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Weddings don’t have to be stressful and expensive but they should be interesting. See how this couple took advantage of a legendary place to have a Bonnie and Clyde Texas wedding. It made for a no-hassle old west weekend for the bride and groom, their family and friends.
An old west wedding venue with a back story
The couple made it legal in Llano, Texas which is about a hour and a half from Austin. Llano was the edge of the western frontier until 1875. It’s not hard to imaging that frontier even today as you leave the traffic and noise of Austin far behind when you cross US 281 on Highway 71.
The bride, groom and guests had completely taken over a Llano venue that had operated for over 100 years. The Dabbs Railroad Hotel, built in 1907, is the last of the old Texas Railroad and River hotels with the Llano River flowing out back. The most frequent visitors were railroad crewmen. They would stay overnight at the Dabbs and then return to Austin, the hotel being the final stop on the line that linked the state’s capital to the granite-rich Hill Country. More fittingly, it was a favorite hideout for another Texas couple, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. The duo became national celebrities in the 1931-1935 “Public Enemy” era, due in part to Bonnie’s writings and playful photos found in some of their abandoned safe houses.
Parker and Barrow were raised in West Dallas. Bonnie briefly kept a diary in early 1929. In that journal, she wrote of her loneliness, her dissatisfaction with life in provincial Dallas and her passion for photography. In January 1930, she was staying with a friend when Clyde Barrow walked into the friend’s house and into the kitchen, where Bonnie was making hot chocolate. Clyde looked like the remedy for all her diary laments and they fell in love.
Three months later, Barrow was sent to the Eastham Prison Farm for a string of robberies. Prison upped his game. Clyde killed his first man while there; crushing the skull of a fellow inmate who reportedly assaulted him sexually. Paroled in 1932, Clyde had hardened. A fellow inmate, Ralph Fults, said he watched Clyde “change from a schoolboy to a rattlesnake.”
Hope this marriage is happier
Possibly blinded by love to Clyde’s unhappy transformation, Bonnie was still committed the schoolboy she’d met in 1930. She loyally rode with her man throughout their short outlaw life and into the ambush in Louisiana that ended it on May 23, 1934.
There is a picture of the couple at the Dabbs Hotel with Clyde partially hidden behind his favorite getaway car, a 1934 Ford with the 221 cubic-inch Flathead 21-stud V-8. They must have relished the days they spent at the Dabbs and at the Llano River, since they had to know their time was running out.
Much in common with Bonnie & Clyde
Take away the murdering and the robbing, Bonnie and Clyde could be the couple whose marriage we were celebrating. Both couples loved road trips, taking goofy photos, camping, Fords and spending time with family. Ironically, Texas Ranger Frank Hamer was able to successfully track down and kill Bonnie and Clyde because they made such predictable visits to family.
Little changed from Bonnie & Clyde days
When Bonnie and Clyde “vacationed” at the Dabbs, there were seven rooms plus a big sleeping porch for the bachelors or kids. Very little changed from its look in the 30’s except air-conditioning had been installed and the sleeping porch was now glassed in. While the Dabbs Hotel backs up to the Llano River, there is also a public area where you can swim and float. The public park is across Highway 71 at the spillway on the other side of the Roy Inks Bridge. The river separates the hotel and abandoned train depot from the town square and stately 1893 county courthouse.
The food carried on the outlaw theme
Inman’s Kitchen catered the party. The barbecue joint started in 1967 with a very limited menu of beef brisket, ham and turkey sausage, which was their unique take on the traditional pork version. Inman’s quickly became busy catering for Lyndon Johnson’s ranch down the road in Johnson City, for Willie Nelson at his July 4th picnic and at the Huntsville Prison Rodeos. Our friends’ unplanned outlaw wedding theme continued.
Cold beer under the Texas stars
The wedding soiree was on the back lawn of the Dabbs yards from the riverbank. It was BYOB , fitting both the occasion and the bride and groom. Cold beer was all you needed on a star-filled Texas night in July. After a couple of rigorous games of washers, the bridal couple and friends took to the river to cool off. Bonnie and Clyde would have approved.
Not a town devoted to tourism, thankfully
Llano itself was a wonderful surprise too. With its neatly maintained square, there was no mistaking that this ranching town had other important business to attend to. The whims of tourists were recognized but “the tail didn’t wag the dog” as it does in Fredericksburg, one of the most popular Hill Country destinations. That town has become too precious for me, more like a Texas antique Disneyland.
Bordering the busy and postcard-perfect Llano courthouse were some trendy shops that would have made the cut in Fredericksburg but it also had the junk stores and the old book places we love. My favorite stop was a jumbled establishment back behind the courthouse. A stout man in overalls and a feed store hat sat behind the counter, listening to country music on an old bakelite radio .
I found a ragged copy of “Haunted Mesa” by Louis L’Amour and took it outside to read as I sat on a weathered bench and waited. Hank inspected every rusted tool and farm implement for another 45 minutes before buying a pair of pliers for $1.
We stumbled upon the Spotted Possum boutique in a pink clapboard house near the hotel and the empty train depot. There I found a diaphanous coral-colored t shirt, better suited for the heat than what I brought for the evening wedding. Well, to be truthful, I got the t shirt because it went so well with a wonderfully silly cowgirl necklace that will remind me of this western wedding for many years
Our favorite memory
We woke up at 8:30 on the Sunday morning after the wedding to find that we were the only ones still left in the hotel. Everyone else had gotten up early and hit the road for more capers. We grabbed the chance to wander around the quiet, empty hotel as it settled back into a peaceful wait for her next visitors. Over a century of housing outlaws, in-laws, lawmen, prospectors, miners and adventurers could wear you down, but the Dabbs was still warm and welcoming .