Laura Ingalls Wilder and The Bloody Benders

Carrie, Mary and Laura Ingalls

Okay, so I thought I knew everything about Laura Ingalls Wilder. Until today. I just read that her family was exposed to The Bloody Bender family when they lived down in Independence, Ks. I guess Laura felt it was inappropriate to include such topic in any of her books, widely distributed for children. This is another reason why they are still categorized as fiction, even though the material she wrote was based on real-life events.

The Benders, for those of you who don't know, were a family of killers who lived along the Osage Trail on southern Kansas. Laura spoke about it in 1937, and the speech was later printed in The Saturday Evening Post.

There was the story of the Bender family that belonged in the third volume, Little House on the Prairie. The Benders lived halfway between it and Independence, Kansas. We stopped there, on our way in to the Little House, while Pa watered the horses and brought us all a drink from the well near the door of the house. I saw Kate Bender standing in the doorway. We did not go in because we could not afford to stop at a tavern.

On his trip to Independence to sell his furs, Pa stopped again for water, but did not go in for the same reason as before.

There were Kate Bender and two men, her brothers, in the family and their tavern was the only place for travelers to stop on the road south from Independence. People disappeared on that road. Leaving Independence and going south they were never heard of again. It was thought they were killed by Indians but no bodies were ever found.

Then it was noticed that the Benders’ garden was always freshly plowed but never planted. People wondered. And then a man came from the east looking for his brother, who was missing.

He made up a party in Independence and they followed the road south, but when they came to the Bender place there was no one there. There were signs of hurried departure and they searched the place.

The front room was divided by a calico curtain against which the dining table stood. On the curtain back of the table were stains about as high as the head of a man when seated. Behind the curtain was a trap door in the floor and beside it lay a heavy hammer.

In the cellar underneath was the body of a man whose head had been crushed by the hammer. It appeared that he had been seated at the table back to the curtain and had been struck from behind it. A grave was partly dug in the garden with a shovel close by. The posse searched the garden and dug up human bones and bodies. One body was that of a little girl who had been buried alive with her murdered parents. The garden was truly a grave-yard kept plowed so it would show no signs. The night of the day the bodies were found a neighbor rode up to our house and talked earnestly with Pa. Pa took his rifle down from its place over the door and said to Ma, “The vigilantes are called out.” Then he saddled a horse and rode away with the neighbor. It was late the next day when he came back and he never told us where he had been. For several years there was more or less a hunt for the Benders and reports that they had been seen here or there. At such times Pa always said in a strange tone of finality, "They will never be found." They were never found and later I formed my own conclusions why.

Doesn't that just give you the creeps? You can see why she'd never include it in a book. But I have to say I'm so intrigued by this that I think I'll go to the bookstore today to see if they have anything to read on this topic. I love Kansas history, even the horrible stuff.

Oh! I wanted to point out the last line of Laura's speech, that her father remained mysterious about the Benders' disappearance. It is thought that her father was part of the posse who most likely killed the Bender family for their crimes.


  1. That's some Criminal Minds shiznit! I can see why it was left out of such a well known story, somethings are just better left not said... or shared at another time. It was neat to learn a little bit more... but now I've got the heebie jeebies. I would hate to know I lived near that!

  2. A very interesting post, and quite frightening. I think it's always best to know the truth, despite how disturbing it often is!

  3. I know. It's a good thing her father had the guts and sensibility to say no. Yuck.

  4. Good story, Amy. Get Cro to tell you about his home town - Brighton - it's full of bloody Benders.

  5. Okay, gulp. I won't be able to sleep all summer now, lol.

  6. Very creepy, but still, I'm very intrigued. :)

  7. I think Mr Stephenson is refering to Kemp Town; sometimes known as Camp Town.

    This story reminds me of the play 'Arsenic and old Lace'.

  8. OK, so my comment just disappeared! I had no idea about any of that, and I'm glad she didn't write about it in her books. I would have been terrified!

  9. Whoa! Never knew that. If you find more information you have to share, or at least let us know the name of the book tha contains it.

  10. Diane, as far as I know, Laura never had a written account of this event. She spoke about it in 1937 I believe, and the above was printed in a Saturday Evening Post many years later.

    This is a good link for the story, coming from a very nice book about The Bender murders. It's a children's book, but people seem to like the content of story and period style etchings.

  11. This is one reason why I should stick to fiction! No references, haha.


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