Stories of travelers gone missing in southeastern Kansas’ Labette County started to spread from around 1871. However, it wasn’t until 1873, when a local doctor who was probably investigating the disappearances went missing himself, that the local community caught on to those responsible. Moreover, what they discovered at the inn and farm of a local family was beyond gruesome.
The post-Civil War United States was not a happy place. Indeed, lawlessness and crime persisted as men returned home from the battlefield. In some places – southeast Kansas included – Indian attacks were also common. So, it wasn’t until the local Osage Indians sold their land to the U.S. government in 1870 that white settlers began to lay claims to the area.
At the same time, many American settlers were capitalizing on the Homestead Act of 1862. This, essentially, allowed people to each take as much as 160 acres of free federal land for themselves. The Bender family were just some of these homesteaders, and they settled down in Kansas as soon as the Osage sold off their land. The family consisted of John Bender Sr., his wife Elvira and their children John Jr. and Kate.