“Bonnie and Clyde have died.”
That’s old, yet still good news when heard repeated. Lawmen shot and killed the infamous banking robbing duo on May 23, 1934.
Recent news is the same: “Bonnie and Clyde have died.”
This is a bad, very sad report.
“It was a tough day when Bonnie died on December 23, and then I found Clyde dead eight days later. I think he died from a broken heart.”
In deep melancholy, Cleve Beckman reflected loss of the renowned draft horse pulling team Bonnie and Clyde.
“They were really quite a team. Bonnie and Clyde were nearly impossible to beat. That pair won major pulling matches all over the Midwest,” Cleve confirmed.
Yet, the Mound City man was quick to advise: “The team belonged to my dad Merle. He was the one who made them so great. I just helped out.”
Merle quickly verified, “I’ve pulled a lot of horses in my lifetime, but Bonnie and Clyde truly had to be the best of all. They’re gone, we don’t have any more, but there’ll never be another team of pullers like Bonnie and Clyde.”
Pulling horses is a family affair. “Merle bought Bonnie and Clyde after they’d beat his team over at a match in Missouri,” remembered Kendall Hutton of Welda.
“Merle and I’ve been pulling teams since we were hooking ponies as kids,” added Hutton, Merle’s lifelong match traveling partner and brother-in-law.
Hutton’s wife Joyce is twin sister to Gloria, Merle’s wife.
“We all went to most of the matches. Bonnie and Clyde had so much charisma. They always drew lots of attention and applause,” Gloria insisted.
So it doesn’t appear strictly family bias, longtime Linn County Fair leader John Teagarden, LaCygne, verified: “I’ll tell you everybody knew Bonnie and Clyde. They might not have known Merle Beckman, but they knew that Belgian pulling team.
“Bonnie and Clyde won the pull during the Linn County Fair at Mound City several times, but it was just one of many. The team was nearly impossible to be beat. Merle always had them fit and was sure there to win, too,” Teagarden confirmed.
“I’ve never seen anybody with more passion for anything than Dad has for pulling horses,” Cleve inserted.
“We started out pulling ponies all around the country, then went to big horses, had lots of teams over the years,” Merle said. “I’ve had four strokes, slowed me a bit, yet really fortunate to have had such a great last team Bonnie and Clyde.
“I’d say they died from old age. Bonnie was down, got up, but died before the vet could get here. Clyde just could not live without her, and died eight days later,” Merle reiterated.
Bonnie was a registered Belgian with papers verifying she was 21-years-old when passing. Clyde the gelding was thought to be three or four years older.
“I’m pretty sure they were renamed, but they were Bonnie and Clyde when I got the team from Tommy Nichols. That’s what they’ve always been to us,” Merle said.
Competing in the heavy division, Clyde was the left hand horse at about 2,100 pounds. A bit lighter, Bonnie weighed nearly a ton.
“They pulled their best most of the time,” Merle credited. “Sometimes, Bonnie wanted to be a mare and wouldn’t give her all, but that really wasn’t very often.”
Gloria insisted to get on the phone: “Bonnie was really a show horse. When they’d go in to hook she perked up and was ready to go. I just loved to watch that Bonnie at a match.”
Yep, Bonnie and Clyde were champions, but they never had a life of leisure. “I worked them every day,” Merle said. “We’d hook at daylight and work until early afternoon. I generally wouldn’t work them the day before a pull, so they’d be more ready and anxious.”
Here’s where Cleve would come into the picture. Living right across the road from his parents, he said, “I’d help harness and hook the team every morning before I went to my real job.”
With an elaborate track, there were various weight sleds used in the training program. Only Merle knew the precise regimen for best results.
After daily training, exact routine continued as the team was unharnessed, hosed down, and cooled out with fresh hay in the barn.
Merle’s horses always had the most nutritious feed to win, but only he knew the exact ration. “I fed oats, bran, corn chop, some vitamins; that kept them in good shape,” he claimed.
Hutton intervened: “Bonnie and Clyde were hard as rocks. You’ll never find a team more prepared for a match than Merle had them.”
Merle noted, “I’d usually keep the horses off water several hours before a match. They’d generally be more ready to pull and have a better weigh in.”
Over the years exact timeframes and dates get a little shady varying from memory to memory. “You know I’m just not certain what year we got Bonnie and Clyde. Bonnie must have been about seven,” Merle calculated with Gloria’s input.
Likewise, just how many match titles Bonnie and Clyde have claimed is not exact. “Most of them, but not everyone,” Merle admitted.
Incomplete records show Bonnie and Clyde won 74 pulls with Merle on the lines. “Cleve drove them some. He won the last match with Bonnie and Clyde about seven years ago,” dad Merle credited.
“That must be a record for wins by a Kansas draft horse team?” Teagarden inquired. “It surely won’t ever be matched in this day and age.”
Be hard to name which was the most prestigious win. “Dad won the Kansas State Fair several times with different teams, but Bonnie and Clyde won it five times straight. That was a pretty big deal,” Cleve insisted.
Championships were claimed in Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, Iowa maybe other states.
Trophies throughout the Beckman home verify the accomplishments with only a check of engravings to know when and where.
“We’d pull at Tulsa one day, Oklahoma City or Stillwater the next night and not get back home until 4 o’clock that next morning, and I still had to be work by 8 o’clock,” Cleve remembered.
“It was sure worth it seeing Dad and everybody enjoying themselves so much,” he added.
Bonnie and Clyde have been in retirement of recent, under watchful eyes and daily care from Merle, Gloria and Cleve.
Although not with hands on the lines, Merle and everyone in the family still get biggest thrill from draft horse pulls. “We’ll drive ten hours over to Kentucky just to watch a match and then back home again. That’s what we love to do,” driver Cleve commented.
A team in life, Bonnie and Clyde are buried side by side in the yard at Merle and Gloria Beckman’s place near Mound City.
“I probably won’t have any more horses, but we were all so fortunate to have Bonnie and Clyde,” Merle declared.