Frank Hamer and His Guns; The Moment He Almost Kept LBJ From Stealing an Election

Francis Augustus Hamer (March 17, 1884 – July 10, 1955) is best known for ambushing Bonnie and Clyde in 1934. His reputation as a Texas Ranger would have made him a legend even if he had not ambushed Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker in Louisiana. Frank Hamer was born in Fairview, Wilson County, Texas. 1894 the family moved to Oxford in Llano County and Frank worked in his dad’s blacksmith shop.

In 1905, he captured a horse thief while he was working on a ranch in West Texas. Hamer was a cowboy on the Carr Ranch, between Sheffield and Fort Stockton when he captured the horse thief. Sheriff D. S. Barker recommended Hamer for a position with the Texas Rangers.

On April 21, 1906, Hamer enlisted as a Texas Ranger. Working primarily along the South Texas border, Hamer became known as an expert shot. Four of his five brothers also became Texas Rangers.

Hamer’s first stint as a Texas Ranger was with Captain John H. Rogers’s Company C. In his first assignment he put a stop to murders and riots in the Rio Grande Valley that, notwithstanding the efforts of federal troops, had been raging unabated for many months. He resigned in 1908 to become the Marshall in Navasota, Texas, a violent boom town in which “shootouts on the main street were so frequent that in two years at least a hundred men died.”

At the age of 24 years old, Hamer established and maintained order in Navasota. The town had seen over one hundred men killed in shootouts but the town became tame while Hamer was the city marshal.

In 1911, Hamer started working as a special investigator in Houston. Hamer was also an officer for Harris County before joining the Rangers again in 1915 and was assigned to patrol the South Texas border around Brownsville. The Rangers were dealing with arms smuggling, bandits and bootleggers along the Mexican border. Hamer left the Rangers and then returned again in 1921, transferring to Austin where he served as Senior Ranger Captain. In the 1920s, Hamer brought law and order to oil towns such as Mexia and Borger.

Frank Hamer hated corruption of any kind- even when other police officers were involved! In 1928, The Texas Bankers’ Association gave rewards to officers that set up certain petty criminals to be killed so that corrupt police officers could collect the rewards and pay finder’s fees. The police and the Bankers’ Association’s refused to cooperate with Hamer’s investigation. Hamer took such murder and corruption personally and wrote a detailed exposé of the “the bankers’ murder machine” which he handed out in Austin.

Hamer also provided a restraining influence during a Depression era race riot. The 1930 Sherman riot made Texas notorious for its racial animosity. The lynching of a black prisoner in Sherman started when George Hughes, a farm hand, admitted to raping a white woman. Hughes trial was scheduled for trial within a week and a mob gathered outside the jail every night.

Captain Frank Hamer, two other rangers and a police sergeant escorted Hughes to trial where a crowd packed the entire area of the courthouse. The crowd threw stones at the courthouse, forced the doors to the courtroom corridor and rushed toward the courtroom. Hamer and the other peace officers used warning shots and tear gas to break the crowd up on more than one occasion while Hughes was locked in the district court vault for safety. A rumor had been circulated that the Rangers had orders from the Governor not to shoot.

Nevertheless, Hamer used buckshot on the crowd and wounded at least two as they charged up the stairs of the courthouse. When asked by one of the rioters whether he would surrender the prisoner, Hamer replied,”Any time you feel lucky come on, but when you start up the stairway once more, there is going to be many funerals in Sherman.” This quieted the crowd for twenty or thirty minutes according to Hamer’s official statement. Judge Carter stopped the trial and planned a change of venue.

That afternoon, the lynch mob threw gasoline into the courthouse; the rangers attempted to rescue the prisoner while the mob prevented firemen from putting out the fire and cut their hoses. Soon only the walls and the vault remained. The mob battled National Guardsmen who were sent into Sherman by Governor Moody and tried to break into the vault. The mob succeeded in breaking open the vault and dragging Hughes’ dead body behind a car, then hanging it from a tree where they set it on fire.

The mob, estimated at 5,000 people, then proceeded to burn black businesses. Governor Moody dispatched more National Guard units and martial law was in effect from May 10 until May 24. Two men were convicted and sentenced to two-year terms and more lynching and riots ensued in Texas and Oklahoma.

Hamer spent 27 years with the Rangers. He hated political corruption as much as he hated murder and the other lawless activities that characterized Texas in the early Twentieth Century. He and forty other Rangers resigned to avoid serving under “Ma” Ferguson. In her first term as governor of Texas, Gov. Ferguson had proven that she was corrupt. At the beginning of her second term, she fired all the Rangers that remained and appointed replacements for them. Hamer retained a Special Ranger commission after retirement and he put it to good use.

Clyde Barrow’s gang shot and wounded two prison guards – one fatally- during a prison breakout in 1934. Barrow, Parker and associate Jimmy Mullens engineered the Eastham prison farm escape and freed Raymond Hamilton, Henry Methvin, Hilton Bybee and Joe Palme. The stage was now set for Frank Hamer to accept a commission to hunt down the Barrow Gang as a special investigator for the prison system.

Hamer, by then an accomplished detective and gunfighter, studied the way in which Barrow made a wide circle along certain state borders. In those days officers from one state were legally prohibited from chasing suspects across the border of another state. Midwestern banks were easy picking for a gang that outgunned the cops with fully automatic 30.06 Browning Automatic Rifles and fast cars. The Barrow Gang robbed banks in Oklahoma, Texas and Iowa with Hamer in hot pursuit.

The gang murdered two Texas Highway Patrol officers at Grapevine, Texas. Five days later Barrow and Methvin killed Constable Cal Campbell and kidnapped Commerce, Oklahoma Chief of Police Percy Boyd. Clyde certainly did not intend to be taken alive.

In mid-March Henry Methvin’s family contacted law enforcement in Louisiana. Sheriff Henderson Jordan and his deputy, Prentiss Oakley, joined Hamer along with former Ranger Manny Gault. Dallas County Sheriff’s Deputy Bob Alcorn and another Dallas County deputy, Ted Hinton, had previously been involved in an attempt to ambush Barrow and Parker, in November 1933. Hinton requested a BAR because he knew that the lawmen would be up against more than one BAR that Barrow had stolen from a National Guard armory and with which Barrow had already gunned down several peace officers.

According to Rick Cartledge in THE GUNS OF FRANK HAMER:

“Frank Hamer Jr., a distinguished lawman in his own right, gave a filmed interview in which he showed the nimble .35 that his father had bought especially to go after Bonnie and Clyde. As to the rifle’s ability to tear holes in a V8 Ford, Frank Hamer had an unimpeachable source – Clyde Barrow. Though Clyde and Bonnie escaped the Sowers ambush by Dallas County authorities in November of 1933, Clyde ditched his shot up car near the Ft. Worth Pike and commandeered a less damaged car to make good their flight to freedom. The abandoned V8 spoke volumes to the able lawmen of Dallas County and to the Rangers. Ted Hinton had hit the car 17 out of 30 shots with his Thompson submachine gun and hadn’t penetrated the car body. Veteran Deputy Bob Alcorn had chugged away with his hefty Browning Automatic Rifle and ripped some respectable holes all the way through the car. Hinton called his Congressman, got a BAR from the government and a back seat full of ammunition, and learned how to shoot the roaring automatic rifle.”

Lawmen and outlaws confronted one another at 9:15 a.m. on May 23, 1934. Hamer and his men engineered the moment of the ambush with help from informants. After 102 days of hunting Barrow, Frank Hamer and his posse were ready for Barrow’s gang when they stopped at the ambush spot on a road near Gibsland, Louisiana.

Deputy Oakley fired the opening burst from his Remington Model 8. A round in Barrow’s left temple laid him out dead. The posse may have fired as many as 150 rounds.

Hamer used a customized .35 Remington Model 8 semiautomatic rifle with a special-order 15-round magazine. The Model 8 was one of at least two Model 8’s used in the ambush. The rifle was modified to accept a “police only” 15-round magazine.

Cartledge provides some interesting comments that contradict the conventional belief that Hamer also toted a 1911 pistol in .45 ACP:

“Two months later, Frank Hamer opted for the Remington .35 as his hole puncher and he picked an interesting pistol to go with his quick-pointing rifle. To front for “Old Lucky”, Capt. Hamer stuffed a blue steel Colt commercial automatic in his belt and it is this gun that is most interesting to this writer. I had long suspected that this Colt was not a .45 but one of the then new .38 Supers and I had three reasons for believing this. First, gangsters (Dillinger, Nelson, etc.) as well as lawmen had caught on to bullet proof vests and their resistance to .45 caliber penetration. Second, gangster use of the .38 Super to telling effect was known and thugs had even hammered the .38 Super into the extremely deadly machine pistol configuration. Two of these 22 round magazine equipped death machines were confiscated in a raid on John Dillinger’s apartment in St. Paul in April of 1933. These Supers belonged to Nelson and were assembled from kits made by the Monarch Gun Company of Hollywood, California by underworld gunsmith H. S. Lebman of Texas. Nelson killed Federal Agent Baum at Little Bohemia with a .38 Super machine pistol. The third reason springs from a fortunate experiment done by a friend of mine in 1939 on a dare. Joseph Pinkston in his excellent book, with Robert Cromie, “Dillinger, A Short and Violent Life” writes of the apprehension of Dillinger gang member Leslie Homer and of his advice given to Racine officers in November of 1933. Since Capt. Hamer was known to have followed the Dillinger case as a matter of professional curiosity, he may well have been familiar with Homer’s published remarks which were “If you want to give your coppers an even break with present-day gangsters, you want to equip them with the new Super .38 caliber. A gun of that type will shoot a hole right through any bulletproof vest ever made.”

The March, 1992 issue of Guns and Ammo’s “HANDGUNS FOR SPORT AND DEFENSE” magazine contains an interview with Frank Hamer Jr. who confirmed that his father’s Colt was a .38 Super.

At about 9:15 AM just after the thundering torrent of lead subsided, Frank Hamer, Sr. approached the 1934 Ford V8 with his 1911 style .38 Super drawn. He knew that if any members of the Barrow gang survived the fusillade, a .38 Super round would penetrate the vehicle’s heavy steel body and body armor, too, if necessary! Ted Hinton, in his book “Ambush“, declares that two of the Colt automatics at the ambush were .38 Supers.

There seems to be a consensus that Hamer carried a 1911 chambered in .38 Super when he ambushed Bonnie and Clyde:

For most of his career, Hamer carried an engraved .45 Colt M1873 SAA revolver with 4.75″ barrel (pp. HT110, OW86, W:D71) called “Old Lucky,” either in a holster on his right side, or, when he was no longer required to ride a horse, simply tucked into his waistband. When expecting a gunfight, he also took a .44 S&W Hand-Ejector revolver with 6.5″ barrel for backup. His favorite longarm was a .30-30 Winchester M1894 lever-action rifle.

However, for the hunt on Bonnie & Clyde, he replaced the S&W revolver with a .38 Colt Super Auto pistol (pp. HT108, W:D71) and the lever-action rifle with a .35 Remington Model 8 semiautomatic rifle (p. W:D72) with 20-round magazine extension (both weapons offering superior penetration against bullet-proof vests and the heavy Ford V8 sedans Clyde Barrow was partial to).

Hamer also owned many other guns. When the posse assembled in a hurry in a Louisiana hinterwald small town, three of the men could not bring their own long arms, and were outfitted from Hamer’s personal rolling arsenal — Gault got Hamer’s .25 Remington Model 8 semiautomatic rifle, Alcorn his .30-30 Winchester M1894 carbine, and Hinton his .30-06 Colt R80 Monitor machine rifle (a variant of the M1918 BAR which was the chosen armament of the outlaws).

See FRANK HAMER, TEXAS RANGER by Hans-Christian Vortisch.

After the Hollywood version of Bonnie and Clyde, Mrs. Frank Hamer and Frank Hamer, Jr., sued Warner Bros.-Seven Arts for the defamatory manner in which the movie depicted the famous lawman. In 1971, they received an out-of-court settlement.

In 1948, Hamer accompanied Gov. Coke Stevenson to the Texas State Bank in Alice, county seat of Jim Wells County in South Texas. Stevenson wanted to examine the tally sheets in the ballot box for Precinct 13; i.e.,fraudulent poll and tally lists for his opponent, then Congressman Lyndon Johnson.

Coke Robert Stevenson (March 20, 1888– June 28, 1975) was the only 20th century Texas politician to serve as Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, as Lieutenant Governor and then as governor.

At about the age of sixteen Coke Stevenson began his career as the sole proprietor of a freight hauling business traveling back and forth across the rugged Hill Country of West Texas every week. The roads were poor and Stevens crossed several rivers with steep banks and few bridges. He slept under his horse drawn wagon in bad weather and studied accounting alone by the light of campfires often with snow and rain falling around him.

Over many lonely, weary years, he earned the absolute confidence of his neighbors hauling their goods to market. He eventually took a job in a bank and started the study of law the old fashioned way- reading law books in a nearby law office. His trial practice in Texas made him one of the greatest trial lawyers ever to try a case in a state known for famous trial lawyers.

His entrance into politics commenced when local leaders asked Hamer to catch a crew of rustlers that included the son of a prominent ranching family. After catching the rustlers, Hamer led a successful effort to organize his neighbors and several other counties around Kimble County to improve the roads so that merchants and farmers could get their products to and from places like San Antonio.

Stevenson succeeded W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel as governor in 1941 when O’Daniel resigned to take a seat in the U.S. Senate. Stevenson was elected to a full term in 1942, winning the Democratic primary with 69% and being unopposed in the general election. He was elected to a second term in 1944 and was the longest-serving governor in the history of Texas. He was a conservative Democrat who loved the Constitution and believed that the federal government needed to let states like Texas take control of their own destinies at a time when Truman and the national Democrats were desperately seeking a deal to force out state’s rights Democrats that were threatening to keep Texas out of Truman’s clutches.

The conservative ranchers and almost everyone else in Texas loved Coke Stevenson and what he stood for. Known as Mr. Texas, Stevenson represented a kind of independent thinking in politics that makes it now seem inevitable that he and his old hunting partner, Frank Hamer, would be destined to walk down the streets of Alice together under the hard stares of George Parr’s pistoleros most of whom were armed with rifles and shotguns.

In 1948, Stevenson led the Democratic primary with 39.7% to 33.7% against Lyndon B. Johnson. LBJ won the runoff by only 87 votes out of a total of 988,295. When Stevenson sent lawyers to Alice demanding to see the voting records (pursuant to Texas voting statutes) their lawful demands were refused. Stevenson and Hamer met the lawyers at the Alice Hotel and Hamer told them to take off their coats so that the well-armed gangs employed by the Duke of Duvall,George Parr, would know that they were unarmed.

Hamer also took off his own coat and displayed the weapon that he was still authorized to carry in retirement as a “Special Ranger” employed by the Texas Oil Company.

Hamer and Stevenson were both tall with big shoulders and carried themselves in a way that stated they meant business. The young lawyers following those two Texas legends saw groups of armed men standing all around the street. There were about five men directly in Hamer’s path wearing guns. A larger group stood in the doorway of the bank where Johnson’s cronies illegally kept the election records.

It was well known in Texas that Hamer had killed fifty-three men, been wounded seventeen times and left for dead more than once. A gunman had once jumped out to prevent him from testifying in a trial. Shot at point blank range, Hamer snatched the jammed gun out of the assassin’s hand when a second assailant started blazing away at Hamer. Hamer was still on his feet as one of the fleeing hit men turned to shoot. Hamer only had one good hand left but he dropped his opponent dead.

Such a reputation is in itself a most intimidating weapon and Hamer never slowed down as he approached Parr’s gunmen. “Git!”, he admonished and then, “Fall back!”. When he got to the next group, his fingers curled for the draw and poised just above the grip of his pistol. The gun men fell back but then they tried to follow Stevenson into the bank. Hamer stood in the doorway of the bank and a long confrontation ensued until finally Parr’s gunmen walked away.

The lawyers got to look at the records just long enough to make notes and it soon became apparent that Lyndon Johnson had engaged in a massive election fraud that was unprecedented even by the standards then prevalent in Texas where ranchers and political bosses were able to deliver blocs of voters to candidates willing to pay the highest price.

The Democratic State Central Committee proclaimed Johnson the winner of the primary by a 29-28 vote (then a deal was consummated in which state’s rights Democrats were run out of the convention) while Stevenson was granted an injunction by the federal district court. Thus, Johnson was off the ballot in the general election unless Johnson could do something quickly.

His lawyers argued about strategy for hours and Johnson finally turned to Abe Fortas who happened to be in nearby Dallas on business. Fortas advised them to make an argument to a Court of Appeals judge that they knew would quickly rule against Johnson- thereby avoiding the usual delays that occur when judges take cases under advisement- often for days and weeks- during which the deadline for getting on the ballot would be lost for LBJ. By doing so, Johnson’s legal team got the case in front of Associate Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black.

Black ruled that the federal district court lacked jurisdiction and that the question was for the Central Committee to decide. He ordered the lower court’s injunction stayed, and the ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court. In those days, Republicans had no possibility of winning a Senatorial race and the ruling ensured that Johnson was elected to the U.S. Senate from Texas.

Nevertheless, the brief opportunity to look at the election documents inside the bank was made possible by Hamer’s 200 yard walk down the center of Alice, Texas with his coat off. The testimony that the lawyer’s gathered- as a result of the names of voter’s that later testified they had never voted- and jotted down while in the bank- demonstrated, beyond any doubt, according to Robert Caro (the definitive Johnson biographer)- that Lyndon Johnson had personally conducted one of the most massive election frauds in U.S. electoral history.

Many of the accusations and dirty tricks that Johnson displayed have become standard protocol for modern day Democrats. Johnson went on to take the Senate seat that he stole from Stevenson and Stevenson retired to Junction, Texas.

Disenchanted with the Democratic Party, Coke Stevenson supported Republicans for the rest of his life, including John Tower for the Senate and Nixon and Goldwater for the presidency. Frank Hamer, on the other hand, retired in 1949 and lived in Austin until his death in 1955. He is buried in Austin. In his life he was wounded 17 times, left for dead four times and he killed between 53 and 70 people.

1 reply
  1. Greg
    Greg says:

    Hammer carried his Triplelock in a shoulder holster. A 6 1/2 inch gun would have been difficult to use. Add to this, all his SAA pistols were short barreled. I would have expected he would have carried a 4 inch Triplelock. Is there a reference for the 6 1/2 inch Triplelock?

    Reply

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