When lawmen eager for revenge used a field near this tiny town to set the trap for Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, they wrote Gibsland into a macabre love story that's fascinated generations.
Local officials expect visitors to quadruple the population of the town for a festival this weekend marking the 75th anniversary of the bank robbers' bullet-riddled demise. Interest in the couple remains strong here and elsewhere, with two books on them being released this year and actress Hillary Duff signed on for a new movie about their violent, ill-fated romance.
"They knew they would die, but they would die together. It was a love story that shamed Romeo and Juliet," said L.J. "Boots" Hinton, 75, who runs the Bonnie & Clyde Ambush Museum. He is the son of Deputy Sheriff Ted Hinton, one of the lawmen who gunned down the duo.
Couple killed on May 23, 1934
A granite marker, chunks gouged out by souvenir seekers, marks where Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker — who robbed and murdered their way around six states — were killed on May 23, 1934. Traffic was sparse on a recent day along the two-lane hardtop that replaced the gravel highway that Barrow and Parker followed to their deaths at ages 25 and 23, respectively.
The site will again buzz with activity on Saturday when actors re-create the ambush that pumped more than 100 bullets into the couple. It's one of four re-enactments planned for the festival, which will also include a pancake breakfast, parade, Bonnie and Clyde look-alike contest.
"For us it's timber, oil and Bonnie and Clyde," said Pat White, mayor of the town of about 1,200 that's 45 miles east of Shreveport. "The festival is about the area. It's about Gibsland. It's about history."
Gibsland's main street is almost unchanged from the morning when Bonnie and Clyde passed through. Squat brick buildings line the two-block long strip. The wooden sidewalks were replaced in 2001 and three buildings burned a few years before that.
Ma Canfield's Cafe where Clyde bought two egg sandwiches 15 minutes before he was gunned down now houses Hinton's museum, which opened in 2005. Its collection includes photos, films — including the film made immediately after the shootings — and memorabilia from Bonnie and Clyde's lives.
From their meeting in 1930 in a Dallas suburb to their deaths in a roadside field, Bonnie and Clyde were believed responsible for at least a dozen killings, including 9 police officers. They became celebrities as they crisscrossed the Midwest and the South, robbing banks and stores with a group of criminals known as the Barrow Gang.
Outrage grew with body count
But public interest turned to outrage as their body count grew. Three killings of police over a few days in April 1934 sparked a new effort by Texas Rangers to get them.
The Texas posse members were in Shreveport in mid-May when they learned from an informant that Bonnie and Clyde planned to visit a home in Bienville Parish, near Gibsland. Knowing the routes in and out were few, they set up an ambush along a state highway and waited.
Half a dozen Texas rangers, sheriff's deputies and local police officers hid in the woods for two days and two nights. They'd just about given up when Bonnie and Clyde hurtled toward them in a stolen Ford and the shooting began.
By the time the gunfire stopped, Bonnie and Clyde were dead. They were buried in Dallas.
The mystique that developed around the star-crossed lovers and their gang of cold-blooded killers has grown with the years.
The shirt Clyde was wearing the day he died was sold at auction for $85,000 in 1997 by a family member. His trousers, also auctioned in 1997, were cut into one-inch squares and peddled for $200 each. They are now reselling for up to $500.
Inspiration for songs, books, plays
Numerous books have been written, including a dozen in the last decade. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway played the duo in a 1967 blockbuster movie, and more recently there have been musical stage plays. In music, the couple has inspired hits ranging from Merle Haggard's 1968 country song "The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde" to rapper Jay-Z's "'03 Bonnie & Clyde."
The movie starring Hilary Duff, a $15 million independent production titled "The Story of Bonnie and Clyde," begins shooting in July.
John Neal Phillips, a Dallas professor who has written two books about Bonnie and Clyde, argues that interest in the couple is even stronger now than it was around the time the Warren Beatty movie was released.
"It's amazing," he said. "When I first started working on this 30 years ago couldn't even get a publisher to even answer my mail. Now I hear from people about them all the time."