A visitor may not have to go far to hear the tale of how Bonnie and Clyde robbed the bank in Old Town Spring, a myth passed down for the better part of a century. History tells a different tale, however.
The state granted a charter to Spring State Bank on May 19, 1910, with a capital of $10,000 and 100 shares of stock, according to “Spring Through the Seasons,” a historical book by Margaret Mallott Smith. However, the first bank burned in a fire in 1917 and was rebuilt in brick on Gentry Street.
Although the bank never again burned, it witnessed at least two bank robberies in the 1930s during the Great Depression, a time in which bank robberies were common across the country, Smith said.
Smith said the first known robbery occurred May 24, 1932, when two men pulled guns on 16-year-old worker Mavis Sibley and teller Homer D. Brown, a former bookkeeper. The robbers rounded up more than $7,000 between the vault and cashier’s counter before driving away.
“Mr. Brown chased the robbers out of the bank, shooting at them as they went, but I don’t think he got the money back from what I can tell in the story,” Smith said. “In one account, the robbers went to what’s now I-45, met their accomplices, who were two women, and took off from there.”
The crime occurred in an era of infamous bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, Smith said, and several eyewitnesses claimed to have seen the duo. One man claimed he was tipped $5 for helping a couple get their car unstuck from a sandbar near Spring Creek. Another woman claimed to have given directions to a couple who got lost on their way out of the Spring area.
“So, the story grew and grew,” she said. “I really don’t think that Bonnie and Clyde were here. They were somewhere in Louisiana or someplace else.”
Brown, the bank teller, would have another chance to prove his heroism in a robbery less than a year later on Jan. 6, 1933, Smith said. When the attempted robbers drew their guns, Brown drew his own pistol from under the register. The two sides exchanged gunfire, which left scars in the building’s faade that can still be seen today.
“They jumped in their car—a maroon sedan—and fled,” Smith said. “Mr. Brown jumped on the fender of another car and chased the bandits out of town. He was never able to capture them, but his bravery was rewarded.”
The teller was granted a special deputy sheriff’s commission by Harris County Sheriff T.A. Binford, giving Brown the same authority as a deputy and paying him $1 a year.
However, the bank would not stay in Spring much longer. Smith said many small banks struggled during the Great Depression with President Franklin Roosevelt closing many banks during that time period. Spring State Bank merged with the Guaranty Bond State Bank in Tomball in 1934.
Bullet holes and an old bank vault remain at the building, now The Steel Horse, a baby boutique in Old Town Spring. While the bank may have left long ago, the myth of the Bonnie and Clyde bank robbery remains.
“It’s just like ghosts,” Smith said. “People want to believe. It thrills them to think about ghost stories. In a way, the Bonnie and Clyde story is a type of ghost story. It’s sensational to think that these famous robbers came to Spring and robbed the Spring bank.”