Monday, January 30, 2017

THE REAL WEIRD WEST: The US Camel Corps Part 2

   So in Part One, we wandered the Weird West where Congress passed a law in 1855 for $30,000 to then-Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. This, so ol' Jeff could fix to bring some camels to the United States. He felt these would make fine pack animals and even mounts, toward the expansion of the western frontier following the Mexican American War. Lotta desert out that way, so what better animal to see them through it?
   Only place they felt to get the beasts was the Eastern Mediterranean. What they called back then The Levant. Fertile Crescent is there, Cradle of Civilization, too. Look up Arabian Peninsula on a map of the times and take the north bit of that, then some of Mesopotamia, a bit of Egypt, you pretty much have it. Few other places but that's the general area. They're desert places.
   Camel places.
   They asked George to go, our Captain Crosman, who first came up with the idea of this whole deal. George said no. Maybe he was feeling petulant since everyone shit on his plan for ten years, maybe he was just sane. Who knows.
   So ol' Jefferson sent Major Henry Wayne (his pal helped him out getting the 30 grand from Congress) and a fella named Lt. David Porter. Porter was to take a ship named Supply to Northern Italy, Wayne was to head to England and learn about camels. No internet then so you took a boat to a foreign country. It's just how things were done. The boys were to meet up later and go from there.
   Sure, ol' Jefferson gave Hank plenty of books and all, and the man knew some things, but England had a zoo where they'd kept camels and some folks there had studied the animals close-up. Some gents in Paris too, had used camels fighting in Algeria. For Dave, well, he hung out with the Duke of Tuscany and studied the man's camel herd. In the end, Hank and Dave learned plenty and once they met up in Italy, broke it all down for ol' Jefferson in some letters:


Looks like we got two kinds of camels goin' on. Two-hump Bactrians and one-hump Arabians. First one's tough as shit and good for hauling heavy things. Second one is faster than a sumbitch and would make a good mount. We can get one-humps in the Middle East, the two-humpers in Central Asia. We know you want the one-humpers for chasing Injuns, but we think the two-humper is maybe the way to go, all told. We're gonna take the boat around though, and try to get both.

Hank and Dave

   The boys went to Tunis, Salonica, Constantinople, all over that Levant. What they wanted was a nice, big load of camels. Both kinds, good stock, good price. They looked at camels, bought camels, rode camels, traded camels, everything camels, trying to gather up the best herd. These two guys from America, from a place with no camels, were becoming expert camel folk.
   In fact, a couple they'd added to their growing collection they now knew were no good. In Constantinople, they said 'Well, let's get a few bucks' and sold them to a butcher for about $40. Then in Egypt, the viceroy tried to pawn off a half dozen clunkers and Dave told him to go screw. Then, after a stop in Smyrna, the boys completed their cargo and set out for the States with 33 camels, a good mix of one- and two-humpers. It was February 16, 1856.
   Hank and Dave brought some Arabs and Turks along to help care for the camels during the trip and they kept a 'Camel Journal' outlining the herd's daily routine: diet, illnesses, everything. Having both males and females on board, things happened of course and en route, six calves were born, two surviving.
   Dave was intent upon the calves and kept careful watch, monitoring them and writing up letters to ol' Jefferson about his progress in caring for them. Pretty soon, he was a better camel doctor than the Turk they had. That man was no great shakes and evidence suggests he's the reason the other four calves died. For various ailments, he suggested tickling the camel's nose with a chameleon's tail, or feeding the things cheese if they had a cold.
   For obvious reasons, Dave fired him and promoted himself to the unofficial (though entirely necessary) rank of ship's camel doctor. He saw the beasts through sickness, storms and once (during a stopover in Kingston, Jamaica) 4,000 gawking locals. He took his new capacity very seriously and when the ship finally docked near Indianola, Texas in May 1856, all 33 (and two calves) were safe as kittens.
   The United States finally had its first herd of happy, healthy government-issue camels.

Friday, January 27, 2017

THE REAL WEIRD WEST: The US Camel Corps Part 1

   Bet you didn't know once upon a time, an Old West time, camels roamed the land like stray dogs. In the days and years following the Civil War, there they were, ornery and mistrustful, snarling at passersby like they owned the place.
   It started with an Army captain named George Crosman, who thought camels would make for good pack animals and transportation. His 1843 report was ignored for years, 'til a Major by the name of Henry Wayne took notice and made a recommendation to the War Department in 1848. This got the attention of future (sort of) president and then-Senator Jefferson Davis, who was on a military affairs committee.
   Davis then took the ball and ran to Congress in 1851 to get an appropriations bill for $30,000 to go get us some damn camels. He may have put a pillow up his back and danced around spitting on folks, but probably not. Truth is, that woulda made more sense to the Senators present. They said no thanks.
   Now understand, this was an Army Appropriations Bill. Meaning it was Discretionary funds. Unlike a Mandatory program, say these days, Social Security or whatever, where the funds get renewed every year no matter what. Discretionary is for a specific thing for a specific time. A department or committee or whoever comes over, asks for dough for this or that thing that year. This case, War Department asks for Army funds. New uniforms, weapons, new campaigns, etc.
   Davis wanted that kind of money. He wanted camel money, tacked onto the Army's yearly appropriations. Uniforms, weapons and maybe a few camels. Every year, Congress would decide what the Army (or whoever) got to spend freely on whatever came into their fool heads, based on these bills. I mention this, so we all know just how bad this man wanted damn camels walking around on American soil.
   Year later, 1852, he come back, but this time, said $20,000. No again, but Congress was split. House said camels sounds great, Senate said no camels. So, at least things were catching on for ol' Jefferson Davis. Public was even taking interest and several stand-up folks, eminent archaeologists and whatnot - who had experience with the animals - said in certain letters to maybe give the whole thing a try.
   (Jumping ahead to 1857, some thought it was such a hot idea, they formed "The American Camel Company" and actually imported a load of the things to Texas. There isn't much known what came of that, but it might explain a few of the brutes being seen near the town of Douglas late as 1941.)
   Back to 1853, Davis returned to Congress and made for another bill. Had his act together (he was Secretary of War, now) and brought Major Wayne and a few others with him and hit on the fact that the western frontier had expanded considerably.
   This, following the Conquest of California in 1846, and the Mexican American War following that. The Mexican Cession that came as a result of everything had given us California, Nevada, Utah and parts of Arizona and New Mexico. Then the Gadsden Purchase on top, and, well: America was a whole lot bigger. Driving the frontier into this new territory, he said, establishing settlements, trade routes, sure as hell fighting Indians or Mexicans or even each other, was a certainty.
   And it was hard for folks to argue him. Far as most knew, this new territory was all mostly desert. Aside from the Texan-Santa Fe Expedition in 1841, no one had really been out there. There were immigrant settlements, sure, military outposts, but it wasn't a proper controlled or well-explored place. Davis was saying "Exactly, let's use an animal adapted to that environment, bring 'em over and try a few things. I'm sick of comin' here every ding-dang year. Just say yes."
   They said no, but he got his money anyway. Who knows how. The bill passed with no mention of camels, but a couple Senators managed to sock away 30 grand for 'The Camel Experiment'. Maybe they liked Davis' camel dance. Any rate, the paper went through and became law in spring of 1855 and ol' Jefferson was on his way.

Monday, January 23, 2017


This was a story I started about thirty years ago, my first Weird Western, in fact. I was reading a whole lot of Joe Lansdale o' course, and decided to give it a shot. Science fiction wasn't working for me and my detective novel just wouldn't take. I called it Aztec Gold before it changed to Priests of the Black Sun, then Hayes and the Hellriders. Six, seven years ago I went back to it after oh, at least a decade. Dumped 120 pages of 150 and just got to work. Whole lot about it's changed, but then again, it ain't changed a bit.


   Bosch sat in a town at the edge of the desert and waited to go insane. He drank and played cards and paced the saloon floor. He stood outside and stared into the sun to speed up the process.
   The wind flapped curtains out broken windows and signs swung on chains. The horses tied in front shifted and shook their heads.
   Down the street, a door clapped shut and someone threw their leg over a glossy pinto. High above, the clouds were fat bellied empires, sliding over the too blue sky.   Bosch ruled them in his mind and made rash, violent proclamations. The clouds kept on. The horseman galloped up dust goin’ by, his brim pulled low.
   There was no more war and the gold was gone out the mountain. The town was dying and tryin’a take him with it.
   He’d lost his last ten at the table and thought about selling his Susies. Good Guns. Smiths.
   He had half a bottle left and gulped some, sitting on the saloon porch in his shitty clothes, his only clothes. Shitty jeans and a shitty shirt with the sleeves rolled halfway up his forearms so long they was glued there. He looked around for his hat and unholstered a gun from his shitty crossed belts and gripped it tight. Good gun, though. He twitched, like it might end up in his mouth.
   “Best be gettin’ then, chief,” said a voice and he looked over. The cardplayer, Grant, tugged up the collar of his duster and stomped down the steps, his men close behind. It was Bosch and Asa, now. A couple whores down the street, maybe. The doc had been around earlier.
   “This it?” asked Grant, his hand on a bay mustang tied to the post.
   Bosch nodded, thinking of that last hand, throwing in his ten and raising the horse on top, hell yes, the saddle too. He’d pointed out the window, Grant nodding and matching the bet with a few notes. Bosch’s hand was laid out to low groans and embarrassed snorts. He’d pounded the table. There’d been three of a kind, goddammit! Then the pacing, the drinking and staring into the sun.
   Grant untied the animal and kept the rein loose, boot in his own stirrup to swing up.
   “Thanks, chief.”
   The group trotted off, leadin’ Bosch’s mount behind.
   “Don’t mind it,” said Asa, wiping his hands on a cloth. “Just addin’ insult to injury.”
   “I ain’t fuckin’ Injun.”
   “Uh huh.”
   “Y’let Injuns in yer fuckin’ saloon?”
   “I do not.”
   “There it be, then.”
   "I got my wagon comin’ in with Doc’s this afternoon.”
   Bosch had his back to the porch post, leg in the street. He nodded and watched Grant’s crew fade in a swelling billow o’ dust.
   “Uh huh.”
   “I’ll leave a few things if y’stay on.”
   “Or come with one of us.”
   Bosch shrugged.
   “Mayor’s gone, Bosch. Don’t need another one.”
   He watched Asa part the wing doors and head on in. Shot him twice through the back and stepped in his blood and sacked the place for a cashbox. Bosch propped the body in a chair and sat across over bottle after bottle, recounting that last hand.
   “Y’hear me?”
   Asa’s shoes appeared in the space Bosch stared at under the wings, somehow not bursting into flame for the intensity of his lurid thoughts.
   He blinked and dragged his stare up the saloon doors.
   “Yeah,” he said, the man’s face spattered with blood. The two exit wounds gaped, big enough to crawl into. Bosch put a palm in his eye.
   “Y’hear me?”
   “Plate o’ beans, I hear ya.”
   “They’re gettin’ cold.”
   Bosch shinnied his shoulders up the porch post and stumbled inside. Slammed his bottle on the bar. He ate the beans and soaked the plate with a heel o’ bread. A glance at Asa, the shelves behind him bare, everything crated in back. In the mirror over the bar room was empty save a table left out for their game, the other three chairs already dragged away.
   He went back outside. Last meal, that was all he needed. Middle of the street he unholstered again, knees sagging. He was breathing heavy through the booze, the sun pounding his back.
   A man needed a smoke, though.
   He swung his head toward the saloon and jerked a shoulder to twist the rest of him after.
   Last meal, last smoke.
   Asa stood behind as he sat on the porch some more, the tobacco fluttering down between his boots. He was shaking too much.
   “I got it, Bosch.”
   He sat down beside and took the curl of paper, the pouch and started rolling. Bosch nearly apologized for killing him. He watched the mountains over the rooftops across.
   “Which o’ them’s left?” he asked.
   Asa licked it shut and put the smoke between Bosch’s lips. A match snapped off the edge of the step.
   Bosch turned to let him light the end, nodded. He exhaled a gust through his nose. Jerked his head up the street, hand cupped to his chest over an invisible tit.
   “Marlene, I think,” said Asa. “Ellen or Sadie with ‘er. Headin’ south.”
   They were only a half day from the border. South sounded just fine to Bosch. He could kill himself in Mexico just fine. He got up.
   “Hell, three-four hours now,” said the doc, sitting at his desk back of the cathouse. Bosch kept his forearm braced on the doorframe. He swayed. The lantern on the blotter hissed.
   “You aren’t in shape for a throw anyway, Bosch.”
   “Was gonna leave with ‘em.”
   “I see,” Doc kept writing in his ledger. “Ride with me, if you want. Room in the wagon.”
   “It matter?”
   Bosch didn’t answer. Doc had his head back, staring at the ceiling. His throat was cut, blood like a bib on his chest. Snakes writhed over the desk, rain slashed the windows.
   “Does it?”
   Doc clapped the ledger shut and put it in his split handle bag. He stood and checked the watch in his vest.
   “Wagon’s comin’ before three, they said. Find me at home.”
   He brushed past and Bosch followed him a few feet across the empty front parlor. He stumbled and held a hand out for the counter where Marlene would sit, taking money for the cashbox she kept back there. Bosch weaved behind it, bending down to look.
   He kept falling. 

   If you enjoyed this excerpt, pick up a copy of the book for .99 at any of these online stores by clicking HERE.

Friday, January 20, 2017

LEGENDS OF THE WEIRD WEST: Mailbox Baseball in the Weird West

   I believe in aliens like I believe in spooks. I mean, we have to have a soul, look at us! The things we get up to and damn few of them are biologically important. Art, War, Fine French Cooking, we don’t need that stuff. We like it. It pleases us. It pleases the soul. Now, look up into that big black sky at night. Does something to the soul, too. And the brain, if you let it.
   A man can’t stare up at them stars and tell me things only worked out for us. One planet, one bunch of idiots, that’s it. Us. No, it’s too damn much up there. They say best evidence there’s intelligent life in the universe is none’s tried to reach us. I tend to agree. Because we are troublesome. But who’s to say aliens don’t have their own troubles? Troublemakers, say? Grab a ship, head out to the farthest reaches like I used to with my dad’s truck back on the farm. He had a ’56 Ford cab-over, loved that truck. We’d find a place to run out of gas, sit on the flatbed in back. Maybe a girl, some beer, maybe watch those stars. Maybe ride on the hood down the highway or bash a few mailboxes, we did that, too.
   So maybe aliens ain’t come down to shake hands. But nothing saying there ain’t been a few hotrodders out there who let too much of their daddy’s ship get away from ‘em. One goose of the gas pedal and they end up ass over teakettle in our neck of the woods. And what better place to do it than the Old West? Say, Aurora, Texas, 1897.
   Story goes, April 17 of that year, ship crashed on J.S. Proctor’s farm round about 6AM. Right into a windmill, tore up the ship, killed the poor fool inside. Story goes a lot of ways but it starts there. They got a look at the driver, pilot, whatever they thought of what he was, and concluded he was “not of this world”.
   Some even said Martian.
   So, being good Christian folk, they buried the body in the local cemetery, said their prayers (that’s part of it, they said they prayed for him), walked away from his unmarked grave and that was that. They have a sign in the town to this day, outside that cemetery, very official, saying this is where he is. Not exactly, but in that area. Little story about the crash carved in there, too.
   Naturally, reasonable folk can leave that alone. Or not, shit, reason’s a relative thing. Some might say Hell, not even worth considering. Some might not be ready to know if it’s true. Some still, sure it’s false and wanting to rub that in some faces.
   Me, I don’t care one way or the other and let’s just say it did. I like the thought. Old West is a perfect setting for an alien crash. It’s what makes the Weird West possible, stories like that. The blend of intractable frontier land and intractable universe. Lone cowboy on the prairie looks up at the sky, lone alien pilot screaming behind his joystick as he goes down in flames.
   We were exploring still, back then. Maybe they were, too. We were braving a frontier, maybe our neck of the galaxy is the alien’s version of that same thing. We’re the wild natives, dancin’ and hootin’ and scarin’ the hell out of ’em. Bein’ enlightened, they’d leave us alone.
   Like I said, aliens, if they can build ships, they’re smarter’n us. Enlightened and they wouldn’t dream of slumming with our kind. But their kids? See, that’s a different story.
Kids are troublemakers, no matter how far your race has come. This one hitting the windmill, probably stole the keys like I first did on that cab-over. I was 13, rode the hell out of that truck a good 2 miles before I hit the side of my uncle’s barn and tore out two fence posts. Substitute alien ship for Ford pickup and Earth for barn, I think it starts coming together.
   Grave’s unmarked because the kid jumped out the last second. After taking out a windmill, of course. His version of mailbox baseball. Said his sorries, begged the townsfolk to cover for him and off he went. Probably thought he’d have a damn good time down here. Why not? Earth in 1897 was a humdinger.
   William McKinley was President. We’d just invented Dos Equis. (And the aspirin to take for your hangover from it.) A man still carried an iron on his hip. He ranched cattle, mined for copper, walked outside at night and breathed the freshest damn air. We had cities too, but not as many. And not as big. There was a lot of open spaces between things. Lotta room for a kid to hide from his daddy for stealin’ that ship.
   I hid after them fence posts, believe it.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

MYTHS OF THE WEIRD WEST: Cowboy Gods of the Apocalypse

Our friend Charles Skinner (Ghost Train No. 19, remember?) wrote a tale called Sacrifice of the Toltecs, rife with strange notions. When you're done here, give it a read in Myths & Legends of Our Own Land and you'll see what I mean. Loved the scene he set, though, so had to make it my own. It's got nothing to do with Toltecs now, it's just about the West.

And it how it got Weird.

   Centuries past, a Great Empire loomed over the endless desert wastes. Across Mexico and up into what is now Arizona and California. The entire southwest was their world, arenas and temples hunched against the pale, blue sky. They were a mighty people and much feared. Their enemies lurked at their ever-expanding boundary, swords and spears clutched in dark, trembling fists.
   Their king was a vain and pompous man, whose soul was only for his Gods, that they might deliver power and prosperity for all time. His coffers brimmed with an ocean of gold coins, his army stood bristling with weapons upon every ledge and parapet. The Empire’s men were fat and happy, the women were languid and scheming.
   It is no surprise then, they fell prey to luxuriant boredom and ruthless over-confidence. Often the sky rumbled black threats and the borders grew menacing shadows, but they would not abate. The king would merely take a young woman and shove her at the high priest, demanding the Gods be satisfied. The city would choke the temples in their lustful fury and bellow ecstatic cries as the blade was punched deep within the maiden’s heart.
   But the Gods would not be swayed. They owed their lives to the worship of this kingdom, true, but its anguished melancholy was now their own. They looked across the vast, blasted tracts of their own empire and sighed. The time had come to see if the Gods themselves had souls. They cast their eyes below and set to work.
   Then the whole earth shook and great fissures split the underworked fields. Lazy farmers sat up from their naps beneath the trees and gaped at the destruction. Cracks like forks of brutal lightning sliced through the city. Houses burst, shops crashed and the arena fell.
   The king pushed away his concubines and ran to the window. His city threw great clouds of dust and debris and the screams of the dead were deafening. He fled from his chamber and cried for the high priest.
   There was no time to prepare a maiden he knew, for the world would soon end. He grasped the robes of the high priest and pulled him close. “Go to my daughter’s chambers!” he roared, “Drag her to the temple!”
   No Gods could deny the loyalty of an empire willing to sacrifice its own lifeblood.
   Tears streaming, the princess kicked and spat as the robed minions of the high priest wrestled her out of the palace. Outside, chunks of rock tumbled, fires blazed and the dead littered the streets. A cry went up that the reservoir was next and all would be drowned. The high priest whipped his horses to a frenzy, the young woman held tight by his men in the back of the wagon.
   The temple pillars wobbled and fell as the holy retinue galloped inside. The altar stood high upon its dais, shivering in a shaft of sunlight where the ceiling had collapsed. Picking their way over the destruction, the priest pushed the princess onto the warm, black marble and fitted the chains to her wrists and ankles. She thrashed for his prayers and invocations and spit the wine he poured in her mouth.
   A wall of the temple fell outward, crushing a caravan fleeing down the street. Children screamed for their mothers. All was dust and smoke and the frantic silhouettes of the damned within. There was a great boom in the distance. A growl of throaty, raw thunder.
   The reservoir had burst.
   The holy man wiped the blade of his jade knife and kissed it. The princess screamed as it came down, grunting blood through her nose. Her eyes rolled in their sockets. The priest raised his hands to the sky then, palms together, calling upon the will of the Gods. The temple collapsed upon him.
   All was ash and darkness. The ground tore apart and shelves of rock sawed together, spewing magma and spires of flame. The reservoir surged in and swept all before it, carrying a froth of mud and bodies into a deep, grand, canyon that led to the bowels of the earth. For hours the empire was torn asunder amid fire and water and lashing rain.
   And the princess stood over it all, the edges of her spectral form wafting like ribbons. All the maidens past stood with her and they looked into the canyon as a waterfall of shattered stone and broken bodies tumbled over its rim. They greeted these souls as they were torn from the depths and soon, the entire Empire was watching itself die.
   Then the sky opened up and the princess led her people to the world beyond, empty of Gods and pettiness and fear.
   No survivors remained. Only a few foundations, only a few bones sticking up from the mud to ever know an entire world was no more. From now on, there would only be god souls and shadows. Only whispers to suggest the merest sense of far-flung kingdoms and their foolish notions.
   But it would be more than enough, to let men know they were indeed, in a weird land.

Friday, January 13, 2017

THE REAL WEIRD WEST: The Bloody Benders Part 4

   Well, we know ol’ Hank York was found in that orchard by his brother Colonel Ed. Remember I mentioned that third brother, Alex? Well, ol’ Alex, he was a man with some pull, a Kansas senator who decided upon the results of Ed’s efforts, that a reward would hasten the capture of that sinister slasher family.
   $1,000 back then was a piece of money, no question. About 20 grand these days and that got some attention. Governor of that fine state, Mr. Osborn saw ol’ Alex step up and offered $2,000 on top. Whoever caught them murderin’ sumbitch Benders well, they was in for a hell of a payday.
   The chase was on.
   Of course, before heading off to skate along that razor sharp horizon and bring a vengeful thunder upon the culprits, there were certain…local matters to attend to. The Benders kept to themselves for the most part, sure, but their dread business still meant a certain amount of actual business and that meant accessories.
   They nabbed about a dozen of them type-folks, those lawmen and vigilantes. People of ‘ill-repute’ known to associate with the Benders, the thought likely being, their arrest would, if not produce the whereabouts of their fugitive murderers, at least cultivate some goodwill with respect to their efforts toward finding them. Even ol’ Brockman made the scene again.
   This wasn’t smoke and mirrors, now. Not entirely. Every one that stood in jail or before some judge had their hand in tying up loose ends. Mainly in disposing of, or fencing, the stolen goods of the Bender victims. Hell, they even squared away a member of the Vigilante Committee itself! Oh, Mit Cherry, he’d gone and written up a letter supposed to be from one of the victims, saying he’d arrived safely at his destination.
   The man had not, of course. Had the Benders? It was time to find out.
   After all, wagons did leave tracks and the Benders did leave in one. Some detectives hired on followed these and came upon a handful of half-dead horses teamed to it about ten miles from the Bender Inn. From there, witnesses pointed them along that the Benders (or folks like ‘em) had bought some train tickets.
   In a town south called Chanute KS, the Bender kids left the train and hied toward Texas on their own. Outlaw conclave on the border of Texas and New Mexico awaited and they were not pursued. No, that was the badlands for many reasons and the law hesitated to tread there. Or so they say. Could be that, could also be they were just surmising the kids’ destination and couldn’t afford the expense of being wrong. Ma and Pa, though, stayed on that train and – some say – went east, arriving finally in St. Louis, MO.
   From here, well, no one knows. Stories abound. Everyone says they saw the Benders, chased the Benders, even killed ‘em. Little House on the Prairie gal, Ingalls, said her dad was on a Vigilance Committee gone caught the family and strung ‘em up or shot ‘em, she’s not specific.
   It’s not a tale much believed, mainly for the math. The Ingalls’ moved from the area in 1871 when Miss Laura was 4. Bender story didn’t break until 1873. The others over the years, well, that’s more speculation. There’s even less to support these claims, but at the same time, they’re mostly contemporary with the times. Ms. Ingalls brought hers up long after, in 1937.
   Whether they told the tale in some saloon, or to the law itself, burning, hanging or shooting down the evil Bender clan, it don’t much matter. Not a soul ever brought in a scrap of evidence to support themselves and not a one ever laid claim to that fine pile of money, that 3 grand waitin’ for whoever run ‘em down.
   So folks talked, as folks do. The Benders had escaped and for the next fifty years, would remain so. That is, until it was safe to assume each of them had died. Meantime, there were the tales of who’d killed them, and every so often, a story about how they’d actually just died or been arrested.
   Take the case of an old man fitting Pa Bender’s description, arrested in Idaho for killing someone with a hammer to the head. He was brought in, but cut off his own foot to get out of his leg irons. That worked back then about as well as it would now, and yes, the man bled to death. By the time they got a Kansas deputy out to ID the remains, the corpse had rotted too far. Nevertheless, the folks in our fine potato state took credit for the capture and long displayed the man’s skull in a local saloon as that of Pa Bender. That is, until Prohibition, when the place closed and someone grabbed them bones as a souvenir.
   There’s also the damned strange case of Almira Monroe and Sarah Davis, arrested as Kate Jr. and Ma Bender in 1889. Each accused the other of being either Kate Jr. or Ma, and who really knows why. It’s a host of blog posts to just suss out the details of the preliminary reports. They were crooks, true enough, but it was determined that they were not the ladies in question.
   All in all then, the Benders were long gone. Stayed gone, too. Twenty victims total, they say, once the graves were counted, assumptions were made and body parts got strung back together. Most were claimed and laid to rest where need be. Those that weren’t were re-interred in a specially ordained area south or so of the Bender orchard, called ‘The Benders Mounds’.
   Now, whether it’s an inn at the gateway to the Weird West, or a marker showing the souls claimed upon its threshold, any place got the Bender name on it is one howling with ghosts and daring you to visit.
   I wouldn’t recommend it.

Monday, January 9, 2017

THE REAL WEIRD WEST: The Bloody Benders Part 3

   The Bender Family has struck! From their little inn beside the Osage Trail, they have claimed at least nine travelers, perhaps even a dozen. A search party has uncovered several shallow graves on the property, a well full of body parts and a mysterious trapdoor by the dining table inside. In the room beneath lay a pool of dried blood. This pointed somehow to the killers’ design, but how?
   Well, no one really knows. But their assumptions aren’t so far-fetched, given the evidence. It was a dining table, after all, so obviously, the devils did their work at mealtime.
Say, a person wanders in, dusty from the road and desires a night’s sleep. Perhaps a meal. Supper, or maybe breakfast. Given the blows cracked on the skulls of the recovered bodies (and those found in the previous years, dumped in the nearby woods) a hammer played a role.
   The traveler sits at the table, perhaps about to eat, perhaps just done. He sits back to review his plate before he begins, or, finished, does so to lay his hands on a satisfied belly. The trapdoor is right there beneath them, what better time? What better position for say, Ma or Pa Bender, even one of the kids to come up behind and…
   Right on the head.
   It makes some blood, true, but it doesn’t splash. No, it doesn’t flow like it’d have to if that stone-floored chamber below was to be as drowned as it was in the stuff. For that, you need a slit throat.
Who knows who done that, doesn’t matter. The guest reeling from the hammer, they’re easy pickins. Open the trap, dump the body and follow ‘em down. It’s not like movies where you just draw the knife across the windpipe now, no. The windpipe is tough as leather. Like slashing a garden hose or something. You gotta jam that blade in beside the hose and saw like wood. Sometimes even hack at it. Veins and arteries all over the neck. What a show it made, no question.
   The gasps and gurgles done, the room hot and dripping, the killer would wipe their face (oh, they had it all over them, to be sure) the knife was slicked across a skirt or a pantleg and well, who knows? Maybe it was a private deal and they just stood down there, listening to the blood seep between the paving stones. Maybe the whole family was standing around, licking their lips where they got splashed or sucking their fingers. Maybe they just crouched above, peering down the hole, pissed that it wasn’t their turn this time.
   Whatever the case, when it was done, it was done. Then the body was stripped of its goods – even its clothes, in some cases – and hauled back up to bury outside. If they had no goods, well, maybe the Benders didn’t know that and just assumed. Maybe they knew just fine and did it anyway.
   And now, this ain’t total conjecture, no. Talk from folks who’d stayed at the Inn and run afoul of the family – escaping before they could come to harm – do support the previous. A Catholic padre saw one of the Benders hide a hammer when he looked too quick in one direction. He left right after. Gent called Bill Pickering said when he had a problem with seating arrangements at the table, Kate Jr. pulled a knife. Off he went to live another day.
   There were two men arrived on word o’ Kate’s ‘psychic powers’ and decided to stay for a meal. They didn’t sit proper at the table either, and took to a nearby counter. That wouldn’t do. Enter: Pa John Bender and John Jr. looking surly. The guests looked at each other, looked at their meal, looked at the Bender boys. Goodbyes were said and off they went.
   Besides the graves, the body limbs and the bloody room under the trapdoor, the search party also found a dozen or so holes in the ceiling and walls of the inn. Bullet holes, which only supports that folks at one time or another got into a corner there at the Bender Inn and either fought as they died, or fought their way back to life. No one can say.
   So, there it be. The Bender Inn, site of travesty and tragedy, gossip and gore, empty of all but a few lone bodies to tell the tale of a murderous band of homicidal homesteaders. Would that be all? Body parts and shallow graves? Were the Benders to simply flee, free of their crimes?
   Oh, no.
   With the search party led by Colonel York, the near hanging of Brockman and the community uprising over the bodies found, this would not be – excuse the pun – laid to ‘rest’ so easily.
   Word do spread in the west and when it’s Weird, well, it goes that much faster. Heaven and Hell have a way with the mind and those tuned to its frequency are ever so certain of its meaning. And the tune they sang, long before radio scratched out its songs on the curve of empty skulls wondering where the world went was:
   Where were the Benders?
   A fine question and one many sought to answer. The findings of the search party made the news quickly and papers were snapped open in the following days and heads were shook over morning coffee.
   Onlookers soon came to gawk at the Bender Inn and even more reporters swarmed. New York, Chicago, they all wanted to walk the site and breathe those bloody fumes. It didn’t take more than days, weeks, and the Bender Inn was overcome completely. Fools asking questions, making notes, clawing for a piece of history and before long, the whole place was gone to the baseboards.
   Every item in it, every piece of furniture, every knick and knack. Even bricks and stones and bits of wood down in that bloody cellar beneath the horrible trapdoor. They even took pieces of the well. 
   And still, holding those totems close and trying to infer some meaning from them, that question remained:
   Where the hell were the Bloody Benders?

Friday, January 6, 2017

THE REAL WEIRD WEST: The Bloody Benders Part 2

   So the Benders had blown their cover in a hail of kitchen knives and coffee curses. Ed York was hot on their trail, or would be once he got the evidence he was after that the Benders had disappeared his brother the year before.
   But he wasn’t the only one looking to start piecing things together. Several nearby communities were joining forces to point some serious fingers. A few weeks after Ed’s last visit to the inn, a town hall meeting was arranged, attended by seventy-some locals, including Colonel Ed and Pa Bender himself.
   Grievances were aired, questions raised and a decision was come to. It was time to get some search warrants and start turning over every stone in every house between Big Hill and Drum Creek. Pa Bender naturally made use of this information to his great advantage.
   Few days later, lad by the name of William Tole happened by the Bender Inn where lo and behold, a palpable sense of neglect and abandonment seemed to prevail. No one home and the Bender’s animals all appeared to be unfed. It was rough weather coming in though, so after Master Tole recounted his discovery to the township, it was several days before they could investigate.
   Once they did though, they went in force. Hundreds of volunteers came calling, tried and true each and every one, ready to heed the plight of starving chickens where tales of madwomen brandishing butcher knives had failed. Colonel Ed led the charge and off they went to storm the gates of the sinister Bender Inn.
   They weren’t to be disappointed.
   No Benders of course, but no food or clothing, either. Nearly every stitch and scrap had been hauled off, leaving only the dust and silence and the haunting notes of some peculiar smell.
   The search party ran the edges of the room, drawing curtains and opening cabinets. They sniffed to the rafters and down along the floor. And there they had it. A trapdoor by the dining room table, nailed fast. It was short work to pry it up, where they found…!
   An empty room.
   However, there was no missing the blood on its stone floor. It was comprised of several heavy slabs, laid side to side. They called for sledges and spent hours wrecked it up, but no bodies were found. The smell was obviously the blood itself, but enough of it, that it’d soaked into the seams between the slabs and into the soil beneath. It left them all with only one recourse.
   They had to lift the entire cabin.
   Yes, sir that group went shoulder to shoulder and every strong back among them raised up the cabin in their mighty, calloused hands and moved it right out the way. They then got to work digging the soil there, but to no avail. Not a single corpse was found.
   ‘So where’s that leave us?’ someone likely asked.
   ‘I can’t think of a single thing. We looked inside the house, we looked under the house.’
   ‘That’s a real puzzler.’
   ‘What about around the house?’ someone offered.
   ‘Whatdya mean?’
   ‘The yard, say. Y’think someone might be crazy enough to perhaps bury something in the yard?’
   ‘Instead of moving their cabin, depositing bodies there, then moving it back?’
   ‘I know it sounds wild, but my god – what if I’m right?!’
   ‘What if you’re wrong?!’
   Fair enough, it didn’t go quite that far, but Lord only knows why those fools didn’t just hunt around the place first.
   So that’s what they did. Got themselves some long metal poles and starting poking around. They concentrated especially on the garden and orchard, both of which – bear with me folks – appeared to have been freshly dug up and refilled. It was here they found their first body. And where Colonel Ed found his poor brother. Dropped facedown Hank was, barely beneath the surface.
   On they went into the evening hours, marking suspect sites for future excavation. Next day they came back, and sure enough, pulled out eight bodies. Another one was thrown in the well as were several random body parts. Oh, the Benders had been busy, indeed. Damn near every one of ‘em had their head bashed and throat cut. Except one. No apparent injuries on that one, a young girl. Ma and Pa had decided to strangle her or bury her alive, no one’s quite sure.
   Naturally, the whole ordeal pissed them folks right off. They had to point it at someone and if not the Benders, well, maybe someone in that crowd right there by the inn.
   ‘You knew the Benders, didn’t you?’
   ‘Good friends with ’em as a matter of fact.’
   ‘How’d you like us to hang you right here and now?’
   ‘I wouldn’t!’
   ‘Too fuckin’ bad.’
   And up he went on the end of a rope until he passed out. They let him down, woke him up and started asking questions. Where were the Benders? Where were their other victims? Why’d they do it? When they didn’t get the answers they wanted, they strung him up again.
   Eventually, they let ol’ Brockman go and he staggered home like a man who’d been hung several times and yelled at by a crowd of vengeful townfolk. He didn’t know a thing, or maybe, knew things too horrible to speak of. Who can say.
   After all, where had the Benders hied off to? What the hell was their motive in the first place? And how did they do it? Were they dragging folks out of bed of a night and cutting them up? Waitin’ in the shower or closet with them hammers and knives?
   No, they weren’t. Didn’t have showers or closets back in the Old West, anyway. No, the Benders had another method, and in tune with their gibberish speaking, coffee cursing, psychic wizard ways…
   It was pretty damn creepy.
   And plenty weird.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

THE REAL WEIRD WEST: The Bloody Benders Part 1

   The Bloody Benders were a savage crew. A cult, you might even say. Slashed and pounded their way through a host of victims out there in the Weird West. Merciless serial killers and yep, I said serial killers. Might be thinking Jack the Ripper is the Man in this case, but no sir. That was 1899 and H. H. Holmes came before, 1893 (and that one did business well before that.) Serial Killing goes back real far, Roman Times even and well before that. Hell the term itself is only 30-some years old. Early 80’s word some fed or other came up with.
   Back in the day, it was just called killing. Lots and lots of killing. In 1871, it was ol’ John Bender, his lady Kate and their two kids, John and Kate Jr. Some say the kids weren’t siblings at all but husband and wife. Or maybe the husband and wife were actually brother and sister. Some go further and say the whole damn family wasn’t ‘related’ as such. Not a lotta records on those folks. Plenty on their doings, though. There’s no missing any o’ that.
   Now, things for the Benders got started after the Civil War. The feds moved some Indians off Kansas land and down to what would become Oklahoma. That left the vacated premises open to homesteaders and the Benders were one of a handful of families decided to make their mark. Ol’ John took a liking to a piece beside the Great Osage Trail, which happened to be the only western road for folks headed to the frontier.
   They put up a cabin and split it in two, back half for the family, front for a little store and area where travelers could get a night’s rest. Even had a little garden and an apple orchard. Real quaint-type setup. The Benders were spiritualists but this ain’t what set ‘em apart. Spiritualism was new, but not unheard of and them homesteaders came to that Kansas land were all of a like-mind. No, what did it was the cultural deal going on with the family.
   Pa Bender was possibly German and didn’t speak much English. What he could say, couldn’t be understood. Ma Bender was locally branded a she-devil for her pissy, vicious ways. The two kids were the cherry on top. John Jr. liked to laugh to himself for no reason at all and Kate Jr. claimed to be a psychic with healing powers. She used to canvass the area with fliers advertising same and also did a few séances. She gave speeches about Spiritualism and even pushed for Free Love. This was obviously popular for a number of reasons and drummed up some real good business for the Bender Family Inn.
   Fact, so good, apparently the Benders had to start ‘gettin rid’ of all them guests. One was a man by the name of Jones. Head bashed, throat cut, found up in nearby Drum Creek. Mining site – a claim anyway – and they thought the man who lived there did it, but no. Year later, 1872, two more found, bashed and slit. Two men. By the next year reports of missing folks got so common people stopped using that part of the Osage Trail.
   It was already considered a “bad part of town” enough that Vigilance Committees (soon to be their own post here, that’s certain) made it a practice to start rounding up their own suspects for the murders. A few they gave to the local law, a few they ran out of town. A few others, who can say. Vigilance Committees…well, anyone keeps watch over the Weird West long enough, it does strange things to you.
   Any rate, one of those “missing persons” the Committees were so fired up on, George Longcor and his baby girl, had a friend name of Henry York. George dropped off the planet winter of ’72 or so, York came looking for him that next year. Stopped along the trail asking after them, but no, no sign. And soon after, no sign of Mr. York. Now, ol’ Hank had two brothers, Ed and Alex and they didn’t like this one bit. Ed, a Colonel in the Army, figured fifty stout soldiers would be just the thing to suss out Hank’s whereabouts.
   March 1873, Ed darkened the door at the Bender Inn, asking after ol’ Hank and where the hell was he. The Benders said ‘Sure, Hank, we know that fella. He was here, then he left. You know what probably happened? Injuns.’ Now remember, the Old West was a tough place and murder happened. Even serial murder but without a proper internet and good ol’ tube, well, folks were more naïve.
   ‘You know what?’ said Ed, ‘That’s a right possibility. Got any dinner?’ And that woulda been that.
   Ed ate, he left with his boys and continued his search. That is, until a few days later when a woman ran screaming from the inn, Ma Bender hot on her trail with a carving knife. The lady got away, but the tale took shape and soon enough, Ed was back with his crew, arms crossed tight and foot tapping, I’ll wager.
   ‘You said you didn’t kill nobody, start talkin’.’
   ‘She was a witch!’ Ma Bender said. ‘She cursed my damn coffee! What else was I gonna do?’
   Oh, yes. That was Kate Sr.’s claim. Coffee witches.
   ‘Coffee witch,’ said Ed. ‘That’s your deal.’
   ‘Sure is,’ said Ma Bender. ‘But I’ll tell you what. Come back in a few days, my daughter will use her psychic powers and find your friend.’
   ‘Hm,’ said Ed. ‘Let’s do that, then.’
   And off he went with his boys in tow.
   ‘I think that went well,’ said ol’ Ed.
   But his men didn’t agree. ‘Hang ‘em all’ was the general consensus.
   ‘Y’think?’ asked Ed. ‘I mean, they weren’t just…folksy?’
   No, said his men. There is some weird shit going on in that place.
   Ed probably sighed.
   ‘Oh fine, then. Let’s get some damn evidence…’