Louisiana Americana

Today, we were in Northern Louisiana to see some Americana.

Our first stop was West Monroe – Duck Commander country. I expected a really small, sleepy town. West Monroe and neighboring Monroe together make a pretty good sized city that is far from sleepy. West Monroe has a population of about 13,000. Across the Ouachita River to the east is Monroe, which has a population of about 49,000 people. These two little towns feel like one town to me. For my fellow Californians, population wise, these two towns combined have a few thousand less people than our home town of Redondo Beach.

Duck Commander Headquarters!

Duck Commander Headquarters!

For a Monday morning in January, I was surprised to see so many people here. Lots of cars, and a real cross section of people. Everybody was taking pictures of the building and the infamous motor home where Uncle Si served up his Vietnam Beans! The building looked somewhat smaller than I expected, but once we got inside, it felt pretty large. None of the TV characters were present when we were there. I wonder if they ever come out and make an appearance?

Duck Commander Store

Duck Commander Store

We bought a few items, including one of the cheaper duck calls. It was great fun. Judging by how many people were in there buying things, I suspect that the Robertson clan makes a pretty good amount of money off of this place.

Heres the Motorhome. I was temped to try to peer in the windows, but didn’t want to get that close.

Duck Commander Mobile Unit!

Duck Commander Mobile Unit!

There were people working on the shipping dock nearby, behind a sign that said “Employees Only.” I think they must shoot the actual show on the other side of the building, as I don’t remember seeing the store entrance before. Who knows – they might have the building set up as a sound stage somewhere.

It was fun making a visit here. I’d recommend it to Duck Dynasty fans.

Now we turn to a little darker piece of Americana.

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I have always been interested in the dark underside of American history. The crime wave of the early 1930s is one of my favorite periods, and I’ve read quite a lot about John Dillinger, the Barker/Karpis Gang, Pretty Boy Floyd, and others of that time.

Then there was Barrow Gang. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. As with many others in my generation, the 1967 film about Bonnie and Clyde really captured my imagination. I was in 7th grade when I saw it. This movie created quite a sensation at the time, which is kind of funny when you contrast it to the “flower power” movement going on at the same time.

After the movie became a hit, new books on Bonnie and Clyde with movie stills on the cover started showing up, and the older books about them in libraries became pretty hard to get – a waiting list to check them out was the norm.

Most of what I read about Bonnie and Clyde was from the older books, published long before the hysteria. The best of these was a book about Frank Hamer, the Texas Ranger who was instrumental in taking them down. This was the first time in my young life when I realized that historical movies coming out of Hollywood rarely tell the whole truth.

The real Bonnie and Clyde

The real Bonnie and Clyde

Bonnie and Clyde were not romantic, misunderstood people, as the 1967 movie and the 2013 miniseries suggest. They weren’t “Robin Hoods” either. They were very dark hearted, cold blooded killers.

One cannot make a case for them being good at what they did, either. Compared to John Dillinger, who carefully cased banks, planned well, pulled off fairly complex jobs, and rarely killed anybody, Bonnie and Clyde were pikers. The Barrow Gang rarely robbed banks. More often than not, they knocked over gas stations and grocery stores, hauling in amounts that were generally $100 or less. They were good at killing people, though, racking up about 14 murders in their brief career. Most of the victims were police officers.

Many people in the 1930s cheered on the desperadoes like John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd, because they were widely perceived as being decent people forced into breaking the law by the depression. Not so with Bonnie and Clyde…..people knew they were dangerous psychopaths who would kill innocent people at the drop of a hat. My Grandfather told me a little about them after I raved about the 1967 movie in front of him. The Barrow Gang ran a rampage through Iowa, and the people living there at the time, including my Grandfather, were scared to death of them. Buck Barrow was killed near Dexter, Iowa in 1933, in a big shootout that also left Bonnie, Clyde, and W.D. Jones wounded.

After I learned all of this, was I still interested in Bonnie and Clyde? Yes, more than ever. Part of the reason for that was the fascinating accounts of their crime careers and the hunt to capture them that I read in the older books. This really gave me a feel for what Depression-era America was like. Another part was the pictures – those taken by the gang and lost in one of the shootouts, and other pictures that have showed up in books over the years. The pictures the gang took are very famous and can be seen in books and all over the internet. The infamous “cigar” shot of Bonnie is part of this group of pictures. These pictures are a window into a time which is now long gone.

Gibsland is a small town just south of I-20 on old Hwy 154. I don’t know if it was ever much of a town, but today there isn’t much there. There is one small street (Main St, of course) that has a handful of buildings on either side, plus a couple of ruined buildings.

Formerly Canefield's Cafe

Formerly Canefield’s Cafe

Bonnie and Clyde ate their last meal at Canefield’s Cafe. The building still exists today. It houses the Bonnie and Clyde Ambush Museum, which is run by L.J. “Boots” Hinton. Boots is the son of Ted Hinton, one of the officers that participated in the ambush. The museum is definitely worth a visit. Boots Hinton is a really interesting guy. He LOVES to talk, and will answer any questions you might have. After paying the fee, he takes you through a door into a simple theater, and puts on a DVD about the Barrow Gang. The first part of the DVD is a short modern film, with lots of good info. The second part is an old film (I would guess 1930s) about Bonnie and Clyde. I’ve seen parts of the old film before, but never the whole thing. It was worth watching.

After the DVD, you are free to browse through the museum, which has lots of interesting stuff. Pictures, newspaper clippings, items taken from the “death car”, and pieces of memorabilia from other incidents in the career of the Barrow Gang. I would say 45 minutes to an hour is a good amount of time to spend in there.

The actual death scene is south about 8 miles on Hwy 154. It’s a spot with a gravel turnout on each side of the road. Watch for the sign that says “Historic Marker, 1 mile” – it lets you know you are getting close.

Bonnie and Clyde Marker

Bonnie and Clyde Marker

The marker is very badly damaged. The edges are all chipped away, the victim of souvenir collectors over the years. There are also bullet marks. I’m wondering how the shooters enjoyed the ricochets that must have happened when they blasted away at this thick piece of stone. The wood framing on the lower right side of the picture is for the new marker, which is under construction. I think they need to make it out of something stronger than stone.

Driving down the road from Gibsland to this site is an experience in itself. It’s kind of eerie. The feel is completely different from the interstates we’ve been traveling most of the time. It’s narrow, and it makes you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. The vibe wants to slip into the 1930s……until a 2008 Silverado cruises by.

I expected the death site to feel sad. It didn’t to me…..I’m sitting here wondering why. Perhaps it’s because I know that these people aren’t really worthy of mourning, even if we are fascinated by them.

Tomorrow it’s off to the Texas Hill Country.

Categories: Life on the Road | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Louisiana Americana

  1. Interesting how Hollywood glorifies criminals and I did not know Monroe was that large. Enjoy the Hill country. We’ll be heading in that direction in February. So hopefully you’ll share lots of info 🙂

    • Bob

      Thanks, Ingrid! We’ll put some stuff up for the Hill Country. Looking forward to exploring here.

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