Scientists would have us believe that the dinosaurs died out some 65 million years ago. The Cretaceous-Tertiary (Abbreviated K-T—the German word for Cretaceous is “Kreidzeit”) Extinction Event is postulated to have been responsible for the mass die-off of countless dinosaurs, mammals, amphibians, and plants.
Paleontologists theorize that the cause might have been some planetary plague, climate change, or a catastrophic meteor strike. However, I would assert that all that is wrong. Disputes regarding the relative age of the earth notwithstanding, the last surviving dinosaur actually passed away in 1955. His name was Frank Hamer.
Francis Augustus Hamer was born in 1884 the son of a blacksmith in Fairview, Texas. Young Frank was one of five sons, four of whom ultimately grew up to become Texas Rangers. He was devoutly Presbyterian and spent many of his formative years in the Texas town of Oxford in Llano County. Oxford eventually dried up into a ghost town. Frank in his later years described himself as the only “Oxford-educated Ranger” in Texas.
Frank never made it past sixth grade. However, he was a naturally intelligent man with an analytical mind and a near-photographic memory. He worked in his father’s blacksmith shop as a youngster as well as on a local ranch. In 1905 at age 21 he apprehended a horse thief.
The local sheriff was so impressed with Frank’s abilities that he recommended he apply for the Texas Rangers. The following year Hamer did just that, launching himself on what would become a legendary 40-year career in Law Enforcement. He has been subsequently described as “The Greatest American Lawman of the 20th Century.”
The Professional Peace Officer
Hamer served as a Ranger for decades, leaving the service to take other jobs in Law Enforcement before coming back for varying reasons. In 1908 he served as City Marshal in Navasota, Texas, a riotous boom town veritably awash in violence. During the course of two years, more than a hundred men were killed in brawls and shootouts. Hamer waded right in and started cracking heads.
Hamer worked the Texas border battling arms smugglers and bootleggers grown rich off of Prohibition. Sundry gunfights cemented his reputation as a frontier lawman with whom one should not trifle. In 1917 Hamer married Gladys Sims.
Interestingly, Gladys was the widow of one Ed Sims. Gladys and her brother had been charged with Ed’s murder the year before. On October 1st, 1917, Frank and Gladys were filling up their car in Sweetwater when they bumped into Gus McMeans, Ed Sims’ brother-in-law and himself a former Texas Ranger.
Words were exchanged, and the two men slapped leather. When the smoke cleared Gus was dead–shot through the heart. Hamer was wounded, but the shoot was deemed righteous.
A total of ten rounds had been fired. Police later confiscated seven revolvers, two semiautomatic pistols, and three rifles from Hamer and McMeans’ two vehicles.
Finding His Stride
In 1918 Texas State Representative Jose Tomas Canales was chairing an investigation into allegations of the abuse of citizens by the Rangers. Hamer stalked Canales around the Capital building and threatened to kill him. Canales reported this to the Governor, but Hamer was never disciplined.
In 1922 Hamer launched a crusade against the Ku Klux Klan. Along the way, he personally saved fifteen men from lynch mobs. In 1928 Hamer also put the collar on a murder-for-hire racket.
The Texas Bankers’ Association had grown weary of bank robberies. They posted a bounty of $5,000 for “dead bank robbers—not one cent for live ones.” Lawmen with flexible morals began whacking sundry ne’er-do-wells and cashing in their cooling corpses at five grand per. Hamer exposed the undertaking as “the bankers’ murder machine,” and heads rolled. This earned Hamer few friends among the banking clans.
Texas politics was a sordid thing in the early 1930s. The Governor, “Pa” Ferguson, was impeached and removed from office for sundry maleficence. His wife, Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, was later elected. Frank Hamer then quit the Rangers stating, “When they elected a woman Governor, I quit.”
Frank Hamer’s Masterwork
In the early 1930s, the lurid exploits of the Motorized Bandit captivated the country. In a nation torn apart by the Great Depression, impoverished Americans lived vicariously through the likes of John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, Baby Face Nelson, and Al Capone. Among the Tier 1 gangsters were Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker.
Bonnie and Clyde’s exploits have been explored here previously. Here’s the link: Bonnie and Clyde article
Suffice to say that these two love-struck outlaws tore across the country stealing money and shooting their way out of trouble. The American public was actually fairly taken with the two right up until they undertook the execution-style slayings of a pair of Highway Patrol motorcycle officers on a rural Texas highway on Easter Sunday 1934.
Eliminating Bonnie and Clyde became a crusade for American Law Enforcement. Multiple LE organizations established task forces to neutralize the pair. Meanwhile, Hamer was brought out of retirement, commissioned as an officer in the Texas Highway Patrol, and given the mandate to stop Bonnie and Clyde by any means necessary. His specific directive was “put ‘em on the spot, know you’re right—and shoot everybody in sight.”
Alongside his old Ranger friend Maney Gault, Hamer hunted the couple for some 102 days. Accompanied by five other heavily-armed lawmen, Hamer set up an ambush for the pair near Gibsland, Louisiana. Hamer arranged a ruse to get the outlaws to stop their car thinking a friend needed help.
A local Deputy Sheriff named Prentiss Oakley initiated the ambush by shooting Barrow through the head with a Remington Model 8 rifle.
The posse fired about 160 rounds total through a variety of weapons to include a Colt Monitor BAR. When the dust settled the two criminals were cut to pieces. Locals could hear the gunfire for miles and presumed that loggers were clearing trees with dynamite.
Frank Hamer’s Rifle
For the Bonnie and Clyde ambush, Hamer was packing a customized Model 8 chambered in .35 Remington. His rifle was serial number 10045 purchased through Petmeckey’s Sporting Goods Store in Austin. Hamer had replaced the standard fixed magazine with an extended twenty-round version he had obtained through Peace Officers Equipment Company in St. Joseph, Missouri.
The Model 8 was the product of the inimitable mind of John Moses Browning. Browning patented the design in 1900 and sold the US production rights to Remington. Essentially the same gun was produced by FN in Belgium for international customers marketed as the Model 1900.
The Model 8 was the first successful semiautomatic rifle sold to American civilians. More than 80,000 copies were produced. The Model 8 operated via the long recoil system philosophically similar to that of the Browning Auto-5 shotgun. In the case of the Model 8, the recoil spring wraps around the barrel within a steel shroud.
The bolt locked to the barrel via a rotating bolt head. Upon firing, the bolt and barrel recoiled back as a single unit. At the rearmost point of travel, the bolt was held to the rear, while a separate spring system returned the barrel forward into firing position. This separation extracted the empty case. Once the barrel settled into place the bolt was released to pick up another round and lock it in position for firing. Here’s a cool video of the gun in action—
The Model 8 was sold in .25 Remington, .30 Remington, .32 Remington, .35 Remington, and .300 Savage chamberings. Potential finish options included Standard, Special, Peerless, Expert, and Premiere. I bought my .32 Rem Model 8 at an obscure little auction and was thrilled to find it. The gun was made in 1914 and looks new. The long recoil mechanism is fascinating, and the ranch gate-style safety just screams Kalashnikov.
There were conflicting stories regarding whether or not Hamer and Company attempted to confront Bonnie and Clyde prior to cutting them down. These two bloodthirsty outlaws had a penchant for killing cops. They had admitted that they would shoot their way out of any encounter with Law Enforcement.
This was a different time, so nobody really griped much that these two criminals were essentially executed on a rural Louisiana road.
Hamer was ultimately stiffed out of most of the reward money he had been promised for neutralizing the pair. However, he did keep the two miscreants’ firearms. Hamer went back later with his posse to recreate the shooting on the actual site.
Frank Hamer suffered a stroke in 1953 at age 69. He never recovered and died two years later. Over the course of his Law Enforcement career, Hamer had been wounded seventeen times and had killed somewhere between 53 and 70 people. He had himself been left for dead after shootouts on four occasions. Frank Hamer was simply a product of a different era.