Kevin Costner as Frank Hamer in The Highwaymen
Kevin Costner as Frank Hamer, tough Texas special investigator and former Texas Ranger
Texas and Louisiana, Spring 1934
Film: The Highwaymen
Release Date: March 15, 2019 (March 29, 2019, on Netflix)
Director: John Lee Hancock
Costume Designer: Daniel Orlandi
Following a decorated career in law enforcement that found him bravely and successfully leading investigations and captures of violent criminals, Frank Hamer is not the sort of man who should need a cultural reevaluation in his defense. And yet, it was the most celebrated victory of Hamer’s career—bringing an end to Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker’s violent crime spree—that would eventually result in the former Texas Ranger being villianized in the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde that romanticized the titular outlaw couple to carry out its countercultural message.
Perhaps unwilling to drag the real Frank Hamer’s name through the mud, Robert Benton and David Newman had actually renamed the gang’s hunter Frank Bryce in their original screenplay, initially distancing the film’s deceitful, mustache-twirling villain from the diligent real-life Hamer… until the legendary Ranger’s surname was restored for the character that would eventually be portrayed by Denver Pyle.
Furious at the unfair portrayal of her husband, Hamer’s widow Gladys successfully sued the producers for defamation of character, receiving an out-of-court settlement in 1971. Unfortunately, the cultural damage to Hamer’s name had already been done and he was firmly entrenched in the minds of Bonnie and Clyde‘s audiences as a bitter, cruel, and petty manipulator rather than the thoughtful and disciplined lawman that capped a celebrated career with a methodical and dedicated three-month pursuit that ended the bloody career of two of America’s most notorious criminals.
Gladys Hamer wasn’t alone in her frustration with the posthumous re-imagining of her brave husband as a villainous figure. Nearly 40 years after Pyle’s Frank Hamer exacted his petty revenge against Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s glamorous Bonnie and Clyde, screenwriter John Fusco had successfully pitched his long-time idea of cinematic redemption for Frank Hamer. The original concept was to reunite Paul Newman and Robert Redford to play Hamer and Maney Gault, the fellow former Ranger who eventually joined Hamer’s hunt for the outlaw couple, until Newman’s death in 2008 meant a different direction would be needed. Finally, in February 2018, Netflix announced that the film had entered production as The Highwaymen. with Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson starring as Hamer and Gault, respectively, with the title referring to the ex-Rangers’ special commission for the Texas Highway Patrol.
Despite taking some liberties with historical facts, the film goes to considerable lengths to recreate the details of the hunt for the Barrow gang, recalling many of the correct dates, names, and places, such as H.B. Barrow’s Star Service Station on Eagle Ford Road in West Dallas. The Highwaymen also includes details that aren’t as well-known parts of the Barrow gang legend, such as Clyde’s habit of wearing ladies’ wigs to disguise himself, Emma Parker’s “red beans and cabbage” code when her daughter Bonnie would be returning home, and the Barrow and Parker families’ furtive communication with the gang via thrown bottles. Even the actual criminals’ cigarette preferences—unfiltered Camels for Bonnie and hand-rolled Bull Durham for Clyde—are included.
In addition to the ex-Rangers Hamer and Gault, we also meet the officers that assisted Hamer during his pursuit of the killers, including Smoot Schmid, Ted Hinton, and Bob Alcorn from the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office and Henderson Jordan and Prentiss Oakley, the Louisiana sheriff and deputy who joined Hamer, Gault, Hinton, and Alcorn for the famous ambush on May 23, 1934. (Read more about the posse and see photos here.)
A month after Netflix announced that production of The Highwaymen was underway, the filmmakers were on location on Louisiana State Highway 154, setting the scene for the final ambush near where the original incident had taken place, a few miles south of Gibsland. They planted trees along the right-of-way and added dirt to cover the blacktop, converting the asphalt two-lane highway into the one-lane dirt road that had been Bonnie and Clyde’s last stop on that quiet spring morning.
On the 85th anniversary of his permanently closing the case on Bonnie and Clyde, today’s post looks at a more positive look at Frank Hamer via Kevin Costner’s performance as the weathered lawman in The Highwaymen, released onto Netflix less than two months ago.
What’d He Wear?
“Frank did not start fights, he became adept at the ending them,” states John Boessenecker in his biography of Hamer, Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, the Man Who Killed Bonnie and Clyde. This reputation made Hamer the ideal candidate as the man leading the charge to end Clyde Barrow’s violent criminal career.
Following the deadly Eastham Prison Farm jailbreak organized by Bonnie and Clyde, Texas prison chief Lee Simmons (John Carroll Lynch) approaches the grizzled ex-Ranger Frank Hamer at his home and asks him to “put them on the spot”. Hamer takes some time to consider the offer before leaving home to take on his new task of bringing these dangerous fugitives to justice.
Much dialogue in The Highwaymen concerns whether or not Texas Rangers like Frank were anachronistic in an age of criminals armed with automatic weapons and high-powered cars, though Frank’s fashion sense has kept up with the times with his striped three-piece suit and dark fedora replacing the wide-brimmed Stetson and spurs that he wore a generation earlier while patrolling the Texas border.
According to author John Boessenecker, Hamer had indeed abandoned the cowboy aesthetic as he took on the more visible role of senior captain of the Texas Rangers in the early 1920s, adhering to the new rules and regulations established in 1919 that expressly prohibited “the wearing of boots, spurs, wide belts, etc., or having a pistol exposed while visiting cities of towns.” Thus, Hamer stashed away his cowboy boots, wide-brimmed hat, and western gear when not hunting in favor of business suits and narrow-brimmed Stetsons… though Old Lucky was still tucked in his waistband, out of sight but easily accessible should trouble arise.
Costner’s Hamer spends his entire pursuit of Bonnie and Clyde wearing the various pieces of a dark striped flannel three-piece suit. The charcoal suiting is patterned with double sets of thin burgundy stripes, each shadowed on the outside by a thicker muted gray stripe.
The single-breasted, two-button suit jacket has notch lapels, a welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, three-button cuffs, and a single vent. The details are safe but timeless, allowing Hamer—a man of modest tastes and arguably little interest in fashion—to need no more than this single suit to fit his needs.
The suit has a matching waistcoat (vest) that gives Hamer some versatility as he adds and sheds layers during his investigation that extends from February into the warmer late spring months. The single-breasted waistcoat has six buttons that fasten down the front to a notched bottom. There are four welted pockets on the front and an adjustable strap across the lower back.
Hamer’s suit trousers are styled with double reverse pleats, a 1920s trend that would have also comfortably accommodated the aging lawman’s expanding midsection. They have slanted side pockets, jetted back pockets with a button through the left pocket, and plain-hemmed bottoms.
Hamer wears a black leather belt with a dulled silver-toned box-style buckle. While some menswear experts would advise against wearing a belt with a three-piece suit, Hamer put practicality before sartorialism and required the stability of a belt for his trousers as he made a practice of tucking “Old Lucky”, his heavy .45-caliber Colt Single Action Army revolver, in his waistband. Also, as Hamer frequently dressed suit sans waistcoat—and jacket, on some occasions—it would make perfect sense to wear a belt… not to mention that Frank Hamer doesn’t give a damn about your sartorial advice.
While dressed in the striped three-piece suit, white shirt, necktie, and fedora of any regular businessman of the era, Hamer’s black leather boots with their tall shafts and pointed toe caps subtly nod to his history as a Ranger without overwhelming the rest of the outfit.
The choice is somewhat at odds with Hamer’s onetime remark that “boots were made for riding, and I’ve got no desire to look like a ‘pharmaceutical Ranger’,” but these particular boots are subtle enough that they don’t draw attention like a more colorful or decoratively stitched leather would.
Hamer wears exclusively white self-striped lightweight cotton shirts. Each shirt has a point collar, front placket, button cuffs, and a breast pocket where he keeps his frequent packs of Lucky Strike cigarettes. The film’s production team correctly used the pre-World War II green packets before the brand switched to its white packs with red “bullseye” centers.
“Frank, shedding his coat and shoes, collapsed in a chair, removed his necktie, and undid three buttons on his green shirt,” recounts John Boessenecker of hours following Hamer’s ambush of Bonnie and Clyde, providing some colorful context to the black-and-white photos of Hamer and his posse that day.
Costner’s shirts as Hamer are shirred in the back with six narrow pleats gathered at the center under the horizontal yoke.
Hamer cycles through five ties over the course of his investigation, all wide ties with small four-in-hand knots and a short length that come up a few inches short of his trouser waistband.
He begins and ends the manhunt wearing the same tie, a black and charcoal striped tie that appears to be widely striped in the “downhill” (right shoulder down to left hip) direction but in fact consists of blocked sets of hairline-width stripes. Perhaps due to the solemnity of both occasions that he wears it—leaving home and then dressing for the final kill—it is the only tie that Hamer wears tightened rather than loose with an open collar.
“Happy Easter,” Hamer greets Gault with when they wake up in the front seat of the Ford on the morning of Sunday, April 1. In reality, Hamer spent Easter morning at home with his family in Austin before he received news of the double cop killings in Grapevine that set him back on the trail of Bonnie and Clyde.
Hamer fittingly wears his most festive and colorful neckwear for this typically celebratory spring holiday, a crimson red tie with small white polka dots.
Days later, Hamer and Gault extend their pursuit of the Barrow Gang beyond Texas. “Open range now,” comments Gault as they drive into Oklahoma, where they find uncooperative witnesses from a service station attendant to a migrant camp. During this excursion, Hamer wears a dark navy tie with closely spaced pin-dot stripes alternating in baby blue and tan in the “uphill” direction. Hamer wears the same tie a few weeks later when questioning the recently furloughed Wade McNabb, another reluctant informant.
Hamer and Gault find themselves at a literal crossroads on April 6, 1934, immediately following Barrow’s murder of Constable Cal Campbell outside of Commerce, Oklahoma. The two ex-Rangers drive into Coffeyville, Kansas—famously the town where the Dalton gang was shot to pieces attempting a double bank raid in 1892—for lunch and a discussion of Hamer’s 16 gunshot wounds. The lunch leads to an entertaining (but ultimately fictional) car chase that ends up with Clyde’s Ford leaving Hamer and Gault in the dust.
Hamer wears yet another striped tie with a dark navy ground for this occasion, though the “downhill” stripes alternate in medium and light gray, separated by a thin burgundy stripe. This tie also appears with the full three-piece suit when Hamer and Gault travel to Bienville Parish in search of Henry Methvin’s family.
Fed up with the lack of cooperation and progress of his manhunt, Hamer is depicted as storming into the Star Service Station one mid-April day for a one-to-one chat with Clyde’s father Henry Barrow (William Sadler). This tense conversation marks the sole appearance of Hamer’s navy self-patterned tie.
Hamer looks more businessman than cowboy in his all-black fedora, which looks similar to one that the real-life Ranger was photographed wearing during the Barrow gang manhunt in 1934. The hat has a pinched crown and a black ribbed grosgrain silk band.
Not surprisingly, Hamer wears no jewelry aside from a plain gold wedding band on the third finger of his left hand. The ring symbolizes his marriage to his second wife, Gladys (Kim Dickens), who Hamer married in 1917 while serving as a special bodyguard to Gladys’ father, rancher Billy Johnson.
The circumstances of the early days of the Frank and Gladys Hamer union against the backdrop of the Johnson-Sims Feud make for one of the more thrilling lesser-known passages in Hamer’s history, particularly the couple teaming up for a gunfight in Sweetwater, Texas, that led to the death of Gladys’ deceased husband’s brother-in-law and former Ranger, “Gee” McMeans. This October 1917 shootout—one of 52 that Hamer recalled from his lifetime—is thrillingly recounted in John Boessenecker’s book as well as this 2016 article by Bob Boze Bell for True West magazine.
The first few months of Hamer’s manhunt had been primarily an investigation that found the lawman following leads across the South and Midwest. It wasn’t until May 23, 1934, that the veteran gunfighter was expecting combat. Thus, Costner’s Hamer supplements his full three-piece suit with a cartridge belt loaded with rifle rounds—likely .35 Remington—to be fully prepared to take down the Barrow gang.
“‘spose you’re gonna wanna take my new Ford,” Gladys Hamer observes when she realizes there’s no convincing her husband not to take up the hunt for Bonnie and Clyde.
Gladys’ stunning black 1934 Ford V8 sedan with its red-spoked wheels is the ideal choice for chasing the criminals, not just for the power—”85 horses, ain’t she fun?” suggests Gladys—but also because it was the same car favored by Barrow himself when making his speedy getaways. While police at the time were often equipped with older model Plymouths, Dodges, and Chevrolets with six-cylinder engines, Hamer’s Ford V8 made him Barrow’s automotive equal… and thus a more suitable hunter.
#CarWeek is still more than a month away at BAMF Style, but The Highwaymen features enough glamour shots of Gladys’ “new Henry Ford” that it could practically be a commercial for owning your own ’34 Ford V8… which, to be honest, is a personal goal of mine.
Having changed the automotive industry for a quarter century with the introduction of the Ford Model T in 1908, the company was craving its next major innovation at the start of the Depression era. In 1932, the same year that Clyde Barrow was released from prison, began his crime spree with Bonnie Parker, and committed his first confirmed murders, Ford introduced its legendary “flathead” V8 engine. While cars with eight-cylinder engines were hardly new at the time, they were rarely affordable until Ford introduced its relatively powerful 221 cubic-inch V8, powered by 65 horses, as the standard engine for the 1932 Ford Model 18.
Over the next two years, Ford made incremental improvements to the flathead V8 engine, increasing output to 75 horsepower in 1933 (for the Model 40) and finally 85 horsepower in 1934 (for the Model 40B). By this time, Clyde Barrow’s unparalleled driving skills were legendary among law enforcement and the public, and the gang stole V8-powered Fords almost exclusively to the point that Barrow reportedly penned a now-famous letter to Henry Ford in April 1934, praising and thanking him for the “dandy car” his company produced.
1934 Ford V8 Fordor Deluxe (Model 40B)
Body Style: 4-door sedan
Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)
Engine: 221 cu. in. (3.6 L) Ford flathead V8
Power: 85 hp (63 kW; 86 PS) @ 3800 RPM
Torque: 150 lb·ft (203 N·m) @ 2200 RPM
Transmission: 3-speed manual
Wheelbase: 112 inches (2845 mm)
Length: 147 inches (3734 mm)
Width: 57 inches (1448 mm)
Height: 63 inches (1600 mm)
After 1934, Ford dropped its lower performance options, leaving only the flathead V8 across its various body styles and models for 1935 and 1936, a decision that would catapult it beyond Chevrolet as sales leader. With the flathead V8 ostensibly perfected in 1934, Ford focused on primarily cosmetic updates to all of its models through the end of the Depression and into the early years of World War II when all American automobile production was temporarily suspended.
As well as Hamer’s black Ford V8, the Barrow death car was also well-represented, even with the correct Arkansas license plates (#15-368) that were fitted to the car when it rolled to a stop in front of the posse’s rifles and shotguns on May 23, 1934.
Described as “Cordoba gray” though the actual color was closer to a light tan, the 1934 Ford Model 40 (Type 730) DeLuxe Fordor Sedan rolled off the River Rouge assembly plant in February 1934, where it was shipped to the Mosby-Mack Motor Company and purchased by Ruth Warren of Topeka, Kansas, on March 15 for $835. The new Ford had only been in the Warren family for weeks when it was stolen by Bonnie and Clyde on April 29. Having switched Mrs. Warren’s Kansas license plates #3-17832 out for Arkansas plates, the outlaw couple were the de facto owners of the car until they were shot to pieces inside it less than four weeks later.
Henderson Jordan, sheriff of Bienville Parish, Louisiana, where the couple was killed and one of the members of the posse who shot them, initially refused to return Mrs. Warren’s car to her until he was threatened with imprisonment by a federal judge. Read more about the famous “death car” here.
Frank explained why he had been victorious in so many shootings. After pointing out that his preferred weapon was a rifle, he explained how he used a revolver. “The great thing about shooting with a six-gun is to hold it steady and not to shoot too quick. What I mean is this: a man who is afraid, who is nervous, cannot shoot straight with a six-shooter grasped in his hand. The muzzle of the gun will wobble with every nervous beat in his hand… When you’ve got to fight it out with a six-shooter the only sure way is to make the first shot count… Take it slow and cool. Don’t get excited.”
— John Boessenecker, Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, the Man Who Killed Bonnie and Clyde, Chapter 12 (“Gunfighter”)
While skill with firearms isn’t unexpected for a Texan born and bred in the waning days of the Old West, Frank Hamer was legendarily adept with everything from revolvers to rifles. The legendary Ranger’s particular favorite sidearm was “Old Lucky”, the 4.75″-barreled single-action “Quickdraw Model” Colt .45 he was presented with during his tenure as the popular city marshal of Navasota, Texas, between his appointments as a Texas Ranger. As Boessenecker recounts:
Navasota’s city council was pleased with Hamer’s performance, and that spring they increased his salary to $100 a month. Equally impressed was C.M. Spann, the county attorney. In June 1910 he presented Frank with a fancy, engraved single-action Colt .45 revolver, F.A. HAMER inscribed on the back strap. This was the first time Hamer had ever received such a magnificent gift, and he was deeply touched by the gesture. He would carry this Colt—his favorite—through many trying years in the Texas Rangers and nicknamed it Old Lucky.
Indeed, Hamer would carry Old Lucky throughout his entire life, defending himself during the Sweetwater gunfight in 1917 where he fought side by side with his new wife Gladys, showing off with it during shooting expeditions while cleaning up Texas boom towns in the 1920s, drawing it from his waistband after ambushing Bonnie and Clyde in the 1930s, and even showing it off to “King of the Cowboys” himself Roy Rogers upon meeting the star at his California home in the late 1940s. Old Lucky was eventually auctioned for $165,000.
The Highwaymen reinforces Frank Hamer and Maney Gault’s cowboy natures by arming them with Single Action Army revolvers, as at least Hamer certainly was in real life, with Costner’s Hamer first seen fine-tuning his skills by paying some local kids to toss bottles in the air for him to shoot. Costner also co-opts Hamer’s real-life practice of carrying Old Lucky in his waistband, sans holster.
The Remington Model 8 semi-automatic rifle is prominently featured as one of Hamer’s own weapons that he packs along for the journey, arming himself with it as he did in real life for the May 1934 ambush. Designed by John Browning, the recoil-operated Model 8 was introduced to the civilian market in 1905 as the first commercially successful semi-automatic rifle and found quick success in the sport hunter market, though it was also favored by law enforcement. In fact, Frank Hamer owned and used several different Model 8 rifles that he used for both purposes.
Remington introduced four new rounds for the Model 8: .25 Remington, .30 Remington, .32 Remington, and .35 Remington. Hamer notably carried the former during an October 1918 expedition to capture and kill the dangerous criminal Encarnacion Delgado. “Good God! Watch Frank use the pear burner on him!” exclaimed a member of Hamer’s posse as he observed Hamer squeezing the trigger of his .25-caliber Remington Model 8 so quickly that “the blazing muzzle looked like the flame of a ‘pear burner’ torch,” as Boessenecker describes.
In the spring of 1922, Hamer was presented with “a beautifully scroll-engraved .30-caliber [Remington] Model 8 semiautomatic rifle, inscribed CAPT. FRANK HAMER OF THE TEXAS RANGERS on the left side of the frame,” which was shipped to the same Petmeckey’s Sporting Goods store in Austin where the Rangers often purchased their weaponry. This .30 Remington would become Hamer’s favorite deer hunting rifle.
A decade later, an all-new Remington Model 8 would come into play for the most storied chapter of Hamer’s life: the hunt for Bonnie and Clyde. Having lent his .25-caliber Remington Model 8 to Maney Gault to use in the ambush, Hamer armed himself with a customized Model 8 chambered in .35 Remington, the most powerful round offered for this particular rifle. (Prentiss Oakley, deputy sheriff of Bienville Parish, Louisiana, was also armed with a borrowed Remington Model 8A that he reportedly used to fire the first fatal shots.)
Hamer’s rifle, serial number #10045 was a special order from Petmeckey’s originally with a 15-round box magazine that was modified to accept a “police only” 20-round magazine, obtained via the Peace Officers Equipment Company in St. Joseph, Missouri. Every last round would count against the well-armed Clyde Barrow.
Despite their reputation as old-fashioned cowboys, the Rangers kept up with the latest technology and weaponry that would keep them evenly matched with the increasingly well-armed criminals they faced. In fact, the Rangers were the first to introduce airplanes to Texas law enforcement during the Mexia boomtown raids in early 1922 and a reporter breathlessly noted “they are armed with machine guns, high-powered rifles, and automatic pistols” as Hamer and his Rangers held off a Waco lynch mob that spring.
While Hamer still proudly carried his single-action “Old Lucky” during this period, the Rangers did not stubbornly stick to their tried-and-true 19th century firearms and eagerly adopted the most innovative tools of the trade. As early as January 1922, three Thompson submachine guns were purchased for the Rangers with some of Hamer’s men—though not the senior captain himself—fielding portable .45-caliber “tommy guns” during raids in Mexia and corrupt Texas boomtowns.
Like his prey Barrow, Frank Hamer had little use for the Thompson despite the Rangers’ enthusiastic adoption of the weapon in the early 1920s. Boessenecker writes that “the Thompson was the antithesis of Hamer’s style of combat shooting. He believed in calm, deliberate marksmanship, firing as few shots as possible, thus reducing the danger to innocent civilians… For those who carried a Thompson, calmness, deliberation, and deadly marksmanship were not part of the equation. Hamer recognized that its threatening appearance would be useful in cowing mobs, but he never once used a fully automatic weapon in a gunfight.”
The Highwaymen features an entertaining scene that finds a lone Hamer entering a Lubbock, Texas, gun store at the start of his manhunt. He pulls out a small book that guided some of his research and declares:
I’d like to have a look at that Thompson submachine gun… and the Colt Monitor machine-rifle—one up top there with the custom pistol grip—and a Colt automatic pistol and a 1917 Smith right behind it. And I wanna see that BAR, .30-06. And the ’03 Springfield with the glass up top there. And that Remington Model 11 riot gun over there.
Like the Ford V8 sedan that he transports his high-caliber stockpile in, all of the weapons that Hamer chooses were known to be used by the Barrow gang. The BAR, of course, was Clyde’s favorite, and the gang always had many .45-caliber M1911 pistols in stock from its frequent robbing of military and police armories, often stealing more than three dozen at a time. Clyde also got his hands on a stag-gripped Smith & Wesson M1917 revolver—identified in several of the gang’s famous photos taken in the spring of 1933—taken from Springfield, Missouri, motorcycle cop Tom Persell after they had kidnapped him for a few hours that January. The short-barreled Remington Model 11 semi-automatic shotgun in both 12- and 16-gauge was also a common weapon in the Barrow gang’s arsenal, particularly 16-gauge models modified with a sawed-down barrel and stock to be wielded by Bonnie Parker as her “whip-it” gun and still on her lap when the couple was killed.
Hamer specified to the gun store clerk that he wanted the Model 11 with the shorter, 20″ barrel, indicating a weapon that would be intended more for close quarters combat than hunting. It makes a few appearances in his hands over the course of The Highwaymen, first pulled from the Ford’s backseat as Gault talks to the denizens of a migrant camp that harbored Bonnie and Clyde before examining the criminal couple’s recently abandoned campground nearby.
While fun to watch, the gun store shopping scene is decidedly fictional. Hamer was already armed with “Old Lucky” and his trusty Remington Model 8 rifle when he set out on the manhunt, but it wasn’t until Texas National Guard unit commander Weldon Dowis was contacted in the spring of 1934 on Hamer’s behalf that he was able to take delivery of weapons powerful enough to outgun Clyde Barrow and puncture the steel doors of his stolen Fords. After Texas congressman Hatton Summers effectively intervened on Hamer’s behalf, “Dowis reluctantly issued a pair of BARs to Hamer and his men,” according to Jeff Guinn in Go Down Together. “He said decades later that he had to teach the lawmen how to shoot them—the BARs were so powerful that they required a much stronger grip than ordinary rifles.”
As Clyde Barrow stood at 5’7″ and never more than 130 pounds, the heavy Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) remains a surprising weapon of choice for the slightly built outlaw, particularly when one considers the theory that he would weld three 20-round box magazines together for one “super-magazine” that could fire nearly 60 rounds of potent .30-06 Springfield rifle ammunition at a rate of more than 500 rounds per minute. Designed by John Browning like many of the other weapons featured here, the BAR was hurried into production after the United States entered World War I and remained in U.S. military service through World War II and even in limited quantities during the Vietnam War. (Read more about Clyde Barrow’s preferred weapons here.)
In 1931, Colt introduced the Colt Monitor (R80) automatic machine rifle, intended for law enforcement usage but also offered to the civilian market for $300 each, and produced a limited run of 125 rifles, of which 90 would eventually be purchased by the FBI. The Monitor was operationally identical with the fully automatic BAR, with mostly cosmetic differences including a separate pistol grip and butt stock attached to a lightweight receiver and a barrel length shortened from the BAR’s 24″ down to 18″ with the addition of a 4-inch Cutts compensator.
Impressed by Hamer’s display with the powerful BAR, Gault asks if he has another Colt Monitor for him and eventually it is Gault who is shown using the Colt Monitor during the climactic ambush of Bonnie and Clyde. In real life, Gault had carried a .25-caliber Remington Model 8 as stated above and the group’s sole Colt Monitor was in the hands of Dallas County Deputy Ted Hinton…who is seen firing a standard M1918 BAR rather than a Monitor in The Highwaymen when, in fact, it was Hinton’s fellow deputy Bob Alcorn that was armed with a BAR in real life. Alcorn and Gault were also armed with backup Remington Model 11 riot shotguns.
While the Colt Monitor may have been among the latest in American weaponry, Hamer doesn’t discriminate based on age of a weapon’s design. “Let me see that old Winchester you got there, that .30-30,” Hamer requests in the gun shop, indicating a blued lever-action Winchester Model 1894 rifle. “I’ll be needin’ one gun that won’t jam,” Hamer grunts about his necessity for the old-fashioned but familiar rifle.
Henderson Jordan, the sheriff of Bienville Parish, Louisiana, is depicted firing the Winchester in the final ambush, which fits with Jeff Guinn describing the lawman with “a Winchester lever-action rifle” in Go Down Together. Nearly 30 years before Bonnie and Clyde were killed, Hamer himself had used a Winchester Model 1894 Saddle Ring Carbine to kill murderous swindler Ed Putnam.
Hamer continues his order in the gun shop after looking over the Smith & Wesson Model 1917, requesting “a handful of them half-moon clips for this Smith if you got ’em.”
The M1917 revolver was hastily developed during World War I when the U.S. military faced a shortage of the relatively new M1911 semi-automatic pistols. The military had plenty of .45 ACP ammunition but not enough pistols to issue, so they requested the nation’s two major revolver manufacturers—Colt and Smith & Wesson—to adapt their heavy-frame civilian New Service and .44 Hand Ejector revolvers, respectively, to fire .45 ACP. Joseph Wesson, son of Daniel B. Wesson, patented the unique half-moon clip that would allow these revolvers to fire this rimless semi-automatic pistol ammunition. At the government’s request, Smith & Wesson allowed Colt to use these half-moon clips for free, though Smith & Wesson kept an ace in the hole by fitting their M1917 cylinders with a shoulder that would permit the rimless cartridges to headspace on the case mouth.
Despite how finnicky he is about the revolver and getting one without the “shiny” nickel finish, Hamer never actually carries or fires the M1917 revolver on screen. Interestingly, it was an M1917 revolver—albeit a Colt with stag grips—that Denver Pyle had carried as Hamer in 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde.
“I want all of ’em. Along with four cases of .45 lead, same for the .30-06, and say an even hundred for each of the others,” Hamer concludes, finally completing his order at the Lubbock gun store.
“What all you goin’ after that needs this much firepower?” asks the gun shop owner. “If you don’t mind me askin’.”
“No sir, I don’t mind at all,” replies Hamer, looking up from his gun catalog but not answering the question, characteristic of the famously laconic lawman.
How to Get the Look
Although he has an extensive reputation and experience as a gunfighter on horseback, Frank Hamer’s wardrobe has evolved by the 1930s to follow the new Texas Ranger standards for business suits, neckties, and city hats… though Kevin Costner’s portrayal in The Highwaymen balances the sartorial image with a pair of subtle black leather boots nodding to the veteran lawman’s cowboy nature.
- Charcoal multi-striped flannel three-piece suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and single vent
- Single-breasted 6-button waistcoat (vest) with four welted pockets and adjustable back strap
- Double reverse-pleated trousers with belt loops, slanted side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White self-striped lightweight cotton shirt with point collar, front placket, breast pocket, shirred back, and button cuffs
- Dark striped tie with short, wide blade
- Black leather belt with dulled silver box-style buckle
- Black leather cowboy boots with pointed toe caps
- White cotton sleeveless undershirt
- Black felt fedora with black ribbed grosgrain silk band
- Gold wedding ring
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, streaming now on Netflix.
As someone who’s been reading about the Barrow gang for more than 15 years, I was delighted by the amount of often-ignored details, facts, names, and incidents that were included in The Highwaymen‘s depiction of the outlaw duo’s final months and the manhunt that permanently stopped them.
While there are still liberties taken for the sake of storytelling (perhaps most significant being that it was Dallas County Deputy Sheriff Bob Alcorn who rode with Hamer for most of the investigation instead of Maney Gault, who didn’t join until about two months later), The Highwaymen may be one of the most fact-informed adaptations of the story—and respective personalities—of Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow, and Frank Hamer. You can read more about the truth and fiction of the film’s approach in Andrew R. Chow’s March 2019 analysis for TIME.
If you’re looking to learn more about Hamer, I suggest John Boessenecker’s 2016 biography Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, the Man Who Killed Bonnie and Clyde. As Boessenecker concludes, “Frank Hamer played an important role in American history. He was part of the forces that dragged Texas—kicking and screaming—into the twentieth century. He started life as a humble cowboy and ended up the most extraordinary lawman of his era. His controversies had been many; his victories, even greater. From his ironfisted protection of African Americans to his war against the immoral Texas Bankers Association, he showed what a lone Ranger, armed with little but courage and a Colt .45, could accomplish.”
Outlaws and mustangs, they always come home.