Bonnie Parker's Last Poem Helped Create Their Legend
- The 20th Century
- The 30s
- Early 20th Century
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- B.A., History, University of California at Davis
Jennifer Rosenberg is a historian and writer who specializes in 20th-century history.
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Updated on August 05, 2019
Bonnie and Clyde were legendary and historic outlaws who robbed banks and killed people. The authorities saw the couple as dangerous criminals, while the public viewed Bonnie and Clyde as modern-day Robin Hoods. The couple's legend was in part helped along by Bonnie's poems: "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde," and "The Story of Suicide Sal."
Bonnie Parker wrote the poems in the middle of their 1934 crime spree, while she and Clyde Barrow were on the run from the law. This poem, "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde," was the last one she wrote, and the legend reports that Bonnie gave a copy of the poem to her mother just weeks before the couple was gunned down.
Bonnie and Clyde as Social Bandits
Parker's poem is part of a long-established outlaw-folk hero tradition, what British historian Eric Hobsbawm called "social bandits." The social bandit/outlaw-hero is a people's champion who adheres to a higher law and defies the established authority of his time. The idea of a social bandit is a nearly universal social phenomenon found throughout history, and ballads and legends of them share a long set of characteristics.
The main feature shared by ballads and legends around such historical figures as Jesse James, Sam Bass, Billy the Kid, and Pretty Boy Floyd is the enormous amount of distortion of the known facts. That distortion enables the transition of a violent criminal into a folk hero. In all cases, the "people's champion" story the people need to hear is more important than the facts—during the Great Depression, the public needed reassurance that there were people working against a government perceived as callous to their predicament. The voice of the Depression, American balladeer Woody Guthrie, wrote just such a ballad about Pretty Boy Floyd after Floyd was killed six months after Bonnie and Clyde died.
Curiously, many of the ballads, like Bonnie's, also use the metaphor of "the pen is mightier than the sword," stating that what newspapers have written about the bandit hero is false, but that the truth can be found written in their legends and ballads.
12 Characteristics of the Social Outlaw
American historian Richard Meyer identified 12 characteristics that are common to social outlaw stories. Not all of them appear in every story, but many of them come from older ancient legends—tricksters, champions of the oppressed, and ancient betrayals.
- The social bandit hero is a "man of the people" who stands in opposition to certain established, oppressive economic, civil, and legal systems. He is a "champion" who wouldn't harm the "little man."
- His first crime is brought about through extreme provocation by agents of the oppressive system.
- He steals from the rich and gives to the poor, serving as one who "rights wrongs." (Robin Hood, Zorro)
- Despite his reputation, he is good-natured, kind-hearted, and frequently pious.
- His criminal exploits are audacious and daring.
- He frequently outwits and confounds his opponents by trickery, often expressed humorously. (Trickster)
- He is helped, supported, and admired by his own people.
- The authorities can't catch him through conventional means.
- His death is only brought about by the betrayal by a former friend. (Judas)
- His death provokes great mourning on the part of his people.
- After he dies, the hero manages to "live on" in a number of ways: stories say that he is not really dead, or that his ghost or spirit continues to help and inspire people.
- His actions and deeds may not always gain approval or admiration, but rather are sometimes decried in the ballads as mildly stated criticism to outright condemnation and refutation of all the other 11 elements.
Bonnie Parker's Social Outlaw
True to the form, in "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde," Parker cements their image as social bandits. Clyde used to be "honest and upright and clean," and she reports that he was locked up unjustly. The couple has supporters in the "regular people" like newsboys, and she foretells that "the law" will beat them in the end.
Like most of us, Parker had heard ballads and legends of lost heroes as a child. She even references Jesse James in the first stanza. What is interesting about her poems is that we see her actively spinning their criminal history into a legend.
The Story of Bonnie and Clyde
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.
Now Bonnie and Clyde are the Barrow gang,
I'm sure you all have read
How they rob and steal
And those who squeal
Are usually found dying or dead.
There's lots of untruths to these write-ups;
They're not so ruthless as that;
Their nature is raw;
They hate all the law
The stool pigeons, spotters, and rats.
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 laws 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."
The road was so dimly lighted;
There were no highway signs to guide;
But they made up their minds
If all roads were blind,
They wouldn't give up till they died.
The road gets dimmer and dimmer;
Sometimes you can hardly see;
But it's fight, man to man,
And do all you can,
For they know they can never be free.
From heart-break some people have suffered;
From weariness some people have died;
But take it all in all,
Our troubles are small
Till we get like Bonnie and Clyde.
If a policeman is killed in Dallas,
And they have no clue or guide;
If they can't find a fiend,
They just wipe their slate clean
And hand it on Bonnie and Clyde.
There's two crimes committed in America
Not accredited to the Barrow mob;
They had no hand
In the kidnap demand,
Nor the Kansas City depot job.
A newsboy once said to his buddy;
"I wish old Clyde would get jumped;
In these awful hard times
We'd make a few dimes
If five or six cops would get bumped."
The police haven't got the report yet,
But Clyde called me up today;
He said, "Don't start any fights
We aren't working nights
We're joining the NRA."
From Irving to West Dallas viaduct
Is known as the Great Divide,
Where the women are kin,
And the men are men,
And they won't "stool" on Bonnie and Clyde.
If they try to act like citizens
And rent them a nice little flat,
About the third night
They're invited to fight
By a sub-gun's rat-tat-tat.
They don't think they're too tough 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.
Some day they'll go down together;
And 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.
— Bonnie Parker 1934
- Hobsbawm, Eric. "Bandits." Orion, 2010.
- Lundblad, Bonnie Jo. "The Rebel-Victim: Past and Present." The English Journal 60.6 (1971): 763–66.
- Meyer, Richard E. "The Outlaw: A Distinctive American Folktype." Journal of the Folklore Institute 17.2/3 (1980): 94–124.
- Muecke, Stephen, Alan Rumsey, and Banjo Wirrunmarra. "Pigeon the Outlaw: History as Texts." Aboriginal History 9.1/2 (1985): 81–100.
- Roberts, John W. "Railroad Bill" and the American Outlaw Tradition." Western Folklore 40.4 (1981): 315–28.
- Seal, Graham. "The Robin Hood Principle: Folklore, History, and the Social Bandit." Journal of Folklore Research 46.1 (2009): 67–89.
Rosenberg, Jennifer. "'The Story of Bonnie and Clyde'." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, thoughtco.com/bonnie-parker-poem-bonnie-and-clyde-1779293.Rosenberg, Jennifer. (2021, July 31). 'The Story of Bonnie and Clyde'. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/bonnie-parker-poem-bonnie-and-clyde-1779293Rosenberg, Jennifer. "'The Story of Bonnie and Clyde'." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/bonnie-parker-poem-bonnie-and-clyde-1779293 (accessed November 30, 2022).
Watch Now: Profile of Bonnie and Clyde
Background. Clyde Champion Barrow and his companion, Bonnie Parker, were shot to death by officers in an ambush near Sailes, Bienville Parish, Louisiana on May 23, 1934, after one of the most colorful and spectacular manhunts the nation had seen up to that time.How did Bonnie and Clyde get caught? ›
Texan prison officials hired a retired Texas Ranger, Captain Frank Hamer, as a special investigator to track down Parker and Barrow. After a three-month search, Hamer traced the couple to Louisiana, where Henry Methvin's family lived.Why is Bonnie and Clyde so important? ›
There are few couples who have made headlines in quite the same way as Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. The two criminals are known for a series of bank robberies, murders, and kidnappings that took place between 1932 and 1934, the height of the Great Depression.Did Bonnie and Clyde sleep together? ›
John Dillinger had matinee-idol good looks and Pretty Boy Floyd had the best possible nickname, but the Joplin photos introduced new criminal superstars with the most titillating trademark of all—illicit sex. Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were wild and young, and undoubtedly slept together.How many crimes did Bonnie commit? ›
In addition to these 13 murders, they committed numerous robberies, most of which were gas stations and stores, although they also robbed at least one bank. Bonnie and Clyde also committed several kidnappings.What was wrong with Bonnie and Clyde? ›
Bonnie walked with a limp after a car accident.
As a result of the third-degree burns, Bonnie, like Clyde, walked with a pronounced limp for the rest of her life, and she had such difficulty walking that at times she hopped or needed Clyde to carry her.
Henry Methvin (April 8, 1912 – April 19, 1948) was an American criminal, a bank robber, and a Depression-era outlaw.Who actually took down Bonnie and Clyde? ›
Francis Augustus Hamer (March 17, 1884 – July 10, 1955) was an American lawman and Texas Ranger who led the 1934 posse that tracked down and killed criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.Did Bonnie Parker have a baby? ›
Bonnie and Clyde never had a baby. According to her family, Bonnie Parker had no children.Why did Clyde walk with a limp? ›
Bonnie and Clyde both walked with a limp, but for different reasons—Clyde was tortured in prison which caused him to cut off his own toe, and Bonnie's leg was brutally burned in a fiery car crash (Clyde was driving).
Outlaws Bonnie and Clyde had spent over two years together on the run, but they only earned national attention after photos of the couple were discovered at a crime scene in 1933.How many bullets did Bonnie and Clyde get? ›
Bonnie Parker had taken one bite of her bologna sandwich when her outlaw boyfriend Clyde Barrow cruised into a waiting trap. The car was riddled with 167 bullets in less than 20 seconds, one of history's most famous and gruesome killings – the brutal end to the romanticized Depression-era criminal couple.Did Clyde have erectile dysfunction? ›
Clyde's supposed impotence (Beatty, clearly, was playing against type) was invented for the movie. The original script instead cast him as a stud, shoving in a swinging 60s sequence in which he invited a male gang member to join in a threesome.Was Bonnie and Clyde on drugs? ›
In June 1933 he crashed a car in a ravine near Wellington, and Bonnie's leg was horribly burned. She began using morphine to dull the pain. When she left behind medical supplies while fleeing the police, the rumor arose that she and Clyde were drug addicts.Why was Bonnie's body moved? ›
Following the bloody ambush near Arcadia, Louisiana, and a dramatic funeral in downtown Dallas, Bonnie Parker was buried in West Dallas' Fish Trap Cemetery, 2 miles from the Barrow plot. “It's much nicer than Western Heights,” Linder says. But she was moved again in 1945 to Crown Hill because of frequent vandalism.Where is Bonnie and Clyde's car now? ›
' 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde.” Bonnie and Clyde's death car is currently on display at the Primm Valley Resort & Casino in Primm, Nevada, which is 35 miles south of Las Vegas.What was Bonnie's illness? ›
The week before her 40th birthday, Bonnie was diagnosed with an immunodeficiency disorder that weakens the immune system and allows infections and other health issues to occur more easily. It turned out there was a genetic immunodeficiency that ran in her family.Why were Bonnie and Clyde not buried together? ›
In the 1930s, the lovers were two of America's most-wanted criminals, suspected of murder, bank robbery, burglary and more. After they were shot to death in May 1934, Bonnie's grief-stricken mother had had enough and demanded Bonnie be buried separately.How true is Bonnie and Clyde movie? ›
GUINN: Well, the movie is wonderful entertainment, but it's less than five percent historically accurate.Did Bonnie and Clyde have a chance to surrender? ›
Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were killed instantly by automatic-rifle fire — 150 rounds in 16 seconds — and given no chance to surrender. Their own guns were in the back seat.
Jones—Bonnie and Clyde, as they were popularly known, robbed gas stations, restaurants, and small-town banks—their take never exceeded $1,500—chiefly in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Missouri. How many prisoners escaped from Alcatraz?Do Texas Rangers still exist? ›
Out of the more than 100,000 sworn law enforcement officers in Texas, only 94 are Texas Rangers, but their jurisdiction is statewide.Is there anyone alive related to Bonnie and Clyde? ›
Rhea Leen Linder is the niece of Bonnie Parker. The name on Rhea Leen's birth certificate is Bonnie Ray Parker. She was born in October of 1934, just five months after Bonnie and Clyde were killed.How tall was Bonnie Parker? › Where is Bonnie Parker's grave located? › How old was Bonnie and Clyde when they Does? ›
Bonnie was 23 years old and Clyde was 25 years old in May of 1934 at the time of their death.How many miles did Bonnie and Clyde drive? ›
13/20 About 7,000 Miles Driven
The fact that Bonnie and Clyde drove 7,000 miles is a lot, considering they only had it for 3 weeks before the end of the line.
Bonnie and Clyde's Death Car has been moved from Nevada to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Museum in California through February 2022 -- as part of a special "FBI: From Al Capone to Al Qaeda" exhibit.How tall was Bonnie from Bonnie and Clyde? ›
They also were known as the Barrow gang. Bonnie and Clyde were both short, and it is only the movies that make us think they were tall. The average height for women and men back in those days were about 5'3 and 5'8 respectively. In reality, Bonnie was 4'11, and Clyde was 5'4.How much is Bonnie and Clyde's car worth? ›
The tale of the bullet-riddled death car is an American true crime classic. Bonnie and Clyde's Death Car sold for $250,000 in 1988 to the owners of Whiskey Pete's, a casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
He was the older brother of the gang's leader, Clyde Barrow. He and his wife, Blanche, were wounded in a gun battle with police four months after they joined up with Bonnie and Clyde. Buck died of his injuries soon afterward.What color hair did Clyde have? ›
Born into a poor farming family with six other children, Clyde Chestnut Barrow was an attractive man with thick brown hair. Like Bonnie, he desired more out of life than the hand he'd been dealt.Did Clyde get his foot cut off? ›
According to Guinn, Clyde committed his first murder while in jail using a lead pipe to attack an inmate who sexually assaulted him. However, another prisoner, who was serving a life sentence, took the blame instead. Later, to avoid mandatory fieldwork, Clyde had his left big toe and part of his second toe chopped off.How much of the Bonnie and Clyde movie is true? ›
GUINN: Well, the movie is wonderful entertainment, but it's less than five percent historically accurate.How many bullet holes were in Bonnie and Clyde's car? ›
The car was riddled with 167 bullets in less than 20 seconds, one of history's most famous and gruesome killings – the brutal end to the romanticized Depression-era criminal couple. The destroyed car became a carnival-like attraction touring the country.How long were Bonnie and Clyde on the run? ›
Outlaws Bonnie and Clyde had spent over two years together on the run, but they only earned national attention after photos of the couple were discovered at a crime scene in 1933. In the depths of the Great Depression, many Americans became transfixed by the couple's criminal exploits and illicit romance.How long did Bonnie and Clyde last? ›
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, both Texans, met in 1930, fell in love, and went on a three year crime spree that involved many bank robberies and murders, leading the Barrow Gang during the "public enemy era" of American History.Who shot Bonnie and Clyde? ›
Answer provided by. The tale of the bullet-riddled death car is an American true crime classic. Bonnie and Clyde's Death Car sold for $250,000 in 1988 to the owners of Whiskey Pete's, a casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.Where is Clyde buried? ›
Clyde Barrow is interred in a family plot at the Western Heights Cemetery with his brother Marvin “Buck” Barrow, who was killed in a shootout with police in Platte City, Missouri in 1933 where the gang was hiding out. Bonnie Parker is buried in northwest Dallas at Crown Hill Memorial Park.
Bonnie & Clyde's Death car, a 1934 Ford Fordor Deluxe, had a starting price of around $575 as a brand-new 1934 model. However, the Tan-colored Ford V8 had some options that shot the price to more than $700 when the Warrens acquired it (and that's about $14,000 in today's rate).Where are Bonnie and Clyde's guns? ›
If you can't afford to buy a famed firearm for yourself, you can ogle some of the couple's guns and other memorabilia at the Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum in Gibsland, Louisiana. It's housed in a cafe alleged to be the last place the duo visited before their death.Where is Bonnie and Clyde Car 2022? ›
Bonnie and Clyde's Death Car has been moved from Nevada to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Museum in California through February 2022 -- as part of a special "FBI: From Al Capone to Al Qaeda" exhibit.Did Bonnie and Clyde have tattoos? ›
From hidden marriages to Hollywood glamour shots, Bonnie and Clyde had a lot of secrets. Bonnie and Clyde had tattoos for other lovers—Bonnie and Clyde made plenty of mistakes in their short lives (she died at 24, he at 25) and you can add misguided tattoos to that long list.