Posts from Pumpjack Press authors and contributors about culture, books, economic and social justice topics, history and more, with the occasional poem and short story.

Behind the headlines: Clyde Barrow’s first crime was chicken theft

It was love that pushed Clyde Barrow over the line into a life of crime. And hunger.  

Bonnie and Clyde seized the imagination of 1930s America with their daring criminal exploits, narrow escapes and doomed romance. But the misdeeds that turned Clyde from a hardscrabble farm boy into a notorious outlaw legend seem pretty tame in retrospect. 

The first brush he had with the law was for stealing chickens, likely from the neighbors. It was 1926 and, not surprisingly — given the long shadow of the Great Depression — he and his family were broke and hungry. This time, he only got a warning.

The next time would be different.  

It was love that pushed Clyde over the line. He had a fight with his girlfriend at the time, Eleanor Bee Williams (he had her initials tattooed on his arm), and she left Dallas to stay with family in nearby Broaddus, Texas. Clyde, hoping to win her back, rented a car and traveled to see Eleanor, but didn’t pay the extra to take the car out of town. When he didn’t bring it back on time, the rental agency called the cops and they put out a warrant. The car company later declined to press charges, but Clyde was now officially in the system and had the attention of the local police.

Just three weeks later, he was arrested, along with his older brother Buck, driving a truck full of stolen turkeys.

Now known to local police, they kept a close watch on him — some might even say harassing him. The die was cast, and as his life of crime began picking up speed and intensity, he was on a crash course with Eastham prison farm and, of course, destiny. He met Bonnie in 1930.

In our alt-history series about Bonnie and Clyde, the outlaw lovers are kidnapped just before the fatal ambush and forced to work for the government trying to save FDR and his New Deal policies. Their special skills — violence and cunning — make them necessary but expendable assets.

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