'The Highwaymen': The true story of Texas Rangers Frank Hamer and Manny Gault, the men who took down Bonnie and Clyde
Woody Harrelson plays Captain Manny Gault while Kevin Costner brings the legendary Frank Hamer to the screen in 'The Highwaymen,' a Netflix original
The story of Frank Hamer and Manny Gault is perhaps one of the greatest in American folklore, with their names still ringing loud in modern pop culture for being the men who led the search party that neutralized Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. 'The Highwaymen' is a Netflix original film that follows the untold true story of the legendary detectives who brought down the notorious duo, when the full force of the FBI and the latest forensic technology weren't enough.
According to biographer John Boessenecker, Hamer was the greatest American lawman of the 20th century. Hamer was to Texas “what Wyatt Earp was to Arizona and what Wild Bill Hickok was to Kansas … In an era when crooked police were a dime a dozen, he could not be bought at any price," he wrote.
Born in 1884 to parents of Scottish-Irish-English and German heritage in Fairview, Collin County, Texas, Hamer was 6-feet-2 and 190 pounds by the time he was 17. While he had some formal schooling, he was inspired by American Indians in that he learned the country mostly by walking or riding through it. He later developed a mastery in marksmanship and hunted for food.
Hamer once got into a violent altercation between two ranchers while he was still in his teens and suffered gunshot wounds in the back and in the left side of his head. At the time, a black field hand rushed to get him medical aid and saved his life. The good deed meant Hamer would grow a lifelong affinity and warmth towards African Americans.
The Texas Rangers were respected for their legend and lore, despite the paltry $40 a month they were paid at the time. Hamer was inspired by the heroic stories and decided to enlist. Although he had no formal training, which was typical in those days among comrades, he learned everything he knew on the job by practical application.
Ben Maney Gault was born June 21, 1886, in Travis County, Texas, to John and Minnie Gault. He first worked at a furniture manufacturing plant before he married Rebecca Johnson and had two children with her. The plant where Gault worked was destroyed after a killer tornado struck South Austin in May 1922, leaving him without a job.
As per Mike Cox's 'Texas Ranger Tales: Stories That Need Telling,' Gault had worked undercover for Hamer before becoming a Ranger as he had a "knack for inserting himself into auto theft and bootlegging rings," according to Hamer's son Frank Hamer Jr., who noted he was "not sure how they met."
The Gaults and Hamers were close, especially after Gault became a full-time Ranger. While he's remembered as a quiet and diminutive man, he had a forceful character with a wry sense of humor. The two families frequently met for games of pitch and dominoes aside from the weekly poker game.
"We had picnics and went on dove hunts," Hamer Jr. said. "Dad and Gault hunted with Hays County Sheriff George Allen on the Kuykendall Ranch." Both Hamer and Gault shared a musical side. "Manny played the guitar and my dad played the fiddle," Hamer's son recalled.
While the Texas Ranger is mostly defined by Hamer's pursuit of infamous killers such as Ed Putnam, notorious riots, and ambushes of Mexican smugglers, he became a pop culture icon mainly due to his successful takedown of Bonnie and Clyde. At the time of their deaths, the notorious couple were believed to have committed several burglaries and robberies as well as 13 murders, including two policemen in Joplin, Missouri. The duo was spotted several times later in connection with multiple bank robberies and auto thefts.
Hamer called L.G. Phares, chief of the Texas Highway Patrol, for the license plate number and description of the latest car the outlaws were driving. He chose ex-Ranger, B.M. “Mannie” Gault, as his partner. The pair teamed up with two Dallas County deputies, Bob Alcorn, and Ted Hinton, who knew Bonnie and Clyde personally, thus kicking off one of the greatest manhunts in the Southwest.
On May 23, 1934, Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed in broad daylight by police officers on a rural road in Bienville Parish, Louisiana. Hamer didn't think twice before ordering his posse to open fire on the duo's vehicle, after all, they had, separately, or together, helped kill several of his fellow police officers. However, he later found himself "sickened by the sight" and filled out the paperwork with a curt "The job is done."
While Hamer chose not to exploit his fame as their killer and turned down multiple offers, he was remembered as a "paragon of Texas gentility." The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal ran a short feature article on Gault in the summer of 1941. "Behind the impassive mask of the captain's weathered face, is many a story that other officers will tell," it read, describing Gault's taciturn demeanor.
Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson star in John Lee Hancock’s 'The Highwaymen' launching globally on March 29, 2019.