Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Week Reading Part Three

The Saga of the Bloody Benders - Rick Geary.  My last read for October was a nonfiction graphic novel about one of the most horrific, chilling chapters in American history. The Bender family, consisting of two old people and their grown daughter and son were supposed to be immigrants from Germany. They settled in the southeastern corner of Kansas in Labette County, and set up a grocery store/inn. Unfortunately, the Benders were serial killers, luring travelers, murdering them and stealing their goods. When there were too many unexplained disappearances and suspicion fell on the Benders, they disappeared and the grisly remains of their victims were found in the cellar. Large sums of cash and goods that could be directly linked to the deceased were also discovered.  No one is sure what became of the notorious family, although rumors persisted, chiefly about Kate, the beautiful and outgoing daughter, who was seen as the main instigator.

As usual, Rick Geary has done impeccable research, retelling the story with the help of several sources. Old photos helped him bring the lonely Kansas plains of the 1870s to life, as well as the faces of the evil Benders and the unlucky people who encountered them.

According to an appendix in Pioneer Girl, Laura Ingalls Wilder's autobiography, Charles Ingalls (Pa)  came close to being one of the unlucky ones. When he was returning from Independence with a heavy load on his wagon, Kate offered him room and board. In this story, Pa was tired, but decided to press on. A little later, the Benders were found out and on the lam and Pa allegedly joined the band of vigilantes in pursuit.

The editor of Pioneer Girl, Pamela Smith Hill, asserts that this anecdote is probably pure fiction cooked up by Laura and her daughter/editor Rose, to make Laura's reminisces a little edgier (This was when Pioneer Girl was still being shopped around as a book for adults).

Research proved that the Benders and the Ingallses weren't in Kansas at the same time, nor would Pa have gone by the Benders' inn because it would have been too much out of his way. Still, it is interesting to see how this heinous bunch fired Laura's imagination even sixty years after hearing about them and fascinating to contemplate the most wholesome family in pioneer America crossing paths with their polar opposite.


Care said...

I've read Geary's take on Lizzie Borden - good stuff. His books are cool. And... Being a good Kansan, I supposed I should know about the Benders but I don't.

Sue F. said...

This sounds on my TBR list! Thanks for the review!