The Best Biography Yet Of This Legendary
Lawman Has Some Timeless Lessons In It.
By Massad Ayoob
I was at a Glock match in Salt Lake City when my friend Randy Lish, historian of the Old West and retired cop, told me his fellow historian John Boessenecker was writing a new and definitive biography of legendary lawman Frank Hamer. I waited impatiently for a pre-publication review copy from then on. It turned out to be worth the wait.
I’m Frank Hamer, the 1968 bio by H. Gordon Frost, was good. So was Gene Shelton’s 1997 Manhunter: the Life and Times of Frank Hamer. But I think both are eclipsed in scope and research by Boesseneker’s Texas Ranger: the Epic Life of Frank Hamer, the Man Who Killed Bonnie and Clyde.
I believe my friend Clint Smith originated the phrase “A handgun is for fighting your way to a long gun you shouldn’t have left behind.” Before Clint coined that line, Frank Hamer lived it. Hamer claimed to have been in 52 shooting incidents. In one of the first of his most famous, a standoff with murderer Ed Putnam, Hamer used, “a Winchester Model 1894 saddle-ring carbine” to kill Putnam with a bullet beneath the eye. Though many photos exist of Hamer with a Colt single action on his right hip and a Winchester (or, in one case, a Savage Model 99 lever-action) in hand, the Remington Model 8 autoloader appears to have been his favorite rifle. He used a series of them through his career in calibers .25 Remington, .30 Remington and .35 Remington.
In 1921, he used a Remington Model 8 in a rifle duel with another highly skilled rifleman in a shootout near the Rio Grande. Rafael Lopez, a serial murderer and cop-killer, grazed Hamer’s cheek with a bullet, but Hamer pumped a .25 Remington slug into Lopez’ heart, killing him instantly. Three years before, near Brownsville, Hamer witnessed fugitive Encarnacion Delgado shoot down a fellow Ranger, Sergeant Tim Timberlake. Hamer returned fire with his Remington Model 8 so fast one witness said the muzzle flashes in the dark looked like a pear burner. All five .25 Remington bullets struck Delgado, fatally avenging the mortally wounded ranger. In 1934 Hamer upgraded to .35 Remington in the same type of rifle––the gun he fired into the Ford V8 containing Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.
John Boesseneker confirms other historical accounts, saying Hamer
used a Smith & Wesson Triple Lock .44 Special like this one to
kill Gee McMeans.
One of Hamer’s many Remington Model 8’s displayed at the
Texas Ranger Museum includes this fine engraved model.
Like other Hamer biographers, Boesseneker confirms the famed ranger’s favorite sidearm was a Colt Single Action Army .45 with a 4-3/4-inch barrel and Type C (almost full coverage) engraving, which Hamer nicknamed “Old Lucky.” A few years ago, his SAA revolver sold at auction for $165,000. However, it certainly wasn’t his only one. Fellow gun writer Jim Wilson established through the Hamer family that Frank had bought a Colt Super .38 auto expressly for the Bonnie and Clyde manhunt, due to the round’s ability to shoot through auto bodies. He was reportedly wearing it, along with Old Lucky, on the day he and his posse killed the deadly duo.
Prior to the Bonnie and Clyde incident, Hamer’s most famous gunfight is probably the one in Sweetwater, Texas, in 1917, when two assassins ambushed him and his wife, Gladys. While Gladys’ determined fire with her Colt Pocket Model auto kept one gunman at bay, another named Gee McMeans rushed Hamer and shot him in his right thigh and left shoulder with a Colt 1911 .45 auto. Hamer grappled with him, grabbing the pistol and jamming the slide out of battery, then ripping it from his hand. McMeans ran to his car to get a pump shotgun as his accomplice, Red Phillips, fired at Hamer’s head from 3 feet away with an autoloading shotgun and missed, though the concussion dropped Hamer to his knees. As McMeans rushed toward Hamer with the pump gun to deliver the coup de grace, Hamer drew his S&W Triple-Lock, carried in a shoulder holster as a backup to Old Lucky, and put a .44 Special slug through McMeans’ heart, killing him outright. Phillips fled and was captured later.
Legend has always had it that a Grand Jury had been meeting in the courthouse across the street, saw the whole thing and returned a “No True Bill” on Hamer then and there. Boesseneker’s research shows their decision didn’t come until about 5 days later. (Dang… I hate it when a great courthouse story goes up in smoke.) I’m also wondering why, in 2015, the Texas Ranger Museum in Waco had a top-break S&W No. 3 single-action on display as the gun Hamer used to kill McMeans, when all other historians seem to agree the Ranger used a Triple-Lock.
I strongly recommend Boessenecker’s book as a great, well-researched read. My only complaint is with the publisher, who chose to print “Bonnie and Clyde” in bigger letters than “Frank Hamer” on the cover as well as printing their faces bigger than his. Those two vicious psychopathic murderers were no Robin Hood and Maid Marian, and neither was fit to scrape horse manure off the boots of a genuine American hero like Frank Hamer.
Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer; the Man Who Killed Bonnie and Clyde, John Boessenecker, ©2016, Hardcover, 528 pages, 60 b&w photos, $29.99, ISBN: 9781250069986, St. Martin’s Press, 175 5th Avenue, NY, NY 10010