Stephen. "Clyde and Bonnie Died for Nihilism." Commentary July/August 2009: 77-80.

Jenkins, John H., and Gordon Frost. I'm Frank Hamer. Austin: Pemberton Press, 1968.

Phillips, John Neal. Running with Bonnie and Clyde. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1996.

Portley, Edward, with C. F. Waers. "Killer Gang." Master Detective February 1945: 36-84.

Steele, Phillip W. The Family Story of Bonnie and Clyde. New York: Pelican, 2000.

Watkins, T. H. The Hungry Years: A Narrative History of the Great Depression in America. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1999.

Video/Audio Resources

Al Capone, John Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde. Chicago: Questar Video, 1994.
"The first complete close-up into the real lives of America's most notorious gangsters of the 1920s and 30s, including Al Capone, John Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde, along with Legs Diamond, Dutch Schultz, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly."
Bonnie and Clyde Death Scene
Actual film of the car just after the shooting.
Bonnie Parker & Clyde Barrow
Music video utilizing actual photos of the duo.
Bugsy, Dutch & Al: The Gangsters. Santa Monica: Rhino Records, 1992.
"See how bloodthirsty mobsters once threatened the entire nation. Includes rare explicit footage, photos and facts exposing Bonnie & Clyde, John Dillinger and others' ruthless rampages."
Dealers in Death, Murder, & Mayhem in America. New York: MPI Home Video, 1985.
"The most monstrous mobsters, madmen, murderers, and maniacs of the 20th century are featured in this special presentation. Notorious gangsters such as Al Capone, John Dillinger, and Bonnie & Clyde are revealed in rare live-action footage that was filmed during their short but boisterous careers."
The Gangster Chronicles. Newark: Parade Video: 1989.
"Captures all the whacky and gruesome facts between the classic gangster myths from 1919-1935. Mixes original footage, sketches by Casey Jones, and classic movie, newsreel and archival films."
The Great Depression. Alexandria: PBS Video, 1993.
"This 7-part series on the Great Depression uses newsreels, archival photographs and footage, Hollywood films, and eyewitness accounts to re-create the time, from the end of the Roaring Twenties to the outbreak of the Second World War, when economic forces, political change, and social turmoil transformed the nation."
Love and Death: The Story of Bonnie and Clyde. New York: A&E Home Video, 1995.
In the "Biography" series. Newsreel footage, period accounts, and interviews with biographers of the famous duo that marauded through America in the depths of the Great Depression. Also includes an interesting video with Marie Barrow, sister of Clyde Barrow. The main narrator, writer John Neal Phillips, describes how the couple became a sensation in American history.
Public Enemies of the 1920s and 1930s. Chicago: Questar Video, 1998.
"Never before seen close-ups of America's most notorious gangsters, Al Capone, John Dillinger, Bonnie & Clyde, Legs Diamond, Dutch Schultz, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly."
Trace Adkins & Travis Tritt. New York: Distributed by KOCH Vision, 2004.
Music video album containing "Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde."
The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald and the Other Side of Bonnie and Clyde. Seattle: Something Weird Video, 2003.
"Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald: A glimpse into history in which each viewer becomes a member of the jury. The Other Side of Bonnie and Clyde: Through dramatic re-enactments, an interview with a woman kidnapped."

Online Resources

America from the Great Depression to World War II. Library of Congress: American Memory.
"Created by a group of U.S. government photographers, the images show Americans in every part of the nation. In the early years, the project emphasized rural life and the negative impact of the Great Depression, farm mechanization, and the Dust Bowl."
FBI History -- Famous Cases: Bonnie and Clyde
These files include poems and pictures sent in by the gang to newspapers, as well as FBI documents on the actions of the couple. In the files are also correspondence between local law enforcement entities throughout the areas that Bonnie and Clyde terrorized. An incredibly interesting set of primary documents and pictures that offer great insight into the national sentiment toward and the government's frustration about the infamous criminals.