The Great Osage Trail was an important early passageway to westward expansion in America. Many settlers eagerly loaded up their possessions onto rickety wagons and headed west with their families to seek a new life on the other side of the Rocky Mountains. Many people never made it to their final destination because of disease, accidents, weather, or attacks by Indians. But some unlucky travelers never made it because they stayed at a rural inn located in southeast Kansas run by a family of pioneer serial killers known as the Bloody Benders.
The Bender family settled in Labette County, Kansas in 1870. The family consisted of Ma and Pa, who were German immigrants, and their children, Kate and John. Kate was believed to have psychic powers, and she conducted seances and read the fortunes of travelers.
Like many settlers of the era, the Benders made their claim on 160 acres, conveniently located near the Great Osage Trail. The Benders built a one-room structure near the trail with their living quarters in the back, and an inn/general store in the front. The general store contained dry goods, a small kitchen and dining table, and an area for travelers to spend the night if they wished. A canvas wagon-cover separated the two areas.
In 1871, people started to disappear and dead bodies began to show up in Labette County near the Great Osage Trail. After a while, the number of deaths and disappearances caused many travelers to avoid the area altogether. Something sinister was afoot in southeast Kansas.
In November 1872, a man named George Longcor and his infant daughter set out from Independence, Kansas to resettle in Iowa. They never made it. A neighbor of Longcor’s, Dr. William York, set out to discover what happened to the man and his daughter. York questioned people along the Great Osage Trail until he went missing as well. While many of the missing in Labette County were poor, anonymous travelers, Dr. York had powerful family members. His brother Ed was a prominent Colonel, and his brother Alexander was a Kansas State Senator.
Ed and Alexander began to investigate what had happened to their brother. Ed led a company of 50 men and questioned all travelers and homesteaders along the trail where his brother went missing. In March 1873, he visited the Bender homestead. The family admitted that Dr. York had stayed with them, but suggested to Ed that his brother may have run into hostile Indians. Ed agreed that was possible, and he even stayed for dinner at the Bender’s inn. Several days later, Colonel York returned to the inn after a woman reported that Ma Bender had once threatened her with a knife. The Benders denied the claims, but Colonel York was now suspicious of the clan.