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.

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