Frank “Pancho” Hamer was the archetypal Texas Ranger: tough, incorruptible, laconic and resourceful. He despised criminals and had even less love for corrupt politicians. Born in 1884 he joined the Texas Rangers at age 22 after capturing a horse thief while working as a wrangler on a ranch. He would be in and out of the Rangers for the rest of his life, frequently resigning if a challenging law enforcement position was offered him. He developed a reputation of rapidly being able to impose law and order on the most lawless communities, often to the dismay of corrupt local politicians. He compared criminals to coyotes and crooked politicians to crawfish.
Hamer developed an uncanny ability to get inside of the minds of his criminal adversaries and defeat them by out-thinking them. Having said that, he also survived about fifty gunfights during his career, although being wounded 17 times and left for dead four times. He killed 53-70 criminals during these battles.
He retired from the Rangers as a Senior Captain in 1932, but he received an unprecedented Special Ranger commission after he left the ranks.
After the criminals Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker had achieved blood stained national renown for a series of robberies in the Midwest, Texas and the Great Plains, the Texas Department of Corrections called Hamer out of retirement on February 12, 1934 to track down Bonnie and Clyde. Compiling a meticulous map of all sightings of the Barrow gang, Hamer trailed them, living out of his car. He noted that the travels of the Barrow gang often centered on quick visits to family members. Gang member Henry Methvin’s father Ivan lived near Arcardia, Louisiana and Hamer decided that he was about due for a visit from the gang. Harassed by local lawmen, Ivan Methvin told the local sheriff that his son was coming to visit and the sheriff passed this news on to Hamer.
The Barrow Gang had slain nine lawmen, and Hamer took no chances with them. He staged an ambush of Bonnie and Clyde at 9:15 AM on May 23, 1934, using Ivan Methvin as bait. After Clyde Barrow drove up along with Bonnie Parker and stopped to talk to Methvin, Hamer and the other five officers with him jumped from ambush and riddled the car with 130 rounds. Both of the gangsters received more than fifty shots, any one of which would likely have been fatal. Upon inspection the vehicle proved to be an arsenal on wheels: three BARs, Winchester 1887 10 gauge shotgun, Remington Model 11 20 gauge shotgun, and ten pistols, along with 1000 rounds of BAR ammunition and 2000 rounds of other ammunition. Bonnie was armed with the Remington, a pistol taped to her thigh and a pistol in her purse. Clyde was clutching a pistol with another stuck in his belt and a BAR and the Winchester in easy reach.
Hamer refused to write his memoirs, thinking that it was improper for him to reap a financial reward for merely doing his duty. He continued to work in law enforcement.
One of his last official duties was accompanying Governor Coke Stevenson of Texas to Jim Wells County to investigate charges of vote fraud. Stevenson had won the Democrat primary against Representative Lyndon Johnson (D.Tx.) , and Johnson was in the process of stealing the election by stuffing a ballot box in the county with 202 fictitious votes. Stevenson was seeking to examine the tally sheets for election box 13, the tally sheets being kept at the Texas State Bank in Alice, the county seat. When the Governor and Hamer pulled up in front of the Bank, they were met by two angry armed groups of Johnson supporters. Hamer, then 64, swiftly surveyed the situation, told one group to “Git” and the other group to “Back off”, quite a lot of words for the normally terse lawman. Both groups looked at Hamer and decided that obeying him was the better part of valor. (Despite overwhelming evidence of vote fraud, the Democrat State Central Committee certified Johnson the winner in a 29-28 vote. Disgusted, Stevenson spent the rest of his life helping build up the Republican party in Texas.)
Hamer died in his sleep on July 10, 1955, the Grim Reaper obviously no more eager than most criminals to face Hamer when he was awake. He was buried in Memorial Park Cemetery in Austin, close to his son Billy who died fighting on Iwo Jima.