Bonnie and Clyde (and Pat) and The Texas Collection Artifact That Ties Them Together

A page from the “Calaboose Register” of McLennan County, ca. 1930.
From the Pat Neff Collection, The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, Texas. (Click to enlarge)

Frank Jasek, the library’s resident bookbinder and preservationist extraordinaire, wheeled the book truck into my office, his face aglow with mischief.

“Have you ever seen one of these before?” he asked, gesturing to a large bound volume measuring about a foot tall by two feet wide. The words “CALABOOSE REGISTER” were stamped on its cover. “No,” I answered Frank. “I can honestly say I have not.”

With a knowing smile, he opened the register’s cover and began turning its lined pages, each covered with orderly columns of pencil-written text. “’Calaboose’ is an old slang term for ‘jail,’” Frank said. “This particular register lists all the people booked into the McLennan County jail between the late 1920s and the mid-1930s.”

He finished turning pages and pointed his finger at an entry on line number nine, page 148, dated March 1930. “Do you recognize that name?” The information, written by a nameless clerk almost a century ago, was easily legible. It read, in part:

Clyde Barrow. Denton. 12.40 AM. Suspect burglary theft of car.

The McLennan County Jail booking information for Clyde Barrow, March 3, 1930.
From the Pat Neff Collection, The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, Texas. (Click to enlarge)

And that’s when I realized that sitting in my office was an artifact from Waco’s direct connection to one of crime’s most infamous duos: Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, known to the world as Bonnie and Clyde.

The First Temptation of Bonnie Parker
When nineteen-year-old Bonnie Parker of Cement City, Texas (a Dallas suburb) met Clyde Barrow in January of 1930, she was a married woman. However, her husband had been in jail since January 1929, so Bonnie was free to fall head-over-heels for the brazen young man with the criminal past. According to most reports, Bonnie and Clyde became inseparable almost from the start. But it wasn’t until March of 1930 that Bonnie’s adoration for Clyde would push her across the line separating infatuation from criminality.

Clyde Barrow’s mug shot from the McLennan County jail, March 1930.
(Image courtesy the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, Waco, Texas)

Clyde Barrow was wanted on criminal counts out of Waco, and he was arrested in Denton County on March 2, 1930. He was transferred to Waco by officers Holt and Hatt on March 3 and on March 5, Clyde pleaded guilty to a total of seven criminal charges filed in McLennan County, including a charge of stealing W.W. Cameron’s automobile. (Cameron’s name is synonymous with Waco history due to his decision to donate hundreds of acres of land to the city of Waco in memory of his father, William Cameron; the land was named Cameron Park in his honor.) Clyde was sentenced to serve two years in the state jail at Huntsville. While awaiting transfer, he shared a cell with two petty criminals named Willie Turner and Emery Abernathy. Together, they hatched a plan for a daring escape, but for it to succeed they would need someone on the outside. Bonnie fit the bill perfectly.

Turner had hidden a gun in a home located at 625 Turner in East Waco. (Sadly, this building has long since been demolished.) If someone could retrieve it and smuggle it into the jail, they could steal the keys from a jailer and make their escape. Bonnie, who had been visiting Clyde repeatedly during his incarceration, agreed to help. On the afternoon of March 11, she retrieved the gun and secured it under her dress using a belt worn around her chest. A 1956 Argosy magazine article picks up the story from there:

“The night before moving Clyde to Huntsville from the Waco Jail, Bonnie brooded for several hours and then made preparations to go see Clyde in jail. Bonnie got a few minutes to tell Clyde good-bye and that was just enough time. From outside the cell, the jailer saw only the lover’s [sic] farewell embrace, but Bonnie whispered in Clyde’s ear, ‘Put your hand inside my blouse, honey.’ Clyde got a surprise; in between her breasts Bonnie had hidden a snub nose revolver. Bonnie shielded Clyde from the jailer’s eyes and Clyde shifted the gun to his pocket. Bonnie said, ‘Be careful, sugar,’ kissed him and left the jail.” (Argosy magazine, March 1956)

Although Clyde claimed he threw the gun used in his jailbreak into an Ohio river while on the lam from Waco, some scholars believe it was a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver similar to this one, currently on display at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, Texas.
(Photo courtesy the TRHFM)

Later that night, the Waco Times Herald reports:

“About 7:30 p.m. Tuesday night Jailer I.P. Stanford, unarmed, went to the second floor of the jail where the three were confined, to carry Turner a bottle of milk. When he opened the door of the cage he was stopped by Turner, then Abernathy poked a gun in to his ribs and ordered Stanford to ‘stick ’em up.’ Stanford was locked in a cell after he was robbed of his keys. Huse Jones, on duty at the turnkey’s desk downstairs, was then held up, and keys to the final jail door taken from him.” (Waco Times Herald, March 12, 1930)

The men fled into the night, dodging bullets fired by jail staff. They stole a series of cars on their way out of Waco, ultimately evading arrest for a week before being rearrested in Ohio. At the time, no one suspected Bonnie’s part in the jailbreak; the Times Herald’s coverage did not note anything “that even remotely linked Clyde’s female visitor” to the act (Guinn, 2009). Bonnie had committed her first criminal act and no one was the wiser.

The story of Bonnie and Clyde’s reunion and subsequent crime spree – and its bloody end in a shoot-out in rural Louisiana – became the stuff of legend. To this day, there are discrepancies and points of dissent woven throughout their brief, violent time together. In some cases, it can be hard to know exactly what is fact and what is fiction.

Which makes the rest of our story today even more fitting.

Governor Neff’s Collection
In our own way, the subject of this post – the calaboose register – is another part of the Bonnie and Clyde mystery. That’s because its provenance is only partially established, and as with any great mystery, it may never be fully solved.

We know for a fact that the register came to Baylor as part of the Pat Neff Collection. Neff, who served as governor of Texas from 1921 to 1925 and president of Baylor University from 1932-1947, left a huge collection of materials behind as part of The Texas Collection’s holdings. The materials cover such a large swath of Texas and Baylor history that it crosses over lines demarcating the University Archives and the Special Collections. It contains materials created by Neff during his time at Baylor and his time in Austin, as well as artifacts and documents he collected during his lifetime.

Which is why it is difficult to establish with certainty when the calaboose register became a part of Neff’s collection. Was it given to him by someone from McLennan County? Did he acquire it at an estate sale? Was it part of his law library or a curiosity he rescued from the scrapheap on a whim? To date, the exact path the register took from the desk of a McLennan County clerk to the collection of a former Texas governor is open for further research.

Just Another Day in the DPG
One question we can answer is how it came to the Digitization Projects Group. When Frank walked through our door with the register on a book truck, he had just finished restoring its cover. Benna Vaughn, the Special Collections and Manuscripts Archivist at The Texas Collection, had sent the register to Frank for repair after she spotted some mold damage on the binding. Frank expertly replaced the damaged section of the binding and even managed to preserve the original cover. Over the course of many hours spent poring over the volume in the course of his work, Frank noticed the dates covered by the volume and used his memory of the Clyde Barrow jailbreak to locate the entry seen above.

We routinely see these kinds of materials moving through the Riley Digitization Center. They are not scheduled as part of a larger collection but our expertise in scanning makes us a prime spot for people to bring materials like this. In some cases it’s because one of our colleagues knows someone in the DPG has an interest in the subject. In others, it’s a matter of sharing something too exciting to keep under wraps. For the most part, these one-offs will not make it online – although the register may one may day as part of the Pat Neff papers – but they do provide an opportunity for us to keep our scanning skills sharp, and sometimes they lead to a fun opportunity to share a story with a wider audience, as we’ve undertaken to do here.

If you’d like to see the Clyde Barrow calaboose register for yourself, call the fine people at The Texas Collection and ask to see the item from the Pat Neff Collection with ties to a high-stakes jailbreak involving two of America’s most notorious folk criminals. They’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.

For more great information on Bonnie and Clyde, including a display of weapons associated with their notorious partnership, visit the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco. Special thanks to Mary “Kate” McCarthy (Collections Assistant) and Shelly Crittendon (Collections Manager) for their most excellent help with this article.

Sources Consulted

Guinn, Jeff. Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde. Simon and Schuster, 2009.

Ramsey, Winston (ed.). On the Trail of Bonnie and Clyde: Then and Now. Battle of Britain Prints, 2003.

Veit, Richard. “The Waco Jailbreak of Bonnie and Clyde.” Waco Heritage and History magazine. December 1990.

“Killer in skirts.” Argosy magazine. March 1956. From the vertical files of The Texas Collection.

“Jail Break in Waco Was Early Episode in Clyde Barrow Career.” Waco Tribune Herald. October 26, 1975. From the vertical files of The Texas Collection.

Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker entries from the Texas Sate Historical Association’s “Handbook of Texas Online” (www.tshaonline.org)

A Bold New Venture for the DPG: Our First Graduate Course

Your humble blogger in museum professor attire, ca. Spring 2012. (The goatee is presently on sabbatical.)

The Digitization Projects Group moved into our current digs – the Riley Digitization Center – in October 2008. Since that time, we’ve grown to a staff of five full-time employees, four graduate assistants and up to ten undergraduate student workers at any given time. Our collections have grown from 12 to 57, and an item count of 27,000 exploded to just under 200,000. In short, our growth in just four years has been tremendous, and new opportunities to impact the world of academic scholarship continue to present themselves.

Our newest initiative will take us directly into the classroom – or, more accurately, the classroom will come to us. The upcoming Spring 2013 semester will see the first graduate course at Baylor University to be offered in the Riley Center, where students will receive advanced, hands-on training in digitization, materials curation, contextual research methods and marketing for digital collections/exhibits. Titled MST 5327: Technology and Outreach for Museums and Libraries, the course is an elective in the Master of Arts program in Museum Studies (MST), one of only a handful of such programs in the state of Texas. To our knowledge, it will be the only course of its kind in the state, and the hybrid nature of offering graduate level education in library/archival digitization procedures is a first in the field of Museum Studies curricula.

Museums, Libraries, Archives … and Scanners?

The Riley Center: through these doors pass the greatest students in the world

Some of you may be wondering how this kind of partnership came about. It comes down to three things: demand in the  marketplace, opportunity for experience and a curator that works for a library. As a proud alumnus of the Museum Studies program, I have been fortunate to keep a foot in both worlds – graduate trained in museum techniques and practices, but working in a digitization center – and this has led to some wonderful opportunities to give current MST grad students access to our advanced digitization center. For the past couple of years, we have employed graduate assistants from the MST program in the Riley Center, and their training in collections management and materials processing is a great complement to our work creating digital surrogates for physical materials.

My association with both departments led to some excellent conversations between the administrators and faculty in each area, and a common theme began to emerge: graduates of the MST program are entering a job field where they are competing with people who have years of experience in museum work, so any advantage we can give them during their graduate work will provide them one extra leg up on the competition. Potential employers are increasingly asking newly minted grads about their experience in creating, managing or otherwise overseeing digital records. From internal database systems like PastPerfect to using Flickr or Facebook for outreach, museums of all sizes are entering the digital collections realm in greater numbers every year, and graduates with experience and skills in the area are in high demand.

Baylor’s unique position of operating an advanced digitization center and being home to a graduate program in the world of cultural heritage creates a perfect opportunity to offer MST students advanced training in this burgeoning field. And so, a combination of an increasingly integrated relationship between the University Libraries and the Museum Studies program gave rise to the new course.

What Will They Learn, Exactly?

I am very excited to have been given the chance to create this new course from the ground up. Thanks to the enthusiastic backing of Dean Pattie Orr, VP for the Electronic Library Tim Logan and Manager of Digitization Projects Darryl Stuhr, we’re working to create an educational opportunity for MST grad students – 15 enrolled at present – to digitize materials from an archival collection, do contextual research on that collection, create a digital exhibit and then create a marketing plan explaining how to promote the exhibit to a defined target audience.

Sounds like a lot to cram into one semester, doesn’t it? We feel it’s actually very beneficial for the students for a number of reasons.

  • Documentable scanning experience on a variety of specialized – but applicable – technologies like flatbed scanners, database management systems and Web 2.0 tools
  • Opportunities to do deeper research for background and context setting for an archival collection
  • A pair of tangible outcomes (a digital collection and a marketing plan) that graduates can use as resume enhancements and examples of relevant, real world experience in the field

The course lectures will take place in a newly opened “smart” classroom located near the Riley Center, with the scanning, metadata cataloging and other digitization work carried out in the RDC. By the end of the semester, each student will have hands-on experience with technology and materials they would be hard-pressed to gain in any other museum studies graduate program, all before they cross the stage at their graduation ceremony.

It goes without saying that we’re excited about the possibilities of this course, and we hope it will provide interesting new opportunities for the furthering of a partnership between the Baylor libraries and the Department of Museum Studies. Certainly, it gives DPG staff a chance to contribute to the “transformational education” imperative outlined in Pro Futuris, the strategic vision for Baylor University set out by our administration earlier this year.

As part of their course requirements, the students in MST 5327 will be contributing to a course blog; when they’ve begun stretching their authorial muscles, we’ll post a link to this blog so you can follow along with their exploits. And look for additional updates via the Digital Collections blog over the course of the semester, as we think this course will be a valuable new avenue for outreach and impact centered on the work we’re doing in the DPG.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a syllabus to polish, a midterm to write and 15 graduate students to schedule for scanning service. Next semester is shaping up to be busier (and more exciting) than ever.

Taking Your Show on the Road? Take a Look at Our Checklist

Our gear for this week’s presentation (from top): USB clicker, artifacts, handouts, handouts and more handouts, all on a trusty book truck.

Friday is a big day for the Digitization Projects Group. That morning, Darryl Stuhr (Manager of Digitization Projects) and I will be presenting alongside Dean of Libraries Pattie Orr and VP for the Electronic Library Tim Logan to the Board of Directors for LEARN, a “consortium of 38 organizations throughout Texas” dedicated to “providing advanced network services for research, education, health care and economic development throughout Texas.” This will be the first time LEARN has held its Board of Directors meeting in Waco, and it’s a great opportunity to showcase our digital collections to a group of technology professionals from across the state.

We do dozens of presentations a year within our group. They range from in-house tours of the Riley Digitization Center to professional presentations at conferences and workshops. Even though our presentation this week will take place just a few buildings over from our home base in Moody Memorial Library, we’ll still be bringing a fair amount of materials and handouts with us, and that brought to mind a topic for this blog.

What does a traveling digitization expert pack for a presentation? We thought we’d share our checklist with you, so here’s a rundown for all you would-be road warriors out there.

Technology

One of the first things you learn from off-site presentations is never to trust the setup in the room where you’ll be presenting. Despite people’s best intentions, there’s always the chance that something will go wrong. So you pack for as many potential pitfalls as possible.

–       50-foot extension cord

–       Power strip

–       Projector with extra bulb

–       Laptop-to-projector cords and adapters

–       Power cables for laptop, projector

–       USB remote for advancing slideshows

–       Multiple copies of presentation saved online and on removable media (flash drive)

Handouts

People love technology, and slick PowerPoints do a great job of showcasing your materials, but there’s still a great deal to be said about physical handouts. Depending on the topic and audience, our handouts might include:

–       One-sheet overview of the Digitization Projects Group or the Riley Center

–       Copies of the PowerPoint presentation

–       Flyers and brochures promoting your collections

–       Business cards

Artifacts

Here’s where things can get a bit more challenging. If your presentation can benefit from presenting the originals – like we plan to do Friday with the second volume of the War of the Rebellion Atlas and a 16-inch radio transcription disc – you have to make extra arrangements for secure transportation of a very valuable physical asset. If you’ll be bringing the “real thing” with you, it might be useful to have:

–       Specialized cases or reinforced storage boxes

–       Foam inserts and extra padding for last-minute reconfigurations within a storage box

–       A box truck or other cart for easier transport from vehicles to buildings

–       A hand truck (dolly)

Miscellaneous

There’s no way you can prepare for any eventuality, but we’ve learned (sometimes from painful experience) that a few of these essentials may be helpful when you’re far from home and expected to perform for a crowd.

–       Breath mints/gum/Altoids

–       A mini sewing kit (for those inconvenient popped-button emergencies)

–       An extra phone charger or USB cord

–       Migraine, sinus relief, indigestion and prescription medications (and extras!)

–       Extra copies of tax exempt status form for hotel stays

–       AA and AAA batteries

–       Spare presentation clothes. Seriously. If you’ve ever had to scour a Kohl’s department store in Lubbock, Texas 30 minutes before a presentation looking for slacks to replace the ones you ripped while getting out of a rental car at 8:30 in the morning you’ll know what I’m talking about. All I can say is thank goodness for extended shopping hours around the holidays.

If presentations at home or abroad are in your future, we hope this checklist will give you a starting point for the things you’ll need to succeed. We’d love to hear your tips and tricks for successful presentations in the comments, so fire away!