Shootout: Eighty years ago next week, county posse battled with Bonnie & Clyde
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Bonnie and Clyde.
Just the mention of those names conjures up thoughts of the Great Depression, and the crime that was born and ran rampant during those dark years of American history.
While Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were just two of scores of outlaws who roamed the American Midwest in the 1930s, their story has been the subject of books and movies, and lives on in Dallas County through tales of family history.
Eighty years ago this week the notorious Bonnie and Clyde (along with Clyde’s brother Buck and his wife Blanche, and 17-year-old W.D. Jones) drove as quietly as possible into Dexter, seeking medical supplies and refuge from pursuing lawmen.
The gang of five found a location in Dexfield Park, just south of the South Raccoon River and just west of what is now County Road P48. The site was once Dexfield Park, a popular destination for folks from all around the area and the first amusement park of its kind west of the Mississippi River.
Although the amusement park had been abandoned for two decades, the location provided what the outlaws thought was a hidden, safe spot at which to lick their wounds.
Just the week prior to their arrival at Dexter, on July 18, the gang had escaped a shootout at Platte City, Neb., leaving two lawmen dead and Buck Barrow suffering a severe head wound.
The gang arrived at Dexter on July 20. While in Dexter, Clyde sought medical supplies for his gravely injured older brother at what was then Pohle’s Drug Store.
Although the gang’s hideout was tucked among trees and not visible from nearby roads, it wasn’t long before a local farmer, Henry Nye, reportedly discovered the site by accident. Obviously lucky, Nye was not discovered by the outlaws, but saw bloody clothing, seat cushions and mats that were being burned in a campfire. Lying nearby were bloody bandages.
Word spread quickly and it didn’t take long for locals to determine the interlopers were the notorious Bonnie and Clyde gang.
Dexter night marshal John Love notified Dallas County Sheriff C.A. Knee in Adel. A posse, composed of local law enforcement officers, Dallas and Polk County deputies, and state officials, was formed. The posse raided the campsite at 6 a.m. on Monday, July 24 and a barrage of gunfire erupted. The outlaws ducked behind an automobile, stolen the previous morning in Perry (the car in which the outlaws arrived at the scene initially was also at the site), to protect themselves from officers’ fire, and began shooting with pistols and automatic rifles.
Officers had blocked off the bridge, blocking the outlaws’ escape route to the north, and had also blocked the road leading back into Dexter.
Amid the chaos, the gravely injured Buck was hit again, this time in the back and arms, and Blanche also suffered non-life threatening wounds.
Clyde was shot in the shoulder, Bonnie suffered shotgun pellet wounds to the mid-section and the young W.D. Jones was stunned by a glancing shot.
The scene was total chaos.
Clyde grabbed the injured Bonnie and, along with W.D., headed toward the Raccoon River. The trio either crossed the river via a covered foot bridge (some reports say that Clyde carried Bonnie back and forth across the bridge several times) or waded across the river and ran north.
The three appeared at the Vallie Feller Farm north of the river and found Vallie, his son Marvelle and hired man Walt Spillers doing chores.
With his gun aimed at the victims, Clyde ordered Vallie to get his 1929 Plymouth, then ordered the Fellers to lift the badly wounded Bonnie into the vehicle.
Clyde drove Bonnie and W.D. north through Redfield, then east to make their get-away. The car was discovered the next day abandoned at Polk City.
Back at the shooting scene, authorities surrounded the dying Buck and his screaming wife, Blanche, who reportedly kept saying “Don’t die, Daddy. Don’t die, Daddy.”
The only reported injury to any posse member was a slight head wound sustained by Deputy Sheriff C.C. “Rags” Riley.
Meanwhile, Bonnie and Clyde, along with W.D. Jones, stole another car — Clyde favored Fords because of their powerful engines — and fled Iowa.
Buck and Blanche were taken into custody and Buck was taken first to a doctor’s office in Dexter, then to Kings Daughters Hospital in Perry. Blanche was taken to women’s quarters at the Polk County Jail in Des Moines.
The stench from Buck’s previous head wound was reportedly so strong that doctors and law enforcement officials had trouble remaining in the room for more than a few moments at a time.
It was the more recent injuries, however, that gave Buck the most pain. Although incoherent at times, authorities were able to question him when he was lucid enough to talk. Reportedly, doctors alternately administered opiates to ease Buck’s pain, then stimulants so that he could be interviewed.
Five days after the shootout, on Saturday, July 29, Buck Barrow died. His mother had made the trip from Dallas, Texas, to be with her dying son, whose body was taken back to Texas for burial. (Buck’s mother did not put a headstone on the grave, awaiting the death of his brother Clyde so the two could be buried side-by-side, which, in the end, is just what happened.)
Blanche was subsequently extradited to Missouri to be tried for her part in the Platte City shootout. By then, her weight had dropped to 81 pounds.
Although she never once fired a gun, she was charged and convicted for the attempted murder of Sheriff Holt Coffey and sentenced to 10 years in prison. While in prison she kept in close contact with Sheriff Coffey and Platte County Prosecutor David Clevenger.
In the end, those two were instrumental in Blanche gaining release after six years, receiving medical treatment on her left eye, which had been pierced in the Platte City incident.
Blanche remarried in 1940. She died from cancer in 1988, just shy of her 78th birthday.
After their escape, Bonnie and Clyde, along with Jones, eventually made their way back to Texas. Despite their narrow escape, Bonnie and Clyde weren’t through robbing Iowa banks. They returned to the Hawkeye State and robbed a bank in Rembrandt (Buena Vista County), then a bank in Kneirim (Calhoun County) that netted the gang just $307.
After the Kneirim robbery, the gang robbed a bank in Texas, but returned quickly to Iowa and robbed a bank in Stuart on April 16, 1934. The gang is also suspected of robbing a bank in Everly on May 3.
Jones was arrested in Houston in 1935 and charged as an accessory during the gang’s crime spree.
He spent six years in Texas State Prison before being released.
In 1968, Jones’ time spent with Bonnie and Clyde was detailed in an article in Playboy Magazine. He said of his time with the outlaws, “I’ve never lived it down.”
In August of 1974, Jones was shot and killed during an argument in Houston.
The legend of Bonnie and Clyde has lived on through the years, through books, in song and in movies, in part because of the way they died as well as the way they lived.
The two were ambushed by a posse led by Texas Ranger Frank Hamer as they drove down a rural road outside Gibsland in Bienville Parish, Louisiana on May 23, 1934 — only 10 months after the shootout near Dexter and 20 days after the robbery in Everly, Iowa.
The bullet-riddled bodies (estimates range from 25 to 50 as the number of bullet wounds they suffered) were taken into Arcadia, Louisiana where hordes of curious people flowed into town to get a glimpse of the notorious couple. They attempted to take parts of clothing and parts of the death car.
Although Bonnie and Clyde wanted to be buried together, it didn’t happen. Families of both forbade it.
The death car, a V8 Ford, still exists. It appeared at numerous events through the years, including a few appearances at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines.
Today the car is owned by a gaming company in Las Vegas and the car has been on display in that city for many years, although it has also been released to be displayed around the country in more recent years.