​Harris County Towns and  Cities 

Huffman Heritage Oak-November, 2011

Petals Grant applied for in 1989

by Susan Armstrong


The Huffman Heritage Live Oak reached 75 feet tall with a crown spread of 135 feet in 1989, surpassing the Texas State Forestry Champion Live Oak at Goose Island State Park at Rockport in two of the three criteria. (Goose Island Oak is larger in girth of trunk). The Texas Forestry Service determined the Huffman Heritage Live Oak to be 314 years in 1989, verifying its witness to hundreds of years of Texas history.

When LaSalle landed in Texas in 1685, the Huffman Oak had germinated. It knew the Atakapa (called also Arkokisa, Orcoquisac, etc., perhaps signifying "river people), Patris, Bidais, and Caddo native Americans and it was five years old in 1690 when Alanzo De Leon crossed the Trinity River near Liberty, Texas. The Oak would have witnessed the establishment of the Atascocito Road by the Spanish just South of where it flourished, circa 1756, and the subsequent cattle drives from New Spain in support of Bernardo Glavez’s efforts in support of the American Revolutionary Patriots circa 1779.

The Oak could have stood silent sentinel to the panic of the 1836 Runaway Scrape as Colonists struggled to reach temporary safety east of the Trinity River and eventual refuge in the United States from Santa Anna’s advancing army. Since the Atascosito Road was the main trail through Austin’s Colony to the Sabine, there was a great concentration of the fugitives on it.

Local legends regarding the Huffman Heritage Oak center around (1) the pirate/patriot, Jean Laffite, and his "legacy to the Atascosito District: assistance rendered to its earliest settlers and legends of buried treasure along practically every stream which flows into Galveston Bay". Many theorize that the giant Oak in Huffman would have been a prime place for treasure because of its location and easy recognition. (2) the use of the tree as a gathering place especially for those who were ill or injured on designated days to meet the Doctor who rode out from Liberty. Probably Dr. James P. Cooke circa 1860 riding his horse, or traveling by horse and buggy all over the county and surrounding communities.

 

Orginial photo given to me of what some believe to be Clyde barrow visiting friends and relatives in Highlands before the national guard break-in in Beaumont to steal guns. It was found with a newspaper telling of their death which had pictures of the death car.

Photo provided by Gary Wiggins of Highlands, Texas.

Bonnie and Clyde

In the year 1933 or 34, Albey and Loretta Hilton were setting on the large front porch of their home at Cherry Hill while the two children played in the yard.  It was just an ordinary day.  An automobile with a man and woman suddenly drove up.  The man who was driving yelled something from his car.  Albey or “Jack” as he was called, stood up and began to walk toward the car.  As Jack approached the car, the man stuck his head out the window.  The man asked sternly “Where is the ferry?  We need to get to the other side of the river.”  (Jack immediately knew that the couple was the notorious outlaws known as Bonnie and Clyde.)  Jack replied, “the hand-pulled ferry that was located at this spot (DeZavala), is now closed but you can use the one located at  Lynchburg.”  Jack pointed to the Lynchburg Ferry in a distance as it was crossing the San Jacinto River at that very moment  and continued to give Bonnie and Clyde the directions to the North Lynchburg Ferry Crossing. After the car sped away, the family  allowed their thoughts and emotions the time and freedom to catch up with the realization of the magnitude of their encounter with the famous Bonnie and Clyde who, by no means was just an ordinary couple.

If Bonnie and Clyde actually did cross over on the Lynchburg Ferry that day the pilot and deckhand were not aware that it was the notorious couple. Bonnie and Clyde were just another nice couple wanting a free ride on the Lynchburg Ferry to get to the other side of the San Jacinto River.

Also sometime in that same time frame, Clyde Barrow was in the Channelview area, which is located very close to the Cherry Hill-DeZavalla Area. He ran into a very attractive young girl by the name of Edna Smith who he was very interested in spending more time with.  In fact, so interested, he ask her if she would go on a date with him.  She declined by responding, “no, I am going steady with a guy”.  That guy was Bill Hilton, the youngest of the Hilton brothers, and eventually became the husband of Edna Smith.

The Hilton Family’s encounters with the famous Bonnie and Clyde are true stories that have continued to be told by the family.  It is a great example of how a family’s everyday life with an unusual encounter becomes a lasting memory for generations.


Bonnie and Clyde Hideaway at Highlands

The years of the “Great Depression” brought about many changes in the lives of the American public.  One of these was how the masses viewed banking, government, and big business.  A great number of Americans were broke, discouraged, and angry at what had happened to them; and they blamed the aforementioned “Big Three” for their troubles.  The depression started about 1929 and lasted until the start of World War II, 1941, spawning a good number of diversified entrepreneurs, one of which was the common criminal, also known as thugs, gangsters, bootleggers, hi-jackers, bank robbers, thieves, kidnappers, and public enemies.  The latter name wasn’t used until the mid 1930’s when the U. S. Government began publishing a list of public enemies.  1934 appears to have been a very bad year for Public Enemies.


Public Enemies and G-Men

George Kelly Barnes, a small time crook, was born in Memphis, Tennessee July 18, 1895, He specialized in bootlegging and smuggling until he met and married Kathryn Thorne.  Aside from being a seasoned criminal herself, she was his greatest fan and quite a publicity agent. She is said to have given him his first machine gun, and tagged him with the alias “Machine Gun Kelly.”  She was instrumental in planning more daring and attention getting capers.  In 1933 they kidnapped a wealthy gentleman named Charles F. Urschal, (Bryan Burrough, “Public Enemies”) hiding him out in a small north Texas town.  Unknown to Kelly and Kathryn, Mr. Urschal was very astute.  Even though he was blind folded, he memorized the route the car took him to and from the hiding place, noting various sounds he heard, and the interior appearance of the building in which he was kept.  Upon being released, in exchange for a large ransom, Mr. Urschal recited all his knowledge on the kidnapping to the FBI.  On September 26, 1933, the FBI arrested Machine Gun Kelly and wife Kathryn.  Both are credited with coining the phrase “G-Man” at that time.  Kelly was sentenced to life. He was sent to Leavenworth prison, transferred to Alcatraz, becoming one of their charter inmates, then back to Leavenworth in 1951.  He died there on his birthday, in 1954.

One of the more famous criminals to hold the title of Public Enemy #1, was John Herbert Dillinger 1/22/1903, who died on 7/22/1934 (John Toland, “The Dillinger Days,” DeCapo Press, 1995).   Like some of the others of the time, he had no nick name.  His final epithet was carried in the national newspapers, “Dillinger Slain in Chicago, Shot Dead in Front of a Movie Theatre. (New York Times, July 22, 1934) It is reported that they still celebrate John Dillinger Day at the site he was gunned down at the Biograph Theater, in Chicago, every July 22.

One member of Dillinger’s gang was Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd, born in Georgia in 1901. Floyd despised his nickname. Best known for robberies and murder, he was revered as a hero in Oklahoma, where his family moved during 1911. Master minding numerous bank robberies Floyd would destroy mortgages of local people to help them out of financial problems. He was killed by the same FBI agent, Melvin Purvis, who caught up with John Dillinger, a few months before.  Floyd was gunned down in a hail of bullets in a cornfield near East Liverpool, Ohio on October 22, 1934.  When Dillinger and Floyd departed the scene, one Lester Joseph Gillis, took their place as Public Enemy #1 (New York Times, October 23, 1934).  Lester was born in Chicago, December 6, 1908, and because of his child like features, became known as “Baby Face Nelson.”  It was said, that he kept a list of law officers license plates and would track them down and “rub them out.”  While traveling with one of his gang and his girl friend, near Barrington, Illinois, they passed a car going in the opposite direction.  Nelson recognized the auto, had his driver turn around to pursue it.  The car was occupied by two FBI agents.  After running the agents off the road, Baby Face jumped out of his car, started walking toward the agents, firing as fast as he could. Ultimately he killed both of the agents, but suffered 17 gun shot wounds in the melee. He died a short time later, on November 27, 1934.  His girl friend wrapped him in a blanket, then dumped him into a roadside ditch.


Clyde Chestnut Barrow and Bonnie Elizabeth Parker

It is interesting to note that these criminals were viewed by the general public as heroes, saints, and defenders of the people. This was a time when the common man had little or nothing to show for his toils.  The American public was thrilled by their exploits, which reminded them of the Adventures of Robin Hood.   Most likely Bonnie and Clyde sparked the imagination of the downtrodden in a way that no others did.  Clyde Chestnut Barrow, was born in Ellis County, Texas March 24, 1909.  Ellis County is south of the City of Dallas, adjacent to Dallas County; its county seat is Waxahachie with Ennis the next largest town in the county.   Clyde’s cohort in crime  was Bonnie Elizabeth Parker, born in Rowena, Runnels County, Texas October 1, 1910.  Rowena is about 30 miles northeast of San Angelo.  The largest town and the county seat of Runnels County is Ballinger, which at present has a population of about 5000 people (Texas Official Travel Map, Texas Department of Transportation, 2007).

Bonnie and Clyde met at a mutual friends house, located in west Dallas in January 1930.  Bonnie was unemployed at the time.   It was, as they say, “Love at first sight”, and it never ceased.  They became inseparatable, except for the time they spent in jail.  Clyde had already been introduced to various jails, having been arrested the first time in 1926.   He seemed to enjoy robbing grocery stores, haberdashers, and filling stations, rather than banks.  But once he hooked up with Bonnie, all that seemed to change.  Clyde also had a passion to break in the Eastham Farm Prison, where he had been ill-treated on his stay there.

 

town photo 2.jpg 

Clyde’s family ties appear to be all over the south, especially in Louisiana and  Texas.  While the Barrow gang operated in these two states, they also had activities in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.  Bonnie’s family appeared to be centered mostly in and around the Dallas area.  This was the part of the state that Bonnie and Clyde would always return to, when on the run, to stay with relatives.   During the public enemy era, Barrow and his comrades would criss-cross state lines to escape the police. Law enforcement officers, either city, county or state were barred from pursuing them across state lines.  There was no hot pursuit law, as there is today, allowing lawmen to cross state lines.  The gang also carried a multitude of weapons, such as Browning Automatic Rifles, shot guns, automatic pistols, and machine guns, all with cases of ammunition.  Their armament was far superior to the law enforcement people who were trying to catch them.  Couple this with a half a dozen stolen license plates from various states, and it made it difficult for law enforcement agencies, even the FBI to keep up with them, much less apprehend them.  At this time there were very few, of what we know now as motels.  There were “Tourist Camps” and/or “Tourist Courts”, the best of which, were not all that nice.  Usually these were on the outskirts of town and were few and far between.  There were no interstate highways, and few major highways, so the criminals traveled the back roads, many of which were graveled or dirt. Clyde preferred the Ford V-8 because of its power and speed.  He wrote Henry Ford a letter praising the V-8.  Ford in turn, used the endorsement in his advertisements for the car.

While Clyde and Bonnie’s main place of business was in north Texas.  They also seemed to favor Missouri.   They can be placed in and around Houston in about 1933. On August 20, 1933 W. D. Jones and Clyde robbed an Armory in Plattsville, Illinois (Blanche Caldwell Barrow, “My Life with Bonnie and Clyde”), apparently to load up on more armament.  A short time later, Jones left the gang and was captured by police outside of Houston.  On another occasion, before he met Bonnie, Clyde was placed in Houston.  In July 1929, Buster Gauge was shot and killed, and Miss Lillian Bissitt was seriously wounded, while sitting in a car at Morgan’s Point, a few miles south of Houston. (Houston Post Dispatch, Secondary Headline, July 3, 1929)   Nearly a year later, when Clyde was captured after escaping from the Waco jail, he was accused of the murder of Gauge.  While being questioned by the Harris County Sheriffs Department, Clyde made the remark that he had only been in Houston two times in his life and left before dark both times.  Clyde charged that the Harris County officials were looking for someone to blame for the murder (E. R. Milner, “The Lives and Times of Bonnie and Clyde,” p 27, Southern Illinois Press, 1996). These charges were soon dropped when the claims proved worthless.  The perpetrators in the case of Gauge and Bissitt were never discovered.

Highlands and Banana Bend Sanctuary

When they stopped for the night, it was usually at some kinfolks or friends house.  Often they would rent an apartment, in a central location, to hide when the police got too near. Clyde had planned ahead as to where the gang members would meet in case they were separated, or needed to lay low for a while.  And the kinfolk somehow got wind of their arrival.  More often than not, Clyde’s or Bonnie’s kin would get in touch with the local constabulary, notifying them of impending visitors, not naming any names but making sure the local officers understood not to drop in unexpectedly, or it might be bad for their health.  Usually the local law officials heeded the advice and gave them a wide berth. Stories abound in the Highlands of many long visits of the couple at Highlands as well as the beach at Banana Bend.  Local legend has the Barrow visitors arriving from the east, always stopping at the same café for a late breakfast and visit with the owners.

Relatives of the couple would alert the local law enforcement members to stay away from the farms along the east side of the San Jacinto River.  During one long visit, some FBI agents were reportedly searching the San Jacinto River for the reported couple and their associates when they spotted a large tugboat up river near the Bend.  Asking the Captain to board, the agents were refused and urged to depart.  Finally giving up, the agents left the Captain at his word that entering his boat would be disastrous.

It was in route to one of these rendezvous, in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, that Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed and shot dead, the bushwhackers firing approximately 130 rounds of ammunition at their car.  Clyde never got off a shot, and it was well known that Bonnie didn’t fire a shot the entire time she accompanied Clyde on their crime spree (Blanche Caldwell Barrow, “My Life with Bonnie and Clyde”).  They still hold the Bonnie and Clyde Festival in Gibsland, Louisiana every year, and there is a memorial at the ambush site, outside of town.  Gibsland is about 60 miles east of Shreveport.

A number of questions arose about the procedure used to kill Bonnie and Clyde.  Bonnie was not wanted on a capital offense, yet she was killed as if she was Public Enemy #1.  By direct order from leader of the posse, Frank Hamer, no warning was given the couple (Geringer, Joseph, “Bonnie and Clyde: Romeo and Juliet in a Getaway Car”). Many people asked what four Texas law officers were doing in Louisiana, outside of their jurisdiction.   Years later, one of Louisiana officers present at the event, said his actions had troubled him over the years (Treherne, John, “The Strange History of Bonnie and Clyde”).

When we speak of famous or infamous persons, sightings come in from as far north as the pole and far south as the Cape of Good Hope.  It was reported that Clyde had been seen several times around the vicinity of Banana Bend.  Banana Bend is part of the San Jacinto River a few miles east of Houston, near Highlands.  The Wallisville Road runs near the bend.  About seven miles further east, Chambers County begins, which was carved out of Liberty County in 1858.   U.S. Census taken in the 1850’s through 1900, indicates numerous Barrow names in Liberty and Chambers Counties, just east of Banana Bend.  A Texas state historical marker, dedicated to Solomon Barrow stands at Mont Belvieu, not far from Banana Bend.  Solomon was one of the pioneers of Mexico’s Texas.  Sightings of Clyde and Bonnie were also reported at Root Square Park, across from the present day Toyota Center, in downtown Houston. A house was torn down in Highlands near the entrance to Banana Bend a few years ago.  In the attic were two old loaded guns, stacks of newspapers about Bonnie and Clyde episodes across the United States, and some pictures of the couple.  A mystery as to how such items were left there.

Janet K. Wagner

 

Huffman Heritage Oak