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Bonnie and Clyde’s Reluctant Galena Mechanic

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Bonnie and Clyde’s

Reluctant

Galena Mechanic

by Junior Warren

The old man working on the landscape at the School of the Ozarks at Point Lookout, Missouri usually went unnoticed by most of the students. He was simply, after all, just a groundskeeper. I, on the other hand, always smiled or nodded at him.

The quiet, elderly man, who helped to keep the lawns mown and trees pruned was Clarence Marshbank,* a citizen of Stone County and a resident of Galena, Missouri. Every time I saw Mr. Marshbank I remembered the story my mother told me about how he had worked on the automobile of America’s Famous Bank Robbery Sweethearts Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrows.

The Psychological Armageddon of The Stock Market Crash of 1929 encouraged a generation of Americans to hide money in their mattresses and in the walls of their homes. Stone County, Missouri, since her legislative birth in 1851 had always been “A Child Of Hard Times.” Stone County farmers raised pigs, chickens, hogs, cattle and put out small “truck patch” gardens of vegetables to earn a living. Mother Nature’s two crops that thrived in the rocky soil of Stone County was tomatoes, the legendary “Red Gold of Stone County” and corn.

Corn proved to be worth it’s weight in gold because not only could local families serve up and sell “roastin’ ears,” but the grain was important to feed the “fattening hogs” that would be raised and butchered, so that families would have meat to get them through the severe southwestern Missouri winters.

Of course, corn had an award winning entertainment and economic value – it was a primary ingredient of “Moonshine.” Stone County Stories are numerous about the many illegal moonshine stills that dotted the hills and hollers of Stone County – not all the stories are folk tales and urban legends.

In the midst of the economic paranoia of the 1930s, American bank robbers hit upon the faster automobiles, Tommy Gun’s and sawed off shotguns to “make a quick buck” by “knocking over banks” one after another. Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd and Baby Faced Nelson became overnight folklore heroes by their daring, cunning and the courage to “Stick It To The System.”

American banks were real unpopular in the 1930s. American banks foreclosed and forced Americans out of their homes and off their farms. Unfortunately, the celebrity status of the dashing and debonair status of the gangsters was understandable – they were giving “payback” back to the bankers. Obviously, some Americans wished they had the courage and opportunity to – “Make The Bankers Pay.”

The economic chaos of the 1930s cannot be overstated. After all, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, The President Of The United States Of America went public and asked Americans to donate their pieces of gold to America. That gold was then melted into gold bars that became the bullion that is stored at Fort Knox, Kentucky. FDR and his Gold Democrats went a step further and took the United States “Off The Gold Standard,” no longer could you take a dollar bill into an American bank and demand to exchange it for a dollar’s worth of gold.

Economic hard times were a reality in Stone County, Missouri long before the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Survival had always been a day to day struggle that encouraged farmers to go deer hunting and squirrel hunting to supplement the meat hanging “sugar cured” or “salt cured” in family smokehouses. Grandma DeLong told me stories about the hard times of day to day survival in Stone County, during The Great Depression.

Clarence Marshbank had a reputation around Galena of being an excellent automobile mechanic. Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrows, the bank robbers, were on the road, near Galena, Missouri, when they had “car trouble.”

The Stone County story goes that Bonnie and Clyde’s car wasn’t going to get much farther than Galena. Once in Galena, the bank robbery couple, learned that Clarence Marshbank was an excellent automobile mechanic. The Stone County story points out that at gunpoint Bonnie and Clyde forced Clarence Marshbank to repair their automobile.

The old Parmenters' Radiator And Body Shop building in Galena, Missouri. In the 1930's, it was this site that supposedly American Bank Robbers Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker allegedly forced Galena Mechanic Clarence Marshbank to repair their getaway vehicle. Photo by Junior Warren

One of the amazing points of the story is that the building that the car was put into to be worked on. The Old Parminter Body Shop building in Galena, sits near the historic courthouse and almost on the back parking lot of the modern day First Home Savings Bank in Galena, Missouri.

In 2011, the First Home Savings Bank's back parking lot ends near the side of the old Parmenters' Radiator And Body Shop building in Galena, Missouri. In the 1930's, it was this site that supposedly American Bank Robbers Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker allegedly forced Galena Mechanic Clarence Marshbank to repair their getaway vehicle. Photo by Junior Warren

The story of Bonnie and Clyde kidnapping a Galena man walking into town is well known. They kidnapped the man to find out how to get to Reeds Springs and rob that bank. This story is supported by numerous newspaper accounts. However, the story of Bonnie and Clyde forcing Clarence Marshbank to work on their car is one of those stories that was usually whispered more than spoken about.

The incident probably did occur. First, my mother, Opal M. DeLong Warren had a reputation of never “making up” stories and she told me the original story about Bonnie and Clyde forcing Mr. Marshbank to work on their car. Second, local boy George Leonard “Shock” Short had a reputation of robbing banks and returning home to Galena to “lie low” between bank robberies. Thus, Stone County, Missouri wasn’t all that supportive of law enforcement efforts in the depression years.

I never had the opportunity to interview Clarence Marshbank, but I always remember his friendly, warm, “neighborly” smile, whenever he would nod at me walking across the campus of the School of the Ozarks.

_________________

*The last name was always spoken as Marshbank, but I have seen it spelled as Marchbank.

History of Stone County, Missouri book, Volume One contains information about the early families in the county. The Stone County Historical Society, P.O. Box 63, Galena, Missouri 65656 can provide information on how to obtain a copy of any of the three volumes. The 1960 Chevrolet Impale model car represents the real car that Opal M. DeLong Warren drove off the showroom of Terrill Chevrolet in Houston,Texas in 1960. Opal drove her car from 1960 until 1972 when her husband bought her a Mercury for Mother's day. The Impala made numerous trips from Galena, Missouri to Houston, Texas,as well as frequent trips to take family members to a hospital in Springfield, Missouri. Photo by Junior Warren.

History of Stone County, Missouri book, Volume Two contains information about the early families in the county. The Stone County Historical Society, P.O. Box 63, Galena, Missouri 65656 can provide information on how to obtain a copy of any of the three volumes. The Ford 9N model tractor in the photo is symbolic of a real used tractor that Opal M. DeLong Warren bought to use on her farm in Stone County, Missouri, in the mid 1960s. For farm toys, visit D&B Farm Toys in Abesville, Missouri. Photo by Junior Warren

History of Stone County, Missouri book, Volume Three contains information about the early families in the county. The Stone County Historical Society, P.O. Box 63, Galena, Missouri 65656 can provide information on how to obtain a copy of any of the three volumes. “Richard Rock,” the large circular stone in the photo, is the stone that Richard B. DeLong found plowing in his field one day in Stone County, in the mid 1960s. Richard DeLong was a farmer; not a rock collector. Yet, he could not resist taking the rock out of the field to give to his sister, Opal to put on display in her yard. For information on Stone County Rocks, lapidary, cabachons or wirewrapping email: rockmanken@gmail.com. Photo by Junior Warren

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4 Responses

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  1. Clarence Marchbank is my great grandfather. My father has been telling me this story since I was old enough to remember. I’m not sure when this blog was posted, but if you still pay attention to it, please email me. I would love to hear more of what you know about this story and the history of Galena. zmarchbank@gmail.com

    Zach Marchbank

    February 20, 2012 at 10:41 AM

    • Zack,

      Your great grandfather, Clarence Marchbank, was a nice, respected citizen of Galena, Missouri. As a kid, I saw him around Galena. As a student at the School of the Ozarks, on my way to classes, I would often nod and smile at him and he would do likewise. He worked in the landscaping department at the School of the Ozarks, I have been told. I know I often saw him on campus. I didn’t know him as well as I should have.

      Galena, Missouri and Stone County, Missouri is full of stories. Thanks to my grandmother, Martha DeLong and my mother, Opal M. DeLong Warren, I heard many of the Depression Era tales about how the lack of money and a stable economy in the 1930s put a crucial hurt on Stone County. Anyone who studies Depression Era Gangsters like Al Capone and John Dillinger, may not be familiar with Leonard “Shock” Short, the Galena “boy,” who got as much money as Dillinger without the publicity. Shocks gang even pulled off two bank robberies in Oklahoma at the same time. What makes “Shock” among the 1930s gangster like Machine Gun Kelly, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty boy Floyd, Bonnie and Clyde, Alvin Karpis and the Ma Barker Gang is while J Edgar an the G-Men were pulling out all the stops, Shock Short had a brother, Dewey, who was a United States Congressman.

      Galena and Stone County are full of unique stories of how one small town in the Ozarks and one county has had an impact on United States history. I remember as a kid hearing people talk that it was not all that unusual to see Pretty Boy Floyd or Baby Face Nelson passing though Galena. If you ever get to Galena, you might want to check out the Bank of Galena Museum. It has mementos of Congressman Short and items from the 1930s and “The Days Of Dillinger.” Of course, if you get to Galena, you will want to look at the old Parminter Body Shop, near the courthouse, which ironically sits behind the Galena branch of the First Home and Savings Bank.

      A great point of contact for the history and stories of Galena and Stone County, Missouri is the Stone County Historical Society, when I left for overseas, they were working on a newer and updated website.

      Now, I live on Leyte, an island of the Eastern Visayas in the Republic of the Philippines. And, they have some interesting stories here. Fortunately, my nephewsare excellent Tagalog to Engish translators so I get to hear these local stories. Come to think of it; I don’t think Leyte has a historical soceity. . .yet.

      Zack, thanks again for your comment. I wish I could tell you more about your great grandfather, but I basically just knew him to spaek to him when I saw him. But, he always impressed me as a quiet and kind man. Take Care.

      Sam

      samwarren55

      March 2, 2012 at 12:17 PM

      • Thank you so much for commenting back. It amazes me how much history there is in such a small town like Galena. It really seems like a real-life version of the old gangster movies. I’ve been there once in my life but unfortunately I wasn’t old enough to understand or appreciate the history. I hope to return someday sooner rather than later. It’s almost overwhelming to think of all that has occurred in that small town. Once again, thank you for your comment and your nice comments about my great grandfather.

        Zach Marchbank

        June 9, 2012 at 11:58 AM

      • Zach,

        Everything I ever heard about your great grandfather, Clarence Marchbank, is that he was a good, decent, hard working man, well respected in Galena and Stone County. As a young man at the School of the Ozarks, your great grandfather, worked in the landscaping section, and I saw him around campus to speak to him. He always impressed me as a kind and friendly man.

        Poor Galena. I’m afraid this little town’s best days maybe behind it. There have been tons of stories, books and movies done on Al Capone and John Dillinger and yet, history chooses to ignore George Leonard “Shock” Short of the O’Malley Gang, whose band of bank robbers are one of the few to ever “Pull Off Two Bank Robberies At The Same Time” and succeed. The fact that he is a bank robber and his brother is a United States Congressman should be worthy of a Hollywood mini series.

        If a Geraldo reporter ever goes to Galena to search for “The Lost Loot,” he might end up disappointed like when Geraldo opened up the suspected Al Capone vault. . .and, then, again – Stone County, Missouri is always full of surprises.

        Before you visit, email or call ahead and see if the Bank of Galena Museum is open. They have wonderful displays. As far as I know, the Bank of Galena was the one bank Shock Short never robbed. Also the men and women of the Stone County Historical and Genealogical Society are excellent sources of information. A year or so ago, in the Society’s displays they had a couple of items from “The Day of the Red Jackson Hanging.”

        Here is a piece of Stone County trivia that you may not be aware of and probably will not find in researching the Red Jackson hanging.

        Herschel Johnson is the man, who built the scaffold on the Stone County Courthouse Lawn to hang Red Jackson.

        As a boy, Herschel Johnson and his wife, Larry were neighbors, Herschel was a kind, quiet man, who always spoke in a low, even tempered voice. And he smoked a pipe. You could always recognize Herschel, most farmers wear the traditional blue Big Smith overalls. Herschel was tall and always wore the blue and white striped overalls that is usually associated with people who worked on the railroad.

        Herschel Johnson had an outstanding reputation as a carpenter in Stone County. He built a lot of things. It is even said that he built some of the “Charcoal Plant” buildings, which were quonset huts down by the railroad tracks. But, the most infamous and famous structure that Herschel Johnson built was “The Gallows That Hung Red Jackson.”

        Take care, Zach.

        Sam

        samwarren55

        June 11, 2012 at 7:44 PM


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