A brush with infamy: Hopkins County man remembers a wild ride – and Bonnie and Clyde

By PATTI SELLS | News-Telegram Feature Writer

Aug 30, 2007 - Old-timers love to tell the tales of growing up during The Great Depression when Cokes cost a nickel, movie matinees were a dime, and, of course, those ever-popular stories of walking miles and miles to school barefoot, in the snow, uphill both ways.

Staff Photo by Patti Sells

During the Great Depression, run-ins with Bonnie and Clyde were rare, but 92-year-old J.R. Hinkle of Ridgeway recalls what he says was a brief encounter with the notorious couple right here in Hopkins County.

But you don't hear too many stories from that era of chance encounters with the infamous Bonnie and Clyde, the notorious couple who blazed a trail of crime across Texas and the Central United States from 1932 to 1934. 

It was the end of spring in1933, when James R. Hinkle, better known as J.R., was 18 years old and making his way home to Sulphur Bluff along the dirt roads between Mahoney and Nelta.

"I had done walked  five miles," recalled Hinkle, now 92 . "It had come a shower that morning so the roads were muddy. Here come this nice new Model A Ford coupe. 

"You didn't see too many of those around these parts," he added.

According to Hinkle, it was around 10 a.m., and the early morning rain had made both walking and driving quite difficult.

"His tires were just a-spinning," said Hinkle of the vehicle that also carried a female passenger. "When he got up beside me, he pointed his thumb to the back and said, 'Hang on!'  Well, I knew what he wanted. He needed my weight to make it heavier on the back."

After jumping on to the split bumper and grabbing hold of the spare tire, Hinkle noticed right away there was a shotgun sticking straight up between the seats.

"They had a bunch of old, dirty blankets and clothes. That rumble seat was plumb full," he said. "I was suspicious right away. I thought to myself, 'This here is Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.'" 

Though he had never seen pictures of them, Hinkle had read newspaper reports of their crime spree, which included stealing cars, bank robberies, burglary, kidnapping and murder.

"I knew he'd done shot a sheriff and robbed a bank or two," he said. "They didn't keep one car too long. They'd see one they wanted and just take it. That's the way they were. They didn't travel the main roads. They traveled the back roads and stayed in old, abandoned, farm houses."

According to Hinkle, not long after he jumped aboard, they turned off on a dirt road he had never been down before and soon passed an old house with a man out in the yard.

"'Bout that time, she turned around and asked me if I knew the Logans," Hinkle recalled. "I'd heard of 'em, but told 'em no. I didn't want no part of 'em. I jumped off and told 'em they was going the wrong way for me — and they was. I'd never been down that way and didn't know where it went. I wasn't about to stay with 'em. I jumped off and headed back to that house —ran every step of the way. I didn't know but they might go to shootin'."

Hinkle said approached the man in the yard, asking him if he recognized the car that just went by. His reply was that nobody down that way even had a car that he knew of.

Hinkle then asked if the man had a phone.

"Nobody hardly had a telephone back then," he explained. "I was gonna report them to Sheriff Reneau. They had a big reward out, but it was Sunday, and the store in Nelta was closed. I wanted to turn them in. If I could have gotten ahold of the sheriff they could have went out there and followed them tracks. But we was all poor  folks, no car, no phones — I just headed on home."

According to Hinkle, a friend asked him why he didn't just come out and ask the pair if they were Bonnie and Clyde.

"I said, 'You think I'm crazy?' Well, if they'd a-thought I knowed them they would've probably shot me. I wasn't about to let on like I knowed who they was."

�About a year later when the duo were gunned down in Louisiana, pictures of the two confirmed what Hinkle said he suspected along.�

"Same hair, same face — that was the same woman I seen riding in that car," Hinkle said. "He wore that little brown hat pulled down low in front. It was them all right. That proved it to me."

After five major gun battles and 13 possible murders, mostly lawmen, Hinkle conceded that his brief encounter with Bonnie and Clyde turned out for the best.

"I got to thinking maybe it worked out better that I didn't get the chance to report 'em. I might of gotten 'em killed," Hinkle said of Reneau, who served as sheriff for 16 years. "He was a good'n. The next year Reneau retired and Ed Banister became sheriff. He got a call saying Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker were expected to come down the old 67 highway and sent them out to set up a roadblock. They never did see 'em. The sheriff said, 'No, and I'm glad of it. I didn't want to face that shotgun.' He'd of shot 'em all to pieces. That's the way he fought. No, I didn't want no part of 'em. Nobody did."

Clyde Barrow's escapades took him and Bonnie to Miami, Stringtown, Pawhuska and Commerce, Okla., Platte City, Joplin and Columbia, Mo., Dexter, Iowa, New Mexico, rural Louisiana parishes, Shreveport and parts of Texas, including Dallas, Lufkin, Grapevine, Waldo, Hillsboro, Victoria, Wharton, Wellington, Abilene, Sherman — and according to J.R. Hinkle, Hopkins County.

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