Western History & Genealogy Blog

Demons In Our Midst

Bloody Benders Graves
Benders Mass Graves
Charles "Big Phil the Cannibal" Gardner

True Tales of Ghouls from the Past

As Halloween approaches this year, people have begun to put out their ghoulish decorations, prepare their hellish costumes and stay up to the wee hours of the morning watching the myriad of horror movies that seem to play on a constant loop. Seeing all of this ghoulish delight, I’m reminded of tales of true devils from our not so distant past.

Charles “Big Phil the Cannibal” Gardner, a mountain man, was said to have come from the mountains of Pennsylvania and headed to Colorado to make his fortune in the Rockies. He was a gigantic man with a repulsive demeanor and a lover of raw meat. He would consume so much raw beef at a sitting that the Arapahoe Indians often referred to him as “Big Mouth.” His devilish story tells the tale of a man who was sent by military representatives to Fort Laramie with dispatches. While on the trail, with his Indian guide, they were caught in a brutal snowstorm. After several days passed and there was no sign of Phil or his guide at Fort Laramie he was presumed dead. Then, one day, he was seen outside of the fort lugging something over his shoulder. When approached and questioned by the men at the fort as to where his Indian guide was he replied, “That is all that’s left of him,” and tossed down a severed bloody leg. Gardner went on to freely admit to eating the flesh of at least two Indians and one Frenchman. In myth, many Native American cultures, especially the Algonquin Indian tribes, believed that once a man turned to cannibalism by eating the flesh of another man they became a Wendigo. This Wendigo was a ghoul that stole the essence of a man by consuming his flesh. Some believed that this creature, that could act as and resemble a man, possessed the ability to move like a phantom amongst the living. Perhaps Big Phil was truly a Wendigo in disguise.

Before the world was ever exposed to the likes of Charles Manson and Jeffery Dahmer the Old West hosted some of the country’s first serial killers. A family of serial killers, known as the Bloody Benders, owned an inn and small general store in Labette County of southeastern Kansas from 1871 to 1873. The family consisted of John Bender, his wife Mrs. Bender (later referred to as Kate, Sr., since no one knew her given name), son John, Jr., and daughter Kate. They are believed to have killed about a dozen travelers hiding their bodies in a trap door, stealing their belongings and eventually burying them in graves on the Bender property. When their crimes were discovered the family fled and they were never heard from again.

Checkout pictures of real killers here. And if you’re more into movies, checkout Ravenous, in the library's catalog. It stars Guy Pierce and Robert Carlyle and is a wonderful tale of the Wendigo myth, loosely based on the famous true stories of the Donner Party and Colorado Cannibals Alferd Packer and “Big Mouth” Phil.

Sweet blog, please do more

Sweet blog, please do more like this really got me in the mood for all things scary.

Thanks! I'll try and cook up

Thanks! I'll try and cook up another true ghoulish tale next week. Just in time for Halloween. 

What a nice, cheery blog,

What a nice, cheery blog, Kellen, Thanks! What a day brightener... Hannibal Lecter eat your heart out [with fava beans and a nice chianti...]

You know, for some more fun reading, people should check out one of my old favorites: "Boulder County, Colorado, Deaths and the Insane 1859-1900" G929.378863 M248bo

Here's a sample of one of the many fascinating and grim stories: "Hunter, Andrew declared insane 26 Feb 1896. Had tried to blow up house in which wife lived in Longmont some time ago... He had been "laboring under the impression for the last month that he was driving sheep in the jail. He would talk to them, feed them, lead them up to drink, etc." He was driving the sheep to California." (Boulder News)

Another: Mrs. Dr. U. Perry was brought to jail wildly insane 23 July 1890. A neighbor complained, said she was a victim of religious study. (Boulder News)

One more: John McGregor was declared insane 11 June 1900. He states that he was three feet tall at birth "and that he immediately waited on his mother by giving her medicine and that he had trunks and trunks full of $1,000 dollar bills." Age 43. (Boulder County Herald Weekly)