COMMERCE — As the notorious crime spree of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow — commonly known as “Bonnie and Clyde” – drew near to its end, their path would draw a bloody streak across northeast Oklahoma.
Constable William “Cal” Campbell, had the misfortune of being Ottawa County's first lawman to die on duty some 83 years ago when the deadly duo rolled through the region in 1934.
Campbell would be mortally wounded during an encounter on Friday, April 6, 1934, and with him, Chief of Police Percy Boyd wounded and taken hostage.
Campbell was Barrow’s 13th and last murder victim in the pair’s crime spree in the Midwest. Days later, Boyd was released nine miles south of Fort Scott.
A brush with fate, silver spoons
As reported previously by the Miami News-Record, days before the fatal encounter, heavy rains soaked the area which led to the Ford automobile driven by Barrows, Parker and Henry Methvin getting stuck in the mud.
Dorothy Lee (Morgan) Barton shares the tale of that fateful day when her mother and siblings bore witness to what would be a pivotal moment in one of the most infamous series of crimes in American history:
On Friday, April 6, 1934, Yvonne (Morgan) Allen was 3 years old. Her mother, Edna Morgan was 37; her father, George Wayne Morgan Sr. was 57. Edna and George’s other children were at home during the incident – George Wayne Morgan Jr. age 12, Ralph, age 11, Sug, age 8, Dorothy (the narrator through H. Dale Allen), age 6 and Billie Jean, just 6 months old. The youngest daughter, Dora May had not been born yet.
The Morgan’s lived in a small dilapidated shack just a few feet west from the Northeastern Oklahoma railroad tracks on the West New State Road in Commerce, Oklahoma. Many hobos rode the rails and jumped off the train cars as they approached the Morgan home. Word had spread that the lady of the house was sympathetic and would feed them if they knocked on her door and politely asked for food and water.
Edna rarely turned anyone away in need of food even though she was dirt poor herself. Their only income was from bootleg whiskey, what they could grow in their garden, the milk from one cow, a few eggs the chickens laid, and an occasional butchered pig.
In George’s earlier years, before Edna, he had been well off, owning several businesses in the Seneca, Missouri area. One business was a bar in which he did rather well. Problems arose because he considered himself quite the “Ladies Man.” In those days he was well dressed, extremely handsome with piercing blue eyes, and the proper manners to swoon the girls. Those good looks and devious ways got him into trouble. He wooed the wrong woman. She was married and her husband found out about the affair. Her husband literally chased George out of town with a shotgun. Fleeing the scene left George practically penniless. He was able to purchase the old house in Commerce by the railroad tracks. This is when he met Grandma Edna. He hired her as housekeeper. She lived in his house for two years before marrying him.
She didn’t trust the hobos; in fact, she was somewhat afraid of them. They were not allowed in the house. Edna told them to wash their hands, sit on the cellar door, and wait for her to prepare the food. When the food was ready, she would always have them pray with her before allowing them to eat. She had warned her children that if anyone knocked on the door then they should immediately hide under the kitchen table with its drooping tablecloth to conceal them. She had empathy for the hobos but took precaution in protecting her children.
On one occasion there was a knock on the door and Yvonne hollered, “Come in.” The largest foul man with raggy clothes and a long scroungy beard entered the house. Looking at him she and her siblings were terrified and all ran to hide under the table. Edna chased him out of the house; and told Yvonne to never holler “Come in” again. That was the only man never receiving a meal in the Morgan house.
On that Friday in 1934 there was the sound of cars driving way too fast down the gravel road. Loud voices. Gunshots! Panic!
George wasn’t home. Edna shouted to her children, “Get under the table, now!”
They rushed under the table except for the older boys. (Dorothy was in charge to keep them hiding, but had a hard time constraining little Yvonne, who wanted to see what was happening).
Edna, George Jr., and Ralph were peeking from behind the door trying to see what the ruckus was about. They saw people in the stuck car when the police stopped to help them. They heard shots and saw one of the officers fall. They saw the occupants of the car grab one of the wounded officers forcing him into their car.
They saw the frantic attempts to get the car out of the mud, to finally at gun point force a trucker to pull them out of the mud, and speed away.
After things calmed down, Edna allowed George Jr. to go down the road where the car had been stuck in the mud and people had been shooting. The scene was bloody. The dead body had been removed, but the surrounding mud with deep ruts was drenched with blood. As boys are, George was curious. He explored the area, dug in the mud, and found pieces of evidence. Shell castings, muddy clothing, and some silverware with the initials “BP.”
Edna did not know who the people were until the next day. She couldn’t believe they had actually seen Bonnie and Clyde. Saw them shoot the deputy. Saw them drive away as if the hounds of hell were after them. She told George Jr, “Those silver forks, spoons, and knives you found with the initials “BP” belonged to Bonnie Parker.”
George was ecstatic, he couldn’t believe he found silverware that belonged to the famous but notorious Bonnie and Clyde.
Edna said, “It’s tainted and evil, get rid of it.” George hid his treasure somewhere on the property. A few years after the death of George Sr. (Feb. 24, 1939) Grandma Edna sold the property and moved to town in Commerce on North Vine Street.
What happened to Bonnie’s silverware?
The old house stood for many years until it was destroyed by arson in the early 2000’s. The railroad tracks are long gone. The gravel road is paved. The Morgan witnesses, except for Dorothy and her two younger sisters, Yvonne and Dora are gone. The property is currently a graveyard for veterans.
When Edna left the old homestead she left many of her belongings. Objects like the well-used wood fired cook stove and heavy cast iron pots. George couldn’t remember where he buried the silverware. He looked and looked! Edna was glad George Jr. couldn’t find it. She still believed it was evil and belonged deep in the ground.
That aged and mostly forgotten silverware of Bonnie’s is still buried where the Veteran’s Cemetery is today. Who knows, one of these days when digging a fresh grave they will stumble upon something shiny. Something with the initials “BP.”
Don't go digging yet
I don’t advise digging in the graveyard. It’s probably illegal. You might dig up something you don’t want to find.
Some things are left well enough alone.