Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Man Of Two Centuries: The Hill Country Lawman Who Brought Down Bonnie And Clyde

As I pulled through the old stone entrance and drove into Austin Memorial Park, I immediately realized that the office was a part of the old stone entrance. I parked the car, walked up and pushed the office door open. Inside, in a very small room, a man was on the telephone. Listening to voice messages, and returning calls, he looked up and asked me how he could help me. Noticing how very busy he was, I quickly asked him where I could find the location of Frank A. Hamer’s grave. While still on the phone, he didn’t miss a beat as he swiveled in his chair, looked out the window, and pointed out a location a short distance away behind a crop of trees. From the time I entered the office, until the time I left, was no more than 20 seconds. Obviously, he had been asked this question many times before.

As I walked out to find the grave, it occurred to me that the man on the telephone, in the old stone building, was symbolic of Frank Hamer’s life. Using modern day technology, he was still seated in the past.

Frank Hamer was born in 1884, and grew up in San Saba County, in the Texas Hill Country. It is said, that in his early teens, he and one of his brothers began working for a local farmer. There are several stories as to why, but at some point, the farmer shot Frank with a shotgun. Helped to safety by his brother, he eventually recovered from his wounds. Then, at the age of 16, Frank went back to see the farmer who had shot him. When he left the farm, the farmer was dead. From that day forward, and for the rest of his life, Frank Hamer was uncompromising in his often violent pursuit of justice.

When he was 20 or 21, and working as a cowboy on a Texas ranch, he captured a horse thief. As a result, the local sheriff took note and encouraged him to join the Texas Rangers, which he did. Frank worked intermittently with the Texas Rangers over the years, leaving from time to time to pursue other positions in law enforcement, but then always coming back. His bravery was never questioned, and, in Sherman, Texas, in 1930, he almost singlehandedly tried to protect a prisoner from an angry lynch mob. Over the years he pursued horse thieves, killers, smugglers, bank robbers and bootleggers, but the people he despised the most were corrupt politicians, like the back-to-back husband and wife Texas governors, “Pa” and “Ma” Ferguson.

Hamer eventually retired from the Rangers in the early 1930’s, but was soon called back to serve Texas in leading the effort to track down and stop the Barrow Gang. Both Clyde Barrow, and Bonnie Parker, were both born and raised in Texas, and for a couple of years the gang killed lawmen, robbed banks, and outwitted law enforcement officials in several states, including Texas.

Forming a posse composed of law enforcement officials from a couple of states, Frank used his excellent tracking skills to locate Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker driving along a quiet rural road just outside Gibsland, Louisiana. Along with his posse, and with Frank wielding a .35 caliber Remington Model 8 semi-automatic rifle, Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed in May of 1934. Over 160 rounds were pumped into the car, and both Bonnie and Clyde were killed instantly in the hail of gunfire. In the aftermath of the ambush, Frank became a national hero, albeit, a humble one, refusing to ever tell the story of his participation in the downfall of Bonnie and Clyde. Even today, he is regarded by the Texas Rangers as one of the best the organization has ever produced.

Following the incident, Frank soon returned to private life and private industry, serving as a strike-breaker on behalf of companies in Texas. Following World War II, he was again called back to service with the Texas Rangers, in helping verify election returns in several Texas counties in 1948. After this brief interlude with his beloved Texas Rangers, Frank finally retired for the last time. Despite his violent career, he died peacefully in Austin in 1955.

Two of Frank’s brothers, including Harrison Hamer, the brother who dragged Frank to safety after he was shotgunned as a boy, went on to become Texas Rangers themselves. One of Frank’s sons, Billy Hamer, was killed in action on Iwo Jima as a young U.S. Marine in March 1945. Another son, Frank Hamer, Jr., also served in the Marine Corps as a pilot during World War II, and, after briefly serving in the Texas Rangers himself, spent most of the rest of his working career flying for the Texas Fish and Game Commission.Today, Frank rests quietly in Austin Memorial Park, next to his wife, Gladys, and his son, Billy, who died during the war. During his life, Frank took part in about 50 gunfights, killed many men, and was wounded many times. His life crossed the end of one century and passed into a new one, and while he began his career chasing criminals on a horse with a shotgun, by the end of his career he was pursuing them in a fast automobile with a high powered semi-automatic rifle.

When all is said and done, it seems that while Frank may have adapted to the changing times with respect to transportation and firearms, he never wavered in his single minded “Old West” focus to rid the world of those who committed crimes. He was shrewd and clever, and was completely intolerant of people who broke the law. Until the day he died, he never regretted killing a single person, because, in his view, the extreme violence was always justified in bringing criminals to some form of justice.


  1. That was really a nice story about Frank. Such kind of rules are definitely necessary.
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  2. The real heroism. Sometimes it is necessary to act rude to keep the society safe.
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  3. One should be proud of such kind of officer. Really good story. thanks for letting us know about a legend by writing the story about him.
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  4. Such kind of stories really inspire the young rangers and these articles should be published for the people t know about the legends.
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  5. Thanks to Patrick, Browarddriversed, James, and Kevin, for your comments. I sincerely appreciate them all, and glad you enjoyed the post on Frank Hamer...He was a great man. I wish each of you the very best in the coming years. All the Best.