April 10, 2019


Frank Hamer vs. Bonnie and Clyde (JOHN BOESSENECKER, March 2019, True West)

Frank Hamer's career began during the closing years of the Texas frontier, and saw him transition from a horseback Ranger into a motorized gangbuster of the 1930s. In between, he served decades as a lawman, in and out of the Texas Rangers: city marshal of the rowdy east Texas town of Navasota, special officer in Houston, deputy sheriff of Kimble County, U.S. prohibition officer and Texas Ranger captain. Among his countless exploits, he played a prominent role in the so‑called Bandit War of 1915, when Mexican revolutionaries surged across the border and raided in south Texas. In 1917 he got mixed up in the Johnson‑Sims feud, killing one man in the feud's climactic gunfight in Sweetwater. Hamer's role in a violent vendetta was certainly the low point in his professional life. In 1921, as a Texas Ranger captain, he and his men crossed the Mexican border and ambushed and killed the gang of Rafael Lopez, who had murdered five lawmen in Utah's worst law enforcement tragedy. Captain Hamer then led the Rangers who tamed the oil boomtowns of Mexia and Borger, and investigated--and solved-- some of the most sensational Texas murders of the 1920s.

-- Courtesy of the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, Waco, Texas --
Although a white supremacist of the Jim Crow era, Hamer was sympathetic to black Americans. Beginning in 1908, he saved 15 black men from certain death at the hands of lynch mobs in various towns and cities in east Texas. During the Roaring Twenties, Hamer led an unpopular fight against the Ku Klux Klan in Texas. In 1930, at the courthouse in Sherman in north Texas, Hamer and three of his Rangers held off a mob of 6,000 intent on lynching a black man who had raped a white woman. When the rioters burned down their own courthouse in order to kill the prisoner locked up inside, Frank Hamer became the first and only Texas Ranger to lose a prisoner to a lynch mob. He and his men barely escaped the raging inferno alive. Nonetheless, Hamer's stubborn refusal to back down against massive odds, and his shooting of two of the Sherman mob leaders, constitute one of the greatest displays of raw courage in the history of American law enforcement.

But to many people in Jim Crow‑era Texas, saving the lives of black suspects really did not matter. Hamer's actions in Sherman were quickly forgotten. What the public did remember was a much more famous--and by comparison, a much less important--exploit. That was Hamer's 1934 manhunt for Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker. The true story of his manhunt was long muddied by myth, misinformation and unreliable reminiscences from old-timers. Then, in 2006, the voluminous FBI file on Bonnie and Clyde was discovered in Dallas and declassified in 2009. The special agents' reports described in detail the twists and turns in the Barrow manhunt, and made obsolete much of what had been written before about Frank Hamer's leading role in tracking down the love‑struck outlaw duo.

The Legendary Maney Gault: Frank Hamer's best friend and partner in tracking down Bonnie and Clyde should be remembered as one of the greatest Texas Rangers. (JOHN FUSCO, March 2019, True West)

Maney Gault's career as a Texas Ranger started in 1929 after his friend, Texas Ranger Capt. Frank Hamer, recruited him into the Headquarters Company in Austin. Like Hamer, Gault was as comfortable enforcing the law on horseback as in a patrol car.
Frank Hamer had known Maney Gault since the mid-1920s, when they were neighbors in Austin. The diminutive, steely-eyed Gault had been a stock and dairy farmer until crashing milk prices forced him to find work in a sawmill. Regardless, he was a man after Hamer's own heart--laconic, loyal, modest, conservative, sardonic and perfectly unbreakable. Hamer appreciated the fact that Maney was from a "Travis County pioneer family."

As neighbors in the Riverside area of Austin, Hamer and Gault became tight, as did their feisty wives, Gladys and Rebecca. The late Frank Hamer Jr., a preteen then, remembered Gault being as "smooth as satin with a pistol," but also proficient on the guitar. Captain Hamer was also a competent hill country fiddler, and the two spent many a night playing cards or dominoes, blue grass music, and sharing terse, wry, Texas-style stories. Gladys Hamer had a parrot in a cage who repeated every damn thing a body said; Frank had a pet javelina named Porky who had free run of the house. It was a lively time on Riverside Drive. Hamer, whom Gault called "Pancho," was a casual and careful sipper while Maney "enjoyed his whiskey" and both were known to "cuss up a storm," much to the amusement of young Frank Jr., who came to think of Maney Gault as an uncle.

This was years before Gault joined the Texas Rangers, but Hamer was already using his friend and neighbor for specialized undercover work. Maney might have been a cow man and mill worker, but Hamer recognized in him the ability to blend in and "talk his way through," his lack of fear and the principled moral compass that Hamer valued above all else. He could also kick ass--literally, on more than one occasion. Hamer privately put his friend Maney underground during the rough-and-tumble days of Prohibition, illegal gambling and in lawless oil boomtowns like Mexia and Borger.

As the Great Depression grew near and private sector jobs dried up--even the sawmills--Hamer offered his friend a job in the Texas Rangers Headquarters Company. Hamer and Gault now began to team together in earnest, particularly in the violent Jim Crow climate when African-American men were frequently lynched before due process and trials. Gault was likely among the handful of Rangers who stood with Hamer when he protected a black rape suspect from a lynch mob of 6,000 in Sherman, Texas. As senior captain, Hamer was leading the fight in Texas against the Ku Klux Klan.

Hamer and Gault worked seamlessly together as Rangers up until Miriam "Ma" Ferguson was re-elected as governor of Texas. Hamer and the  Rangers had sup-ported rival Governor Ross Sterling, so when the truculent "Ma" won, she fired every Ranger (that is, those who had not already resigned in protest like Hamer and Gault) for their partisanship. Texas became a haven for lawless types, from Machine Gun Kelly to the Barrow Gang. Ma Ferguson was known for generously granting furloughs to prisoners, issuing more than 4,000 pardons during her two non-consecutive terms as governor.

While Gault found work with the Texas Highway Patrol, Hamer took on sporadic detective and security assignments. That's what he was doing when when Lee Simmons, head of the Texas Prison System, recruited Hamer to hunt down the Barrow Gang.

By April 14, 1934, Frank and Maney were back together--this time as Highway Patrol officers--sharing the cramped space of Hamer's Ford and hunting down the notorious killers. Like their quarry, they slept in their car, drove 500 or more miles per day, and mostly lived on crackers and sardines. According to the late Frank Jr., they took guitar and fiddle with them--along with modern firepower.

Posted by at April 10, 2019 4:20 AM