Frank Hamer

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This article is about the Texas Ranger. For the British Army officer, see Frank Hamer (British Army officer).
Captain Frank Hamer
FrankHamerEarly1920s.jpg
Former Texas Ranger who "got" Bonnie & Clyde
Born Francis Augustus Hamer
(1884-03-17)March 17, 1884
Fairview, Wilson County, Texas
Died July 10, 1955(1955-07-10) (aged 71)
Austin, Texas

Francis Augustus Hamer (March 17, 1884 – July 10, 1955) was a Texas Ranger, known in popular culture for his involvement in tracking down and killing the criminal duo Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in 1934. In a career that spanned the last days of the Wild West well into the automobile age, Hamer acquired legendary status in the Southwest as the archetypal Texas Ranger. He is an inductee to the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame.

Early years[edit]

Frank Hamer was born in Fairview, Wilson County, Texas, where his father operated a blacksmith shop. He was one of five brothers, four of whom became Texas Rangers.[1] His family moved to the Welch ranch in San Saba County, where he grew up. Hamer later spent time in Oxford, Llano County (now a ghost town), which formed the basis of his joke about being the only "Oxford-educated Ranger." In his youth, Hamer worked in his father's shop, and as an older teenager worked as a wrangler on a local ranch. He began his career in law enforcement in 1905 while working on the Carr Ranch in West Texas when he captured a horse thief. The local sheriff was so impressed that he recommended that Hamer join the Rangers.

Like the cowboys of earlier generations, Hamer was at home on the open Texas prairie and understood the signs and patterns of nature. He interpreted men in terms of animal characteristics: "The criminal is a coyote, always taking a look over his shoulder; a cornered political schemer is a 'crawfish about three days from water'; a [man moving carefully] reminds him of a sandhill crane walking up a river-bed."[2] He savored the challenges of investigating and solving crimes. Describing his method in tracking Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, Hamer said that he learned their statistics, but "this was not enough. An officer must know the habits of the outlaw, how he thinks and how he will act in different situations. When I began to understand Clyde Barrow's mind, I felt that I was making progress."[3]

Law enforcement career[edit]

Hamer refused substantial money on principle to tell his life story; I'm Frank Hamer is a posthumous biography by Texas historians H. Gordon Frost and John Holmes Jenkins and was assembled thirteen years after Hamer's death from his notes and personal recollections to his family and associates. In the book, Hamer was quoted as saying corrupt politicians did not sit well with him, and he had little patience for those who broke the law. This attitude had tended to cause problems for him with local political establishments during his career. After a place was cleaned up, he would change jobs on a fairly regular basis.

Hamer was a Ranger off and on throughout his life, resigning often to take other jobs. He first joined Captain John H. Rogers's Company C in Alpine, Texas on April 21, 1906, and began patrolling the border with Mexico. In 1908 he resigned from the Rangers to become the City Marshal of Navasota, Texas. Navasota was a lawless boom town, wracked by violence: "shootouts on the main street were so frequent that in two years at least a hundred men died."[4] Though he was only 24, Hamer moved in and created law and order.[5] He served as marshal until 1911 when he started working as a special investigator in Houston, then as an officer for Harris County.

Hamer rejoined the Rangers in 1915 and again was assigned to patrol the South Texas border around Brownsville. Because of the constant unrest in Mexico, the Rangers dealt most seriously with arms smugglers, but also more ordinary bootleggers and bandits who plagued the border. On October 1, 1917 Hamer was wounded in Sweetwater Texas by Gus McMean who was shot and killed.[6] During this period, Hamer left the Rangers again to accept a position as a federal agent in the Prohibition Unit, where he served for about a year. Returning to state service in 1921, Hamer transferred to Austin, where he served as Senior Ranger Captain.

In the 1920s, Hamer became known for bringing order to oil boom towns such as Mexia and Borger. Records from that time indicate that there were complaints about some of Hamer's methods, but the same sources said the area was so lawless extreme measures may have been needed.[citation needed] In I'm Frank Hamer, Hamer was quoted candidly discussing the restrictions that upstanding citizens would seek to put on a lawman, not understanding that they were in effect asking him to fight with one hand tied behind his back.

In 1928 Hamer put a halt to a murder-for-reward ring, and his extraordinary means of accomplishing this made him nationally famous. The Texas Bankers' Association had begun offering rewards of $5,000 "for dead bank robbers — not one cent for live ones." Hamer determined that men were setting up deadbeats and two-bit outlaws to be killed by complicit police officers; the officers would collect the rewards and pay the men their finder's fees. But his investigation hit a stone wall: the police refused him support and the Bankers' Association's position was that "any man that could be induced to participate in a bank robbery ought to be killed." Spurred by urgency to thwart the next set of killings as well as personally infuriated, Hamer wrote and signed a detailed exposé of the racket, which he termed "the bankers' murder machine," then went to the press room of the State Capitol and handed out copies. A firestorm of public outrage led to indictments.[7]

Hamer retired in 1932 after almost 27 years with the Rangers. He left one week before Miriam "Ma" Ferguson "and her husband" recaptured the governor's office.[8] At least forty Rangers resigned[9] rather than serve again under Ma, who in her first term as governor of Texas had proven herself brazenly corrupt; indeed, one of the triumphant Ma's first acts of her second term was to fire all the remaining Rangers and replace them with her own appointees. A year later Hamer flatly summarized his reason: "When they elected a woman governor, I quit."[10] The commander of the Texas Rangers allowed him to retain a Special Ranger commission even after his official retirement as an active Senior Ranger Captain. The special commission is listed in the state archives in Austin.[11]

Ambush of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow[edit]

Main article: Bonnie and Clyde
The posse. Top: Hinton, Oakley, Gault; seated: Alcorn, Jordan and Frank Hamer.

In the early 1930s, Bonnie and Clyde's crime spree had generated vast media coverage that embarrassed law enforcement and government officials across half a dozen states. Perhaps the last straw, at least for Texas officials, came on January 16, 1934, when Barrow, Parker and associate Jimmy Mullens raided Eastham prison farm, freeing Raymond Hamilton, Henry Methvin, Hilton Bybee (substituted for Clyde's friend Ralph Fults) and Joe Palmer. Hamilton's brother Floyd wrote that Methvin was not part of the original "invited" group but fled with them during the general confusion.[12] Though the hand he drew disappointed Barrow — he had particularly wanted to free Fults and another prisoner, Aubrey Skelley — the raid was the retaliation against the prison system that historian John Neal Phillips says was the driving force behind everything Clyde Barrow did: to pay back the Department of Corrections for abuse he had received there.[13] The Texas Department of Corrections received national negative publicity over the jailbreak, which delighted Barrow, who thought he finally had his revenge.

During the breakout two guards were shot and wounded by the escapees, guard Major Crowson fatally. Legend has it that as Crowson lay dying, Texas Department of Corrections chief Lee Simmons promised him that every person involved in the breakout would be hunted down and killed. In reality, just before Crowson died in the hospital on January 27, Simmons took his formal statement and assured Crowson he would send his killer, Joe Palmer, to the electric chair. He then turned his attention to restoring the reputation of the Texas prison system.

Hamer heads the hunt[edit]

On the go-ahead from Governor Ferguson, Simmons persuaded Frank Hamer to accept a commission to hunt down the Barrow Gang as a special investigator for the prison system.[14] Hamer accepted the assignment but balked at the compensation — just $180 a month, less than half his current pay.[15] Simmons reiterated that Hamer would collect his fair share of the reward money, then sweetened the deal by authorizing Hamer to take whatever he wanted from among the Barrow Gang's possessions when he caught them.[15] As they were taking leave of each other, Simmons said he wouldn't presume to tell Hamer how to do his job, but his suggestion for getting Barrow and Parker would be to "Put 'em on the spot, know you're right — and shoot everybody in sight."[16]

Hamer set to the task. A smart and meticulous investigator, he examined the pattern of Barrow's movements, discovering he essentially made a wide circle through the lower Midwest, skirting state borders wherever he could, to take advantage of "state line" dictums (i.e., that officers from one state could not pursue suspects across the border of another state). The circle had as its anchor points Dallas, Joplin, Missouri and northwest Louisiana, with wider arcs outward for bank robberies. It was a busy couple of months for hunter and quarry: banks in Lancaster, Texas; Poteau, Oklahoma; and Rembrandt, Knierim, Stuart and Everly, Iowa[17] all fell victim to Barrow, Parker and Henry Methvin, one of the Eastham escapees who was now Clyde's protégé. Hamer was always following close behind.[18]

Shootings propel public outrage[edit]

The push-pins on Hamer's mental tracking map weren't all bank jobs — there were murders as well. The killing of two Texas Highway Patrol officers[19] at Grapevine, Texas on Easter Sunday (April 1, 1934) inflamed public sentiment against Barrow and Parker, even though it was Barrow and Methvin who were the two shooters.

An eyewitness account given massive newspaper coverage stated that a drunken Bonnie Parker had emptied her gun into the prone body of Patrolman Murphy at Grapevine, laughing as she fired at the way his "head bounced like a rubber ball" on the road.[20] Although it was all untrue — the eyewitness was ultimately discredited — it was not before waves of bad publicity in all four Dallas papers had established her reputation as a whiskey-belting, bloodthirsty she-devil.[21] The attitudes of government and law enforcement officials were informed by the lurid newspaper stories and the furor they created. Governor Ferguson placed a $500 bounty on Parker's head for her perceived role in the murder of Patrolman Murphy.[22] Even Hamer, who had learned a great deal about the real Barrow and Parker in the preceding months, later told reporters, "I would have gotten sick [seeing her perforated body in the car], but when I thought about her crimes, I didn’t. I hated to shoot a woman — but I remembered the way in which Bonnie had taken part in the murder of nine peace officers. I remembered how she kicked the body of the highway patrolman at Grapevine and fired a bullet into his body as he lay on the ground.”[8][23]

Popular perception turned even further against the fugitives when just five days later Barrow and Methvin killed sixty-year-old single father Constable Cal Campbell[24] near Commerce, Oklahoma.[17] They kidnapped Commerce Chief of Police Percy Boyd, drove him across the border into Kansas, and when they released him, he had what he needed: their names to top the Campbell murder warrants, which were issued against Barrow, Parker and John Doe (Methvin) later that week.[25]

Nevertheless, Hamer knew that Clyde did not intend to be taken alive, and the Barrow Gang's history made it practical to assume that Bonnie would not voluntarily part from him.[26]

Focus shifts to Louisiana[edit]

In mid-March Henry Methvin's family contacted Bienville Parish Sheriff Henderson Jordan about their son, his legal troubles and his involvement with Barrow. Though Hamer was a lone wolf by nature, after much complicated politicking and negotiation he formed an inter-jurisdictional posse and an ambush plan began to come together. First to join him were Sheriff Jordan and his deputy Prentiss Oakley, an excellent marksman. Hamer brought in fellow former Ranger Manny Gault, who had been fired by "Ma" Ferguson and now worked for the Texas Highway Patrol. Hamer requested that Dallas County Sheriff Smoot Schmid commit his deputy Bob Alcorn full time to the case; Schmid sent Alcorn and another Dallas County deputy, Ted Hinton.[27] The two deputies and Schmid had tried to ambush Barrow and Parker once before, in November 1933, near Sowers, Texas. After examining Barrow's abandoned V-8 Ford at Sowers and seeing that the barrage from his Thompson submachine gun hadn't penetrated its body, Hinton requested a BAR.[28]

Desolate road deep in the piney woods: the trail for Bonnie and Clyde ended here.

At 9:15 a.m. on May 23, 1934, after 102 days of shadowing, hunter and hunted finally met on a desolate rural road near Gibsland, Louisiana. Barrow stopped his car at the ambush spot and the posse's 150-round fusillade was so thunderous that people for miles around thought a logging crew had used dynamite to fell a particularly huge tree.[29] Accounts of the last instants before the gunfire vary widely: Sheriff Jordan said he was calling out to Barrow to halt as the shooting started; Deputy Alcorn said that Captain Hamer was calling out; Deputy Hinton wrote that Alcorn called out. The only agreement between all six was that Deputy Oakley, perhaps nervously jumping the gun, stood and fired the opening burst from his Remington Model 8, and that his bullet into Barrow's left temple killed the outlaw instantly.[30] The posse then fired off another hundred-plus rounds, any number of which would have been fatal to Parker and also to Barrow.[31]

Hamer used a customized .35 Remington Model 8 semiautomatic rifle with a special-order 15-round magazine that Hamer had ordered from Petmeckey's Sporting Goods store in Austin, Texas. He was shipped serial number 10045, and this was just one of at least two Model 8's used in the ambush.[32] The rifle was modified to accept a "police only" 20-round magazine obtained through the Peace Officers Equipment Company in St. Joseph, Missouri.[28]

Although state, local and other sources had pledged monies to the Barrow reward fund that brought the pre-ambush total to some $26,000, most reneged on their pledges and when checks were finally cut for the posse members, a six-way split was all of $200.23.[33]

Later years[edit]

During the 1930s Hamer applied his skills in keeping the civil peace on behalf of various oil companies and shippers, generally as a strike breaker.

At the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, he and 49 other retired Texas Rangers offered their services to King George VI, to help protect the United Kingdom in case of Nazi invasion.[34] A son, Billy, joined the U.S. Marine Corps and died during the Battle of Iwo Jima.

In 1948 he was called again to Ranger duty to play a small role in a notorious episode in an election acknowledged to have been one of the most corrupt in Texas history.[35][36] Hamer was hired by Governor Coke Stevenson, whose name by now was synonymous with old-school Texan conservative integrity,[37] to accompany him to the Texas State Bank in Alice, the county seat of Jim Wells County in South Texas. Stevenson wanted to examine the tally sheets for ballot box 13, which held ballots for his opponent, then-Representative Lyndon Johnson, he knew were fraudulent, and not in a way that favored him. Outside the bank stood two glowering groups of armed men. Hamer got out of the car. He approached the first group and said, "Git." They did. To the second group blocking the doors of the bank he said, "Fall back." They did.[38] In the end, Johnson won the election.

Frank Hamer retired in 1949 and lived in Austin until his death. In 1953 he suffered a heat stroke and though he lived two more years, never regained his health.[39] He was buried near his son in Memorial Park Cemetery in Austin.[40] In his life he was wounded 17 times and left for dead four times. He is credited with having killed between 53[8] and almost 70[41] people.

Portrayal in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)[edit]

Unlike the real-life Barrow gang, the Barrow gang in the movie easily capture, tease and humiliate "Captain Frank Hamer, and Frank here is a Texas Ranger," who foolishly creeps up on them; their ambush at the end of the film appears to be his personal, petty revenge. After the film's release, Mrs. Frank Hamer, formerly Gladys Johnson Sims, originally from Snyder, Texas, and Frank Hamer, Jr., sued Warner Bros.-Seven Arts for defamation of character and in 1971 received an undisclosed out-of-court settlement.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "One thing the [Texas Rangers' service records reveal] is the striking number of Rangers who were related to other Rangers; often one is dealing with law enforcement clans. This phenomenon is especially the case for Wilson County, southeast of San Antonio, which produced a disproportionate number of Rangers, mainly from [eight families, including the Hamers]. Over the decades Wilson County produced forty-four Rangers, nearly half of them from the tiny community of Fairview...now a ghost town." Harris p. 6.
  2. ^ Webb, p. 522.
  3. ^ Webb, p. 540.
  4. ^ Caro, p. 326.
  5. ^ Sitton, p. 28.
  6. ^ The Aspermont Star October 4, 1917
  7. ^ Webb, pp. 533-38. "Hamer Called in Robbery Inquiry," April 5, 1928. "Bonds on Murder Charge Forfeited," Nov. 12, 1928. Upton County News. Transcribed, Texas Genealogy Trails The bankers did not modify the terms of the reward, however, which allowed more such murders in 1930. Phillips, pp. 254-5 fn. 22.
  8. ^ a b c I'm Frank Hamer, Chapters 20-23. Methvin Online
  9. ^ "Texas Ranger History: Timeline - Order Out of Chaos." Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum
  10. ^ "Shot the Devil Out of Them". New York Times. May 24, 1934. p. 3. 
  11. ^ Frank Hamer, Texas Ranger Warrant of Authority, 1931. Texas State Library & Archives Commission
  12. ^ Guinn, p. 410 fn.248.
  13. ^ Phillips.
  14. ^ Simmons wrote that Hamer was one of two lawmen he had had in mind. According to Ranger historian Ben Proctor, two former Ranger captains later said that Simmons had approached each of them first, and that they each turned him down for the identical reason: "We dont ambush people, and we dont kill women." Guinn p. 410. Ralph Fults heard the story from one of the Rangers in 1948. Phillips p. 354 fn.3.
  15. ^ a b Guinn, p. 254.
  16. ^ Parker; Simmons p. 128.
  17. ^ a b Ramsey.
  18. ^ Guinn, pp. 267-9.
  19. ^ "Patrolman Edward Bryan Wheeler." "Patrolman H. D. Murphy." The Officer Down Memorial Page
  20. ^ Guinn, p. 284.
  21. ^ Guinn, p. 286. One story that caught on was that a cigar butt "bearing tiny teethmarks" was found in the gravel. Phillips, p. 351n21.
  22. ^ Guinn, p. 287, Knight p. 147.
  23. ^ In the same interviews Hamer famously commented, "I hate[d] to bust the cap on a woman, especially when she was sitting down, however if it wouldn't have been [sic] her, it would have been us." Cox, p. 161.
  24. ^ "Constable Cal Campbell." The Officer Down Memorial Page
  25. ^ Knight and Davis, p. 217n12.
  26. ^ Blanche Barrow, Guinn, Hinton, Knight, Phillips, Milner, Ramsey.
  27. ^ Guinn, p. 288. Hinton remembered Bonnie from the Dallas café where she had waited tables four years before. Deputy Alcorn had once picked up, but did not arrest, 16-year-old Clyde in West Dallas, for stealing chickens.
  28. ^ a b Cartledge, Rick. "The Guns of Frank Hamer." The Sight's M1911 .45 ACP Page
  29. ^ Guinn, p. 341. Dynamiting trees was forbidden and logging crews were angered at the sound, thinking someone was violating the ban.
  30. ^ Guinn, p. 426, note. Guinn bases his description of the ambush itself on Sandy Jones's exhaustive 1998 inquiry and forensic reenactment
  31. ^ Guinn, p. 340.
  32. ^ Herring, p. 224.
  33. ^ Guinn, p. 352.
  34. ^ "Texas Ranger History: Timeline - Special Investigations." Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum
  35. ^ Olson, p. 252; Plantinga, p. 152; Wolff, Henry Jr., "Box 13 Is a Black Mark on Texas Politics." The Victoria Advocate, November 8, 2000.
  36. ^ Tolchin, Martin. "How Johnson Won Election He'd Lost." The New York Times, Feb. 11.1990.
  37. ^ Caro, Robert. "My Search for Coke Stevenson." Adapted from afterword to the paperback edition of "Means of Ascent." securedata.net
  38. ^ Dallek, pp. 332-34.
  39. ^ Milner, p. 158.
  40. ^ "Francis Augustus Hamer." Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum
  41. ^ Toland, p. 296.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Burrough, Bryan (2004). Public Enemies. New York: The Penguin Press. ISBN 1-59420-021-1.
  • Caro, Robert A. (1982). The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-394-49973-5.
  • Cox, Mike (2009). Time of the Rangers. New York: Tom Doherty Associates. ISBN 0-7653-1815-6.
  • Dallek, Robert (1991). Lone Star Rising: Lyndon Johnson and His Times, 1908-1960. New York: Oxford University Press USA. ISBN 0-19-505435-0.
  • Guinn, Jeff (2009). Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 1-4165-5706-7
  • Harris, Charles H., and Louis R. Sadler (2007). The Texas Rangers and the Mexican Revolution: The Bloodiest Decade, 1910-1920. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 0-8263-3483-0.
  • Herring, Hal (2008). Famous Firearms of the Old West: From Wild Bill Hickok's Colt Revolvers to Geronimo's Winchester, Twelve Guns That Shaped Our History. TwoDot. ISBN 0-7627-4508-8. 
  • Hinton, Ted (1979). Ambush: The Real Story of Bonnie and Clyde. Austin: Shoal Creek Publishers, Inc. ISBN 978-0-88319-041-8.
  • Knight, James R., with Jonathan Davis (2003). Bonnie and Clyde: A 21st Century Update. Austin, Texas: Eakin Press. ISBN 1-57168-794-7.
  • Milner, E.R. (2003). The Lives and Times of Bonnie and Clyde. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 0-8093-2552-7.
  • Olson, James Stuart (1999). Historical Dictionary of the 1960s. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-29271-X.
  • Parker, Emma Krause, Nell Barrow Cowan and Jan I. Fortune (1968). The True Story of Bonnie and Clyde. New York: New American Library. ISBN 0-8488-2154-8. Originally published 1934 as Fugitives.
  • Phillips, John Neal (1996). Running with Bonnie & Clyde: The Ten Fast Years of Ralph Fults. Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-3429-1.
  • Plantinga, Cornelius (1995). Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. ISBN 0-8028-4218-6.
  • Ramsey, Winston G., ed. (2003). On The Trail of Bonnie and Clyde. London: After The Battle Books. ISBN 1-870067-51-7.
  • Simmons, Lee (1957). Assignment: Huntsville. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 1-881515-50-8
  • Sitton, Thad (2000). The Texas Sheriff: Lord of the County Line. Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-3216-7.
  • Toland, John (1995). The Dillinger Days. New York: Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-80626-6.
  • Treherne, John (2000). The Strange History of Bonnie & Clyde. Cooper Square Press. ISBN 0-8154-1106-5.
  • Webb, Walter Prescott (1935). The Texas Rangers: A Century of Frontier Defense. Austin: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-78110-5.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]