Monday, November 1, 2010
A Rememoration of the Bloody Benders (inspired by the legend of the infamous Kansas Bender family)– Papier mâché trunk box, hand-painted and stained; antique hammerhead; dried rose, twigs and leaves; rusted doodad; wax; theatrical blood; genuine human hair; dirt; antiqued and stained newspaper clippings; altered art pieces—antique Queen of Spades playing card, stained black-and-white print of abandoned cabin walls and floor, Benders Drops advertisement
A time to count one’s blessings.
A time to honor hearth and home.
A time to celebrate family…
…the ties that bind…
…round the table.
Ma and Pa and their son and daughter.
Come, you must be plum tuckered out after all that wandering. Sit a spell, dinner’s just about ready…they’re all glad to see you…
But you haven’t been properly introduced…meet the Benders.
Ma (she has no other name it seems) and Pa John are sturdy, hardworking folk, from the old country. They don’t mingle much, stay to themselves mostly.
The children are more sociable, good church-going type. The son, John Jr., is a well-mannered, simple sort with a newly sprouted moustache; the daughter, Kate, an auburn-haired beauty, she’s a bit of a flirt, a young spitfire of a filly who already has local lads’ tongues hanging out, panting, like parched dogs during a summer scorcher.
It’s a heartwarming picture, no?
But take another look…
Ma’s got ‘em shifty eyes, and she ain’t too friendly.
Pa’s a great big bear of a man, dark gaze peerin’ atcha from under heavy brows, watchin’ yer every move.
John Jr.’s really a half-wit, gigglin’ a lot when it, well, just ain’t right.
And Kate, claims to be a healer, she does, cure all yer ills with her patent medicine, her layin’ on of hands, and…oh, yeah, she talks to the dead. Ain’t pullin’ yer leg.
Somethin’ just ain’t right ‘bout ‘em Benders.
Labette County, Kansas, 1872.
The Benders were supposed German immigrants. They settled in on a plot of homesteaders land brought from the government and opened The Wayside Inn, just off the main route of the Osage Mission-Independence Trail, surrounded by miles and miles of unspoiled Sunflower State prairie. The Wayside was a small, dingy place—but hungry pioneers didn’t seem to care. It was a spot to get some home-cooking, stock up on a few provisions, grab forty-winks, and then hit the trail before sun-up. The grub wasn’t bad, the bedding adequate, and they’d even take care of the horses for you, but what drew them in was Kate.
That auburn-haired beauty.
She made you feel right at home.
Put you in the seat of honor at their table, she did.
You see, the Benders were so famous for their warm welcome that many of their guests stayed on…
The seat of honor at the Bender’s table had its back against a curtained wall. If you looked prosperous, had a gold watch or a silk handkerchief, shiny boots or a new hat, a strapping stallion or a strong team, a full cart and cash in your pocket, beware the hammer.
The Bender Hammer.
Pa was real good at wielding it.
A shadow, a shuffle behind that curtain and…
…I think you get the picture.
And Norman Rockwell it ain’t.
The leftovers were disposed of through a trap door to the cellar, soon to be stripped and sown somewhere out in the apple orchard, or by the vegetable garden—real good fertilizer a fresh corpse is, you know.
Plan went off without a hitch for well over a year, until, as danged luck would have it, they done bumped off the wrong person.
Most of the casualties were those on the move, seeking a better life, following Horace Greeley’s sage advice, “Go west, young man…” and if they disappeared? Hell, the Indians got them, or the wolves, or whatever rough country ailments were out there—Rocky Mountain spotted fever anyone? But one of the Bender’s callers had been the brother of quite a renowned Civil War Colonel—and that Colonel came looking.
Brought the law with him, too—the sheriff and several deputies.
But by the time they reached the Wayside, the Benders had vanished.
The place was empty of everything—except the terrible smell.
Ten bodies were discovered buried on the Bender’s land, including those of one woman and a little girl. By coincidence, the first found was that of the Colonel’s brother; his skull had been bludgeoned, his throat cut from ear to ear, and he’d been planted in the ground headfirst, his feet all but exposed.
That same day, the Wayside Inn became known as “Hell’s Half-Acre.”
It was estimated that the Benders—America’s first recorded serial killers—had offered their inimitable style of hospitality to close to two dozen unsuspecting travelers and pocketed about $4,600, two teams of horses and wagons, and a pony and a saddle.
Rewards were offered for the murderers capture; police, sheriffs, bounty hunters, and just good ol’ plain folk searched and searched, but neither hide nor hair was ever found of the Bloody Benders.
So, when you sit yourself down at the dinner table with your kith and kin this Thanksgiving, and after you’ve said grace and thanked the Lord for your bounty, give up an amen for family. In the end, the love of a family is life’s greatest blessing…
…blood’s thicker, ain’t it?