Sunday, May 23, 2004

GIBSLAND, La. (AP) — The day after police gunned down Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in north-central Louisiana, 20,000 gawkers and souvenir-hunters overran the nearest town.

Seventy years after that ambush in rural Bienville Parish, “the Southwest’s most notorious bandit and his gun moll,” as the News-Star of Monroe described them at the time, are again packing them in.

“We’ve got people calling from everywhere trying to get here,” said Sharon Martin, a coordinator for the Bonnie and Clyde Festival in Gibsland, 8 miles down U.S. 80 from Arcadia, the nearest town to the ambush site. “Because of the anniversary and some Internet sites, we are expecting a lot more participation.”

Arcadia had about 700 residents when four Texas lawmen and Bienville Parish Sheriff Henderson Jordan and his deputy, Prentiss Oakley, set up an ambush on May 24, 1934, alongside state Highway 154 just outside the town.

Arcadia was the first to cash in on the area’s one well-known bit of history, organizing a flea market called Bonnie and Clyde Trade Days in 1990.

It’s now Louisiana’s biggest outdoor flea market, held one weekend a month. Locals say it brought eight antique shops, a Day’s Inn and a dozen restaurants to Arcadia, where the Hot Biscuit once was the only eatery.

Two years later, Gibsland, population 1,200, added drama to the mix with ambush re-enactments and other festivities at its first Bonnie and Clyde Festival.

Trade Days organizer Kathie Jones said townspeople are not trying to glorify Barrow and Parker. “But it is something that Bienville Parish has been famous for,” she said.

This month’s Trade Days are already over, but the festival opened Friday evening with a $5-a-head dinner for “Bonnie and Clyde writers, historians, and collectors.”

“There’s gumbo and jambalaya. … We have plenty. Plus you can come back for seconds,” Mayor Odis Key said Friday.

The festival is held each year on the Saturday closest to May 24. This year’s included an outdoor gospel concert and a re-enactment of the Bonnie and Clyde ambush.

The area also has a Bonnie and Clyde Tourism Trail and a Bonnie and Clyde Museum in Gibsland.

Shreveport resident Greg Givens said research into his family genealogy — his great-grandfather helped create Arcadia — piqued his interest in Barrow and Parker. “I was riding the back roads doing all of this research, and I was taken by their story, and in doing so I met other historians.”

He started and participated in the re-enactments, and co-produced a documentary, “Death of Bonnie & Clyde,” which includes interviews with some local people who came in contact with the duo, and a large number of photographs from people across the country.

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