You're probably already on a first name basis with the members of the Barrow Gang, known for their bold crime spree that spanned from 1932 to 1934. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were a pair of media-friendly criminals, posing for viral couple shots long before Instagram was invented.
But unless you're a keeper of obscure historical facts from the 1930s, you're likely less familiar with the two Texas Rangers that bought Parker and Barrow down in a shoot-out in 1934. Netflix's gripping new historical movie The Highwaymen takes a novel approach to telling the Bonnie and Clyde story, especially when compared the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde that further glamorizes the criminals. This time around, the heroes are Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson), the Barrow Gang's dogged pursuers.
By the time Hamer and Gault pulled themselves out of retirement to go on a cross-country bounty hunt for the Barrow Gang, Parker and Barrow were already full-on celebrities. A month before the law finally caught up to them, the Daily News published an exposé about the outlaws, written in the language of a thriller novel.
The article opens with a picture of Parker and Barrow's recent robbery in Miami, OK. "The staccato rattle of a machine gun echoes. An officer of the law or a shopkeeper stumbles to die in a pool of his own blood. An automobile roars away with the occupants cursing or laughing," Virgil S. Beck writes, before describing the criminals themselves: "In the madly driven car a short, lean, thin-faced youth, his black hair slicked back, grip the handle of a machine gun. At his side, a rather pretty red-haired girl, often with a large black cigar gripped between her teeth, fingers the trigger of another tommy gun as she glances back for signs of pursuit."
In his florid article, Beck contributes to the outlaws' mythology. In Beck's words, Parker is a "titian-haired gun girl" and a "drinker of strong corn whisky and a smoker of strong cigar." Her paramour, Barrow had "fought, fibbed, and stole" since the age of 15. Ultimately, Beck deems Bonnie and Clyde the "most dangerous criminals in the nation."
There's some merit to Beck's declaration. During their two-year crime spree, Texas-born Barrow and Parker took the lives of 13 people, including nine cops, and were responsible for several bold robberies and auto thefts. The more flamboyant their crime, the more media attention it got — and the country couldn't get enough. Parker and Clyde attracted fans, the most fervent of whom stormed the site of their death in Louisiana, gathering stray bullets as memorabilia.
Until now, only Parker and Barrow, who met at the young age of 19 and 21, have been the focus of pop culture coverage. The Highwaymen turns the camera to the people working to ambush Clyde and Barrow in Gibsland, LA. Until now, Hamer's pop culture portrayal hasn't been kind. In the 1967 movie, he comes off as a buffoon — much to the disappointment of his widow, who was allegedly "humiliated" by the portrayal, according to USA Today.
"The portrayal of Frank Hamer in the 1967 film was beyond inaccurate. It was unjust," Highwaymen screenwriter John Fusco told USA Today. "Frank Hamer was not the mustache-twirling evil buffoon portrayed in Bonnie and Clyde. He was arguably the greatest law officer of the 20th century." Costner depicts Hamer as he was: a highly skilled ranger back in the field after a hiatus.
Years before they followed Parker and Barrow over 102 days and 15 states, Hamer and Gault were neighbors in the Riverside area of Austin. They became close friends. Back then, Hamer was a Texas Ranger (he was known for taking down members the KKK ), and Gault occasionally did undercover work for him, before eventually joining the ranks.
In 1927, after Miriam "Ma" Ferguson was re-elected governor of Texas, Hamer and Gault both retired from their positions as Texas Rangers in protest of political corruption. It was during this period that Lee Simmons, head of the Texas Prison System, tapped Hamer to chase after the outlaws; Gault brought on Hamer. According to True West, they drove 500 miles a day and lived off crackers and sardines.
Eventually, they laid a trap for Barrow and Parker along a road in Bienville Paris, Louisiana. The meeting culminated in a shoot-out. According to the New York Times coverage from 1934, they “riddled them and their car with a deadly hail of bullets.”
Though Hamer and Gault were lauded as heroes back home in Texas, they evaded the same fame that Barrow and Parker courted. Hamer turned down movie and book offers, and chose to work in the oil industry instead of returning to law enforcement. Gault continued to work as a Texas Ranger.
Gault passed away in 1947. At his funeral, Hamer proclaimed Gault was "a 23-karat fellow. He was as loyal a man as there ever could be. Never a better man or truer friend than Maney Gault." Hamer died in 1955.
While Hamer and Gault shunned too much media attention during their lives, they might've approved of this commemorative film, which brings to life their friendship and personalities.