COMMERCE – Not long after my feature in the Miami News-Record “The Morgan’s Run-In with Bonnie & Clyde” was published in the April 14, 2017, edition – my mother, Yvonne (Morgan) Allen and her sisters Dorothy Lee (Morgan) Barton and Dora May let me know they had more to tell.
Seeing their story on the front page of the paper made the Morgan sisters feel like celebrities. For weeks afterward, people would approach them telling them how much they enjoyed the story and the pictures. They savored the attention.
The Morgan sisters had shared the tale of the fateful day when much of their family bore witness to what would be a pivotal moment in one of the most infamous series of crimes in American history.
In 1934, the notorious crime spree of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow – commonly known as “Bonnie and Clyde” – drew near to its end in northeast Oklahoma, claiming the life of Constable William “Cal” Campbell not far from the Morgan's Commerce home.
Talking through their memories, the sisters recalled how their brother Ralph Morgan also went to the scene of the crime where he found a bullet belonging to Bonnie & Clyde left over from the gun fight. He wore it on a rabbit’s foot key chain on his pant’s belt loop, but they said all that was left of the bullet was their memories of it ever existing.
I thought to myself "what a keepsake that would have been from days gone by!" then unexpectedly on one of my daily visit with my mother Yvonne, she handed me something.
I couldn’t believe it; it was the Bonnie and Clyde bullet which her brother Ralph had worn on a rabbit’s foot key chain latched to his pant’s belt buckle. He liked showing it to people and telling his story about how he had witnessed Bonnie and Clyde’s shootout with the Commerce Police and then found the bullet in the mud afterwards.
In 1932 Bonnie and Clyde had acquired two Browning Automatic Rifles and ammunition from a criminal acquaintance, Herbert Farmer that had stolen them from a Missouri National Guard armory.
The bullet Ralph found matches the military grade ammunition not available to the public.
The bullet thought to be lost in time was sitting in the palm of my mother's hand. “Mom, how is this possible?” I asked. “Where did you find it?”
My mother Yvonne said her sister Dorothy brought it to her June 9 in a box of old pictures and newspaper clippings that had belonged to their mother, Edna Morgan. Dorothy had given the box to her daughter, Rita Kay Griner and for the past 35 years, Rita had kept the bullet in her jewelry box.
Rita wanted me to have it along with the priceless old family pictures and clippings. It was like giving me a bag of gold. She gave it to me because recently I wrote and published a book, "Morgan Family History," which I have given copies of to family members. Presently I’m working on the second revision, correcting mistakes, adding family members, new pictures and stories, and generally making improvements with everyone’s help.
One of the many treasures from the box was a faded photograph of Grandma Edna Morgan’s twin brother, Ed; and a newspaper clipping of his obituary. I have been searching for his picture without success until now. Thank You, Rita! She even gave me Grandma Edna’s Bible.
Writing the book has also helped me connect with unacquainted family members. Family is the real treasure. Researching family history can be time-consuming and tedious, yet enjoyable as a hobby. Findings can be rewarding, fascinating, confusing, disheartening, and sometimes better left alone.
Discoveries can be controversial leaving some family members feeling uncomfortable; they say some people and events should not be remembered or recounted. All family trees have heroes, but they also have skeletons in the closet. Be prepared for everything and anything when investigating where you came from.
Take time to talk to your older family members. Listen to their stories. Write them down before they become lost to history. The day may come when you wish you had.
Regardless of what you discover, love each other, be kind to each other. Take the time to appreciate your heritage and your family.
Maybe there are treasures in boxes long forgotten at your house. Go look!
Bonnie & Clyde’s bullet is now one of my prized possessions once belonging to an 11-year-old boy, my Uncle Ralph, who heroically gave his life in WWII (1945) in the Solomon Islands, Philippines fighting for our freedom.
But what about the rediscovered bullet? Was it really Bonnie & Clyde's? The journey to the truth is its own tale.
Editor's Note: Read part II - "More to the Story: Truth Discovered" by Dale Allen in the next Weekend Edition of the Miami News-Record Friday, June 30.