THE MURDEROUS BENDER FAMILY
Los Angeles, Nov. 5 - N. Coberly, now a laborer of this city, tells a remarkable story of the fate of the famous Bender family of Kansas, and claims' that he was one of the hundred vigilantes who hunted down the Benders and after riddling them with bullets left their bodies unburied on the hillside to be devoured by wild beasts.
Coberly states that in 1872 he was constable of Havana township, Montgomery County, Kas., where the Benders lived and kept a tavern. The large number of mysterious murders in the vicinity caused the citizens to organize a vigilance committee. Several suspicious characters were arrested, but finally young Bender was taken into custody and confessed that his people had murdered a prominent citizen by the name of York. In relating the circumstances of the capture of the Bender family, Coberly said: "Young Bender was taken to the banks of Dunn creek, not far distant and the vigilantes proceeded toward the Bender tavern. I didn't go with the party to the creek but nobody ever saw young Bender after that. At the tavern, the old couple and Kate were secured, and then began the search. Thirteen bodies including that of York, were exhumed in the orchard. One of these was that of a child, buried with its murdered father, and the little one had evidently been entombed alive, a small feather pillow having been placed over its face with the evident intention of smothering its cries while dirt was being heaved upon it. After the search was concluded and the mode of killing explained, namely, placing the victim seated with his back to the cloth partition, and then striking his head outlined there, with an ax. Old man Bender, the old woman and Kate were loaded into their own wagon and headed south. I was one of the 100 men who followed and surrounded that wagon. Reaching Rocky Hill, near Cole creek, in a barren, desolate region a few miles from the Bender tavern the team was halted and 100 bullets whizzed through the air and the three demons were literally riddled with balls. Their bodies were not buried. They were thrown among the rocks on the hillside, where wolves probably fed upon them.
The Vigilantes took a back track. All were sworn to secrecy. No investigation of the case was ever made by Kansas authorities, but you can rest assured that the Bender family will never again be heard of in this world. Next spring three more bodies of murdered men were found in Dunn creek, and, all told, it is believed the Benders killed seventeen people, including the child that was buried alive. (The Daily Morning Astorian, Astoria, Or., November 7, 1889, front page)
The Tucson Citizen says it "is reported that the Bender family, who committed such extensive murders in Kansas, are in Western Texas on their way to Arizona. Tucson is a good location for them, and upon this hint they had better come. The little unpleasantness they had in Kansas can be closed out here by the use of a few poles and some rope, in a way that will save them time and trouble and the public of much expense."
Come on, Bender! - and your family! - we know you, and know how to treat you too. (The Arizona Sentinel, September 20, 1873, page 5)
The Bender family, charged with a number of murders in Kansas, were arrested in Biningsville, Spartansburg county, South Carolina, a few days ago. The father and mother are in custody and the son and daughter, living in North Carolina, are being sought after. The family name is Webb. (Las Animas Leader, Las Animas, Colorado, Friday, December 19, 1873)
Chicago Man Reveals Fate of Bender Family, Whom he Declares was Wiped out by Vigilance Committee after a Chase over the Prairie - Secret Kept Until Now
After thirty-five years, the secret of the fate of the Bender family has been revealed. After they had fled from their shanty on the Kansas prairie they disappeared completely.
Since that time many rumors of how they got away to Mexico, to Canada, to California, to Germany and many other places have been circulated. Stories of their annihilation by the sheriff and United States marshals have been told, but only to be discredited.
George Evans Downer of Downer's Grove, grandson of Pierce Downer, who founded the settlement in 1833, told the story, fully believing he is on his deathbed, and that it is his duty to publish the truth to the world.
A compact entered into by the members of the vigilance committee at the time had kept his lips sealed all these years, but realization that if he did not speak the truth might never be known induced him to tell how he had assisted in the extermination of the family.
Mr. Downer lived at Independence, Kan., during the bloody reign of the Benders.
On the flight of the Benders, after the murder of Dr. York, Downer and four other men constituted themselves a vigilance committee and started in pursuit. Downer, after telling how his party got on the trail of the Benders and finally sighted them says:
"The night was dark, and we feared that they might escape us, but our luck was good. We sighted them racing as fast as they could over the prairie and shouted to them. The moon had risen, but frequently was obscured by heavy clouds, and the riding was anything but good. As soon as we shouted they opened fire on us, and this determined our course. There was now n o question of taking them prisoners or giving them a trial.
"We set our horses going at breakneck speed and the bullets flew fast from both sides. The bad light and the rough going over the hilly prairie made aiming almost impossible, but we were overtaking them rapidly when a shot from the wagon struck one of our party, killing him instantly.
A moment later the old man who was firing from the back of the wagon, pitched out on the prairie dead, and John jumped and ran. He was shot before he had run a hundred feet from the wagon.
Kate had been driving, but at this she stopped the wagon short and sprang out, cut one of the horses loose, the one said to have been given her by her wooer, and sped away on it.
One of our party shot her horse under her. It rolled over on her, and before she could extricate herself we overtook her.
At last she was firmly tied hand and foot and thrown over the front of the saddle of one of the men. When we got back to the wagon we found that the old woman within had been killed by a bullet. (The Marion daily Mirror, Marion, Ohio, Saturday, August 1, 1908, page 10)
Last Heard of the Benders, They were in Texas, Their Story
Rio Vista, Cal., May 6 - The officials are working on the information given yesterday by Jack Collins, that the woman who died here at the age of 76 years was Kate Bender of the notorious Bender family of murderers, at Cherryvale, Kansas.
The last heard of the family they were in Texas. Traced to Denison, they were there lost. Many suspects have been arrested since that time, but none have proved to be the right people.
Story of the Bender Crimes
The criminal annals of this country present no more blood curdling and fearful record of crime than that of the unprovoked and mercilessly brutal murders committed by the Bender famiy in Kansas. Old man Bender, his wife, son John and daughter Kate lived in a little one story frame house, 16x24. A partition of muslin divided the interior into two rooms, the back part of which was used for a kitchen and in the front part of which was kept a small stock of provisions and a small counter or bar, which was used for the purpose of luring any chance traveler or passerby into their clutches, when they were brutally murdered by being struck in the back of the head with an ax or hatchet, plundered of whatever effects they chanced to have and their bodies buried in the little lot in the rear of the house until it became a veritable Golgotha.
In Early Seventies
It was during the years 1872 and 1873 that the crimes were committed for which the Benders have since been sought incessantly by the Kansas authorities. Thirty-seven murders have been accredited to them. It was the murder of Dr. William H. York, a practicing physician at Independence, Kan., which led to the discovery of their awful crimes. As nearly as could be ascertained, Dr. York met his death March 11, 1873. He was traveling overland from Fort Scott to Independence, when he stopped at the Bender home for dinner and was lured to the death trap of their dining room. His brother, Col. A. M. York, who for a number of years resided in Denver, led the searching party that started out to trace the whereabouts of Dr. York, a few days after his disappearance. The party found a trace within two miles of the Bender homestead and also the place where he had stayed all night the night of March 11. Twice the Bender family was visited, and the four members, the parents and the two children, Kate and John, seemed perfectly at ease, and did not display any interest or fear.
Family Frightened Away
About the first of May neighbors missed the Benders and discovered the house had been vacated. It was discovered that pigs and calves left in pens had literally starved to death and as near as could be learned, the family had left shortly after the visit of the searching party in March. An organized investigation followed. Back of the house was a small patch of cultivated land, in which now appeared depressions about the sizes of graves. Spades were procured and the first one opened disclosed the body of Dr. York. Seven other bodies were exhumed in the same way, and friends of persons who had mysteriously disappeared in that section were telegraphed to come and identify their dead.
One case was that of a young married man who had brought his bride to Cherryvale and started out to look at some land. He was never heard of until his body was discovered. Another man who had lost his wife and had a little child only 18 months old left on his hands, had started back to Iowa in a wagon; his body was found and that of the sweet little innocent child, with its little red hood and mittens on, just as it had been brought into the house. The sight was touching beyond description.
Fled to Texas
Bender's team was found at Cherryville, about 14 miles from their homestead, standing hitched to the wagon, and there could be no question but that they took passage on the Missouri, Kansas & Texas railroad, and stopped at a small station called Caddo, in Indian Territory. They then went some 15 or 20 miles into the country and camped there about two weeks. From this point they went about 75 miles west of Denison, Texas and lived there for some time in a log cabin.
Detective Beers was employed by the state of Kansas and succeeded in securing from one McPherson a proposition that he (McPherson) would deliver up the entire Bender family if governor Osborne would pardon him for crimes by reason of which he was a fugitive from justice in that section of the country, where outlaws and bandits ruled, a perfect terror to everyone. This the governor could not do, as no assurance of good faith on McPherson's part could be thought of.
Beers traced them through the territory to Grand River, where he found the whole family in a camp with a band of outlaws, who were collecting horses, mules and ponies in that country. He returned and attempted to pilot a detachment of cavalry to the spot where he had last seen them but the grass had become so scarce and dry that the animals gave out and the pursuit had to be abandoned.
This was the last actual knowledge of the Benders that the Kansas authorities ever obtained. Arrests have been made in various parts of the country, but the guilty parties have never been apprehended. Twelve years ago a mother and daughter were arrested at Niles, Mich., whom it was believed were the long hunted Kate Bender and her mother. They proved innocent, and were released. Frequent offers have been made by convicted criminals in the Kansas penitentiary of evidence that would bring the Benders to justice in exchange for conditional pardon, the last of these being during governor Humphries's administration. (El Paso Herald, Friday, May 6, 1910, page 4)