Guns of ‘The Highwaymen’
The guns used by the legendary lawmen who hunted down Bonnie and Clyde in the Netflix feature film.
Great movies don’t necessarily hit theaters first these days. If you need proof, just check out the Netflix original The Highwaymen that hit the streaming service last week, starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson.
It’s the story of legendary outlaws Bonnie and Clyde told from the perspective of the two former Texas Rangers who ultimately hunted the duo down after their two-year reign of terror. Though the history of the story depicted in the film was not as cut and dry in reality as it would appear (it never is), it’s a damn good movie with memorable performances from Costner and Harrelson.I’ve come to believe that if you put two great actors in a car together for extended dialog-heavy scenes and one of them is Woody Harrelson, it’s going to turn out good. (Yes, I’m a but True Detective S1 fan.)
The story follows Frank Hamer (Costner), a retired Texas Ranger who built a legend for himself in the early 1900s. Since then, Texas Gov. Miriam Amanda Wallace “Ma” Ferguson (who was one of the first women elected to governor of a state and served two terms, from 1925 to 1927 and again from 1933 to 1935) had disbanded the Texas Rangers, according to the movie. In actuality, the whole affair was a lot messier.
Ma Ferguson had a reputation for being corrupt. After all, she was first elected after her husband “Pa” Ferguson, was impeached and forced to resign.About 40 Texas Rangers resigned rather than serve under Ma Ferguson for her second term. She then fired all the remaining Rangers and replaced them with her own appointees. Though Hamer retired after 27 years, the commander of the Rangers allowed him to retain a Special Ranger commission as an active Senior Range Captain.In the movie, “Ma” (Kathie Bates) says that the state legislature had dissolved the Rangers, though its clear that is her policy.
When Hamer was tapped to go after Bonnie and Clyde following a particularly brazen prison break, he was commissioned as an officer of the Texas Highway Patrol to hunt them down—hence the movie title. After recruiting his old Ranger partner, Maney Gault (also retired) for the assignment, the two set out to do what they do best.
First, Hamer stops at a gun shop to arm up.
I had to rewind it and watch the scene twice (ok, three times). Not only does he walk into a small gun shop and buy an entire two arms full of long guns and pistols with nary an ID presented—but the selections he makes are remarkable. I don’t know if a small town gun shop would have all this hardware on hand, but it was a much different time, so they just may have. For some reason, the scene reminds me of the gun shop scene in The Terminator.
You can watch the scene above, but so you don’t have to rewind it a bunch of times like I did, here’s the run down of what Hamer asks of the gun shop clerk as he goes through items he’d circled in a firearms catalog:
Hamer: “I’ll have a look at that Thompson submachine gun. Colt Monitor machine rifle. The one on the top there with the custom pistol grip. Colt Automatic Pistol…and the 1917 Smith right behind it. And I want to see the BAR. .30-06. And the ’03 Springfield with the glass up there. That Remington Model 11 riot gun over there.”
Clerk: “You want the 28-inch or the 20-inch?”
Hamer: “No sir, I want the short barrel. Is that the 12?”
Clerk: “Yes, sir.”
Hamer: “And let me see that old Winchester you got there, that .30-30.” listens closely to the action as he cycles it “Need one gun that won’t jam.”
But then there’s the question of ammo.
The gun shop owner asks Hamer if he wants the stick magazines or the drum mags for the Thompson. Hamer asks, “How many in the stick?”
ClerK: “20 rounds.”
Hamer: “I’ll take a dozen. And two of them drums. And a handful of those half-moon clips for this Smith if you got ’em.”
He then asks for the S&W Model 1917 in black instead of nickel, because it’s “too damn shiny.”
Hamer: “I believe that’ll do it.”
Clerk: “Which’ll do it?”
Hamer: “All of ’em.”
Clerk: “All of ’em?”
Hamer: “Yes sir. Along with four cases of .45 lead. Same for the .30-06 and say, an even 100 of each of the others.”
Clerk: “What’re you going after with all this firepower? If you don’t mind me asking…”
Hamer: “No sir, I don’t mind at all.”
And that is the end of the conversation. Then the shop owner carries the armload of long guns out to Hamer’s car…no cases, and no pedestrians freaking out on the street at the sight of someone carrying uncased guns from a shop to a car, where they are thrown in the back seat along with an old Winchester crate full of magazines and ammo.
If you’re wondering why a gun shop has several full auto machine guns in stock, you’re right to wonder, but technically, the movie is correct. The National Firearms Act of 1934, which severely regulated the sale and ownership of full-auto firearms, as well as short-barreled rifles and shotguns, went into effect in June, 1934. Bonnie and Clyde were killed in May, 1934.
So maybe this little gun shop had stocked up in preparation of a buying surge ahead of the NFA going into effect? Some things don’t change.
The End of Bonnie & Clyde
Colt Monitor Machine Rifle
While that’s a good list right there, it’s not the complete list of the guns used in the movie, and Hamer and Gault never even break out the Thompson, despite all the magazines Hamer buys for it (though it may be the Tommy gun used in the ambush at the end of the movie). The much lesser known Colt Monitor gets a hefty bit of screen time.
After the First World War, the U.S. Army used the BAR as a light machine gun, often fired from a bipod after 1938. The Colt Monitor Machine Rifle was a variant of the original M1918 BAR and was and still is the lightest production automatic firearm chambered for .30-06 Springfield. It was hampered by it’s 20-round magazine, which made it somewhat ineffective as a machine gun.
The Monitor was introduced by Colt in 1931 and was intended for use by prison guards and law enforcement agencies—so it makes sense that Hamer would be familiar with it. As it was intended to be fired from the shoulder, the Monitor nixed the BAR’s bipod and had a separate pistol grip and buttstock attached to a lightweight receiver along with a shortened 18″ barrel with a 4-inch long Cutts compensator on the muzzle.
Carrying and firing the Monitor was no simple feat, as the beast of a gun weighed over 16 pounds unloaded and had a rate of fire of about 500 rpm.
Only 125 actual Colt Monitors were produced, with 90 being purchased by the FBI. Eleven went to the U.S. Treasury Department in 1934 and the rest wen tot state prisons, banks, security companies, and other LE agencies.
A decent number of surplus BARs were chopped and modified to be something like a Colt Monitor. One of these cut-down BARs was Clyde Barrow’s preferred firearm that he called his “scattergun.” In addition to chopping the gun down for length, he had two magazines welded together for a 40-round capacity—which is mentioned by Hamer in the dialog. The gang got their hands on several BARs after robbing a National Guard armory.
Now, could Hamer have possibly found an actual Colt Monitor on the wall in a small Texas gun shop? I mean…anything is possible, but its highly unlikely.
There was a Colt Monitor spewing lead at the ambush where Bonnie & Clyde’s car was riddled with bullets and their spree of crime and murder was ended, but it was wielded by Dallas County Deputy Sheriff Ten Hinton (who is depicted in the movie as a young, wet-behind-the-ears lawman in contrast to the grizzled old lawmen).
Hinton borrowed the Monitor from the Texas National Guard Armory to use against the Barrow Gang after engaging them in a gun battle earlier in Sowers, Texas. Hinton discovered that the .45 ACP rounds from his Thompson couldn’t penetrate the steel of the 1933 Ford V-8 Barrow was driving (they made cars differently back then too).
In the movie, Hinton (Thomas Mann) uses a regular unmodified M1918 BAR at the shootout, likely the one Hamer bought at the gun shop.
Remington Model 8 Autoloading Rifle
Oddly enough, with all the hardware Hamer buys at the gun shop, he doesn’t purchase the rifle he actually carried when he and a posse of lawmen finally catch up with the notorious outlaws.
In the photo above, Costner does have a Remington Model 8 during the final confrontation, but it seems to be loaded with a standard magazine. In reality, Frank Hamer’s Model 8 was outfitted with a custom 20-round magazine. The Model 8 was chambered in .30, .32, and .35 Remington.
According to Hamer’s own account, he used a Model 8 chambered in .35 Remington that he got with a special-order 15-round magazines from Petmeckey’s Sporting Goods in Austin, Texas with serial number 10045. There were at least two Model 8s used in the ambush on Bonnie and Clyde.
Hamer’s gun was modified to accept a “police only” 20-round magazine, which he obtained through the Peace Officers Equipment Company in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Winchester Model 1907 Self Loading Rifle
Of the other guns depicted at the final shootout, one of the more interesting is the Winchester Model 1907 Self Loading Rifle police model carried by Deputy Bob Alcorn (Dean Denton). It has the detachable 10-round box magazine, which is tough to come across these days and is hardly ever seen on screen. A 15-round magazine was also available from Winchester.
The little carbine is a blowback-operated semi-auto rifle that was produced from 1906 to 1958. It was sort of like the M1 Carbine in that it fired an intermediate cartridge and was similar in size and handling, though its a bit heavier and packs a bigger wallop. Winchester only offered the gun chambered for the .351SL centerfire cartridge—which was similar to the original loading of the .30-30 or the modern .35 Remington.
To make up for the low pay of $180 a month for the special assignment, Hamer was promised a fair share of the reward that had been posted for the outlaws once he caught up to them. Unfortunately, the pre-ambush sum of $26,000 being offered for the gang was mostly reneged by various states and municipalities after the duo was killed. Each posse member received a check for just $200.23. They were also allowed to take some of the gang’s belongings—Hamer reportedly took most of the guns.
He later told reporters, after learning a great deal about the lives of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, “I would have gotten sick (seeing her perforated body in the car), but when I thought about her crimes, I didn’t. I hated to shoot a woman—but I remembered the way in which Bonnie had taken part in the murder of nine peace officers. I remembered how she kicked the body of the highway patrolman at Grapevine and fired a bullet into his body as he lay on the ground. I hate(d) to bust the cap on a woman, especially when she was sitting down, however if it wouldn’t have been her, it would have been us.”
Browning A5 / Remington Model 11 Shotgun
Hamer buys a Remington Model 11 at the gun shop and we see him carrying later while checking out on of the gang’s campsites in the woods.
The Browning Automatic 5 is a recoil-operated semi-automatic shotgun designed by John Browning and is usually cited as the first successful semi-auto shotgun design. It remained in production until 1998. The “5” comes from its capacity—4 shells in the magazine and one in the chamber.
Hamer calls it a Model 11 at the gun shop in the movie, indicating that its a variant of the A5 made by Remington that was nearly identical, though it lacked the magazine cutoff found on the Browning.
In the same scene, we see Maney Gault (Harrelson) with a short-barreled side-by-side coach style shotgun, though we don’t see how or when they get their hands on that scattergun.
Colt Single Action Army Revolvers
Though Hamer buys plenty of modern hardware at the top of the movie, both he and Gault are seen carrying old school single action army revolvers with six inch barrels tucked into their waistbands.
When Hamer first decides to go after Bonnie & Clyde, he practices with his SAA, presumably from his Ranger days, by having some kids throw bottles in the air for him to shoot. He doesn’t do so well, missing several times on the draw. He finally gets a piece of a bottle when he draws before the bottle is tossed. Perhaps its this performance that inspires him to buy some higher-volume firearms.
Gault also carries a similar SAA, though his doesn’t have pearl grips like Hamer’s. He draws and fires a few shots at a sign in the woods when the duo find one of the gang’s abandoned campsites. He misses with every shot.