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  • Writer's pictureHootey Cline

A Brief History of Bonnie and Clyde

The Great Depression was a severe worldwide phenomenon that took place in the 1930s, beginning in the United States and spreading across the globe on Black Tuesday (October 29th, 1929). Construction had halted across the country; farming had suffered extreme losses as crop prices plummeted over sixty-percent, everywhere you looked there were wastelands, homelessness, starvation and failed banks. Out of this chaos and sorrow birthed the legend of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.

No two outlaws in American history have captured the imagination so completely. There are numerous books, memoirs, movies, documentaries, and even a Broadway musical that have been produced about their lives! Bonnie herself was an aspiring writer having had works published while on the run from the law. Bonnie and Clyde were all too aware of their stardom, as they were always taking pictures of themselves (the modern selfie).

Over the course of their career, the Barrow Gang was involved in five major gunfights with law enforcement officers, and they were always severely outnumbered. Bonnie and Clyde were brought down by a collaborative effort by multiple law enforcement agencies in an ambush between Sailes and Bienville Parish, Louisiana on May 23rd, 1934 after one of the biggest manhunts the nation had ever seen up to that point.

On May 23, 1934, a collaborative effort by multiple law enforcement agencies in an ambush between Sailes and Bienville Parish, Louisiana brought Bonnie and Clyde to justice after one of the longest manhunts the nation had ever seen.

To say that the Barrow Gang liked firearms would be an understatement. On the day that they were killed, law enforcement officials found in their vehicle, a 1934 Ford Deluxe V-8, three Browning Automatic Rifles (BAR), one Winchester lever-action shotgun, seven Colt 1911s, one .32 caliber Colt pistol, one .380 Colt pistol, one Double-Action revolver, three-thousand miscellaneous rounds of ammunition, and twenty BAR magazines; filled with twenty rounds each.

M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (.30-06)

The BAR is a gas-operated with a muzzle velocity of 2,822 feet per second and an effective range of 100-1500 yards. The BAR was Clyde’s weapon of choice. He would often refer to it as his ‘scatter gun’ which is usually a term reserved for shotguns but he liked the way it scattered his opponents. The Barrow Gang acquired this, among many other military-grade weapons, by burglarizing National Guard Armories in small mid-western towns. Clyde always knew that the gang would be outnumbered but he made sure that they were never outgunned, which is probably why they survived as long as they did. It is speculated that Clyde wanted enough firepower to attack Estham prison farm, where he served some time and was physically and sexually assaulted by the inmates as well as beaten by the guards. This experience had a severe effect on him and shaped his attitude going forward.

The BAR was created by John M. Browning for the United States’ Armed Forces for WWI in 1917. The idea was to create a weapon that was capable of “walking fire” or releasing a steady rate of fire to allow troops to travel from one trench to another with ease. Some of the issues that were associated with this design are that it was an air-cooled system and the barrel is very difficult to change. However, the BAR saw a long service life as it was used from 1981 until 1950 and was also used in Vietnam until it was replaced by the M60.

Colt Army “Fitz Special” (.38)

This particular revolver came into the possession of the Barrow gang from a “five-finger discount” courtesy of Texas Ranger M.T. Gonzaullas. The revolver was manufactured in 1924 and weighed in at just two pounds, and had a muzzle velocity of 770 ft/s. Gonzaullas modified all of his own revolvers and referred to them as Fitzgerald “Fitz” specials. This was after John Henry Fitzgerald, a gunsmith, and engineer that worked for Colt Arms and pioneered most of the concepts Gonzaullas utilized.

Gonzaullas shortened the barrel two inches, as well as removed the front of the trigger guard; which made it easier to access the trigger while wearing gloves. He had also filed down the hammer to make it easier to protect the action from snagging on clothing as it was drawn from its holster. Overall the .38 Colt Army was a well-received firearm, as 400,000 had entered circulation by 1969. It was such a big hit with law enforcement officials that Colt actually rebranded the firearm as the “Colt Official Police” model. The only real shortcoming of this weapon was that it was unveiled at the same time as Colt’s 1911.

Colt Monitor “M6” (.30-06)

While not an actual Barrow Gang weapon, this particular rifle plays a very integral part in the ballad of Bonnie and Clyde. This weapon was used on that fateful day when they were finally brought down by law enforcement. The monitor was actually the successor of the BAR and was built specifically with law-enforcement officers in mind. In a time ravaged by well-armed and ruthless gangsters, police were getting desperate against full-auto fire and heavily armored vehicles. The reason the Monitor was so effective was that the .45 caliber rounds that were being used in the Thompson machine gun, typically used by police, did not have the velocity to penetrate the armored plating. The .30-06 proved to be the perfect balance of power, accuracy, and functionality.

Sherriff Deputy Ted Hinton, an acquaintance of Bonnie Parker before her life of crime, borrowed this rifle for the final assault. The bi-pod attachment was removed, the barrel and gas tube had been shortened, and a Cutts compensator was also installed on the barrel. The compensator vented gas upwards from the barrel to help steady the weapon during an excessive amount of fire.

Colt Hammerless Model M (.32)

The Hammerless Model M and the Thompson machine gun are by far Hollywood’s favorite “Depression Era” firearms. This actually isn’t too far of a stretch though, as 500,000 Model Ms were sold from 1903-1945. The semi-automatic platform worked off a single-action blowback system, weighed in at only twenty-four ounces and had a barrel of about four inches. The “Art Deco Gun” was favored by a wide variety of people including military personnel who used them as pocket-pistols, law enforcement officers that utilized them as concealable backups, traveling salesmen, and even storekeepers. It was also very popular with women at the time because of how easily they fit into their pocket-books.

This popular design was yet another idea spawned by John M. Browning. It should also be noted that the Model M was not actually hammerless. The hammer was actually concealed so that it would be better protected from snagging.

Stevens 12 Gauge

This classic was the general use shotgun of its day. It was made from 1912 through 1930. The Stevens shotgun was versatile, cheap, and very well made. An extremely popular choice for hunting and could be found in just about every rural household in America. The Barrow Gang, of course, modified theirs with a sawed-off barrel.

Remington Model 11 20 Gauge

This is generally considered to be the first auto-loading shotgun to be produced in the United States. There are many accounts of Clyde referring to it as a “whip it”. The odd thing about this particular shotgun was that it was also referred to as Bonnie’s, who is not usually referenced as owning the weapons. It would make sense though as this particular shotgun was sawed off at the barrel and the butt of the stock; which would make it easier for a small slender woman to handle.

Winchester Model 1901 Lever-Action 10 Gauge

John M. Browning was a very busy man throughout his career. Winchester commissioned him to create the Model 1887, the predecessor of the Model 1910. The Model 1887 though had some short-comings and needed to be updated. The Model 1887 weighed in at eight pounds and the black-powder long gun was released the same time the new and more powerful smokeless powder was beginning to be circulated. The action was also too weak and too lose to properly cycle the heavier smokeless cartridges. All of these things were corrected with the release of the 1901, and close to 14,000 were produced.

Colt 1911A1 (.45)

This is one, if not the, most famous designs released by John M. Browning. His original design was released in 1911 and then later updated to the A1 in 1924. This semi-automatic platform worked with a short-recoil operating system. The 1911 weighs in at thirty-nine ounces and has a barrel length between 3.5 and 5 inches, depending on the model, and a muzzle velocity of 830 ft/s.

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