La Reunion's Catherine Horsey Dispels Myths and Reignites Legends About Misunderstood West Dallas

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Aside from having the Wild West's most enviable surname, Catherine Horsey is a craft beer enthusiast, avid Red Dirt music listener and serious mandolin picker. And, despite the fact that she found her way to Dallas as an adult, she is as integral to the city's cultural preservation as any native, born and raised. Trained as a geologist, she now works as a sustainability and organizational consultant, serving as executive director of La Reunion TX, a 501c3 arts community and 2011 MasterMinds award winner. Tomorrow night, Horsey helps the DMA kick off their Dallas on Film! summer series, dropping some Americana with an introduction to the series' first screening, Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

Filmed in Dallas, Denton, Garland and surrounding rural areas, this instant classic stars steamy Warren Beatty as the carnally frustrated Clyde Barrow and Faye Dunaway as his precarious paramour, Bonnie Parker. Firmly established in the American film school canon, Bonnie and Clyde is beautifully shot, boasting what was - at the time - Hollywood's most scandalously violent coup d'état.

Despite its hometown flavor, we wondered at the choice in light of West Dallas' burgeoning rejuvenation and whether the screening further substantiates negative stereotypes. We turned to Horsey, a fierce West Dallas advocate and one hell of a knowledgeable lady, for a little enlightenment.

Hold up! While fairly tame by today's Saw sensibilities, this bullet riddled clip ain't for everyone:

Horsey agrees that advocates of West Dallas feel ambivalent toward the Bonnie and Clyde connection; Barrow and Parker were instantaneous celebrities, despite their foul deeds (sound familiar?), and their legendary status is not without nuance. In fact, when La Reunion and volunteers from West Dallas planned the Parade of Giants for March's Bridge-o-Rama festivities celebrating the opening of the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge, it became a little problematic, and those chosen were appropriately deemed "influential figures" rather than "historic heroes." But, Bonnie and Clyde enchanted us, thrilled us, scared us - and still do. To deny them a place in a celebration of notable West Dallasites would seem ... willfully delusional.

But, Horsey's talk addresses the good, bad and wild with vigor, emphasizing the good. "So many of us know almost nothing about West Dallas except for stereotypes of crime and bad characters emphasized forty years ago. Communities get a bad rap, and they can be hard to overcome."

West Dallas' reputation, however, stems much further, and those historical realities - and their "outlaw appeal" - are part of what make the community's story so vibrant. Horsey tells us that the "bad" side of West Dallas first appeared in the 1870s, when the railroad, pushing through a westward expansion, ran out of money as part of a wider, but small, economic depression. Seated at a river crossing a community called Eagle Ford - which remains as a neighborhood north of Oak Cliff - became a hotbed of saloons, dance halls, cowboys and "the usual activities that go along with them."

During roughly the same time, the original La Reunion colony was established by European settlers with a penchant for dancing and fiddle playing on Sundays - practices that caused a fair bit of pearl clutching from within Dallas proper. While this period lasted only a short time - the railroad was able to continue its expansion to Fort Worth within about three years - its memory has remained long lasting. Coupled with the development of cement factories on the chalk deposits there and increased industrialization in the late nineteenth century, West Dallas has maintained a "don't go there" status. And, while tales of swinging saloon doors and fiddling artist-farmers are some of Horsey's favorite tidbits about the area's history, she emphasizes the way that history has proven both detrimental and essential to West Dallas culture.

"West Dallas was unincorporated until 1952, which meant it was without business codes, sidewalks, public projects - all the advantages of being a part of a city like Dallas. The bridge has drawn much needed attention to the area and the City Design Studio has made great strides in balancing new development with existing residential areas. I also think the West Dallas Chamber of Commerce has been essential in seeing the community's potential and striving to reach it," Horsey says.

Bonnie and Clyde, counter-cultural Utopian artists, dance-hall dreamers. Horsey's talk on Thursday plans to illuminate how they're all just pieces of a wider story depicting Dallas' most misunderstood community.

Join Catherine Horsey on Thursday, July 12 at 7:00 p.m. in the Horchow Auditorium at the Dallas Museum of Art. Admission is free for DMA members and part of regular museum admission. Bonnie and Clyde is rated R. Visit dallasmuseumofart.org for more details.

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