Bonnie and Clyde Visit Kansas by Carla Charter
HUGOTON, KS. – A new Kansas based chapter is being written in the infamous story of Bonnie and Clyde and it might lead right through tunnels under Hugoton. According to Jan Leonard, Stevens County Economic Development Director, Bonnie and Clyde who used the pseudonyms, Jewell and Blackie Underwood when they were in Hugoton, arrived there in 1930 and left in late 1931. There were natural gas well fields there at the time which caused an economic boom. This may have been what brought Bonnie and Clyde to the area.
Neil Gillespie former Stevens County Economic Developer who researched Bonnie and Clyde’s stay in Hugoton extensively, said “My grandparents Oleta Wilson and Harry Wilson and my uncle Don Wilson, were neighbors with Bonnie and Clyde. Clyde first came and worked as a farm laborer. Bonnie worked at a neighbor’s house helping to prepare harvest meals and to care for the wife who was an invalid. Grandmother had a pretty good relationship with Blackie and Jewell. My uncle said he was told a story where Clyde was caught stealing gas from my grandfather’s farm and he ran him off with a shotgun. They stopped to say good-bye on their way out of town though.”
Blackie gambled while he was in Hugoton joining in poker games in town. He was not the only well-known name who participated. “During the poker games it was said Pretty Boy Floyd joined in,” Gillespie said. “During one poker game it was said, Clyde was stabbed and brought to Bundy Hotel. The hotel owner Mrs. Bundy who was also a registered nurse bandaged him up and he was sent to Liberal, Kansas to get stitched up,” he continued.
The pair was also involved in bootlegging. “A 16-year-old who was delivering ice to the Jewell Café one day recalled Bonnie walking out with a cigar in her mouth, then placing paper on the floor and had him place the ice there. She put the ice in the ice box herself, it is said, as she did not want him to see the bootleg whiskey. The second time the man delivered ice, he put it in the icebox himself and there was bootleg whiskey in there,” Gillespie said.
Bonnie and Clyde’s time in Hugoton ended shortly after a sheriff in town was shot and killed. According to Gillespie, It is thought the police were planning on arresting Blackie and Jewell. One deputy went to the café and it is possible the pair slipped him a Mickey and he passed out. It is said, another Sheriff arrived and thinking the first was drunk, fired him on the spot. In a daze the first sheriff followed the second out the door and shot him. “The rumor was that right around the time all of that happened Blackie took everyone’s poker winnings and left town,” he said.
After Bonnie and Clyde were killed, a receipt book for the Jewell Café was found in their car. A Texas Ranger came to Hugoton and questioned people there who said that Jewell and Blackie were there but that townspeople never realized they were Bonnie and Clyde, according to Gillespie.
When Gillespie did research, he found FBI records stating that Clyde was supposed to have been in prison in Texas about the time he and Bonnie were actually in Hugoton. “It’s possible Blackie could have been someone else. However, there were lots of pictures of Bonnie and Clyde in the paper. I never heard anyone say no those are not the people who were here.” Gillespie also read one newspaper article that said Clyde had escaped that prison, while another stated that he had escaped that prison several times.
Whether Bonnie and Clyde used underground tunnels for their bootlegging operation is still not clear. However, stories of there being tunnels in town were proven when one was discovered in the basement of the Bundy Hotel across from the former Jewell Café. Dr William Elwood Bundy, a famous skin cancer doctor, owned both buildings. He had his medical office at Bundy hotel as well. “Everyone kept saying the underground tunnels were there, said Leonard, “but no one checked it out. When a cellar wall was taken off, a door to a tunnel was discovered. Although the tunnel was caved in, there was a 20- foot cavern where bottles of Cod Liver Oil and brown vials of medicine belonging to Dr. Bundy were discovered. “We also suspect that the tunnels may have been used for bootlegging as well,” Leonard said. Bundy’s great grandchildren visited the town after the discovery and brought the formula for Dr. Bundy’s medicine as well as pictures and certificates.
Leonard continued he would like to see the hotel turned into a Bonnie and Clyde and Dr. Bundy Hotel Museum with wax figures of Bonnie and Clyde as well as a car like the one they drove as well as items of Dr. Bundy’s. The man who owns the former Bundy hotel has offered to sell the building.
Articles about Hugoton’s connection with Bonnie and Clyde and the discovery of the tunnels has produced a stir in the media with articles in the Kansas Star the New York Post and interest has been shown from the History Channel as well. “I did a lot of research when I was economic development director. A couple of times tried to pursue an exhibition but it didn’t work out I think there is a good chance this time it will work out,” said Gillespie.
Currently the Kansas City Museum has Dr. Bundy’s artifacts on display. The Smokey Hill Museum also has a display on Bonnie and Clyde in Hugoton.
The Stevens County Gas and Historical Museum would be overseeing creation of a Dr. Bundy, Bonnie and Clyde Museum. Donations to assist in creating such a museum can be sent to Stevens County Gas and Historical Museum, 905 South Adams, Hugoton, Kansas 67951. Attn: Bonnie and Clyde Museum.
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