On The Trail of the Notorious Bender Family

Welcome back. As I found out this past Saturday, the drive into Longton, Kansas is beautiful from any direction you take. I attended Longton’s fall festival and am happy to report that this little town of 348 friendly folks was well worth the trip. The town was named after Longton, England and you can tell from the historic downtown that this was once a thriving community.  There’s a beautiful old bank building right on Main that is now a cool little bar called BK and other similar structures next to it that give you an idea of what life was like here in the 1920s and 30s.

The next town over is Elk City which is another small town of around 325 that was founded in 1868. One of the main attractions in town is an 857 acre park on the east sore of the city reservoir which offers boat ramps, a swimming beach, camping and hiking trails. Like Longton, this is a quiet, scenic spot and everyone I spoke to in both communities said they loved living in towns where everyone knows and looks out for one another.

Down the road a piece farther is Elk Falls which bills itself as the world’s Largest Living Ghost Town. With fewer than 200 year around residents, Elk Falls comes to life in the summer when several tourist oriented businesses open up and people come to see the scenic waterfalls on the Elk River. Elk Falls was also the last home of the famous black educator Prudence Crandall who opened the first academy for young black women in New England.

With that said, if you are looking for a day trip in this general area, you might want to check this out. Sedan, which is in the general vicinity of these communities, will be holding the 7th annual Heritage Festival this Saturday.  The festival takes place in the City Park Fair Building and I understand from the organizers that they expect over two dozen vendors as well as artists and musicians and friends it’s all free, just like the festival in Longton. If I have half as much fun there as I did in Longton it will be time well spent. Hope to see you there!

Traveling the country roads of Kansas I am reminded of the many difficulties early pioneers faced settling this part of the country. Harsh weather, rough terrain and outlaws were just a few of their challenges. Of course there were no convenience stores and when they needed supplies or shelter, danger lurked.  In 1873 several travelers disappeared from this exact part of Kansas where I have been exploring. They vanished without a clue and the people who were responsible were never caught. This is regarded as one of the first known instances of a serial killing and it is widely believed that members of the Bender family were to blame. The Bender daughter was said to have the looks of an angel and it is thought that she lured travelers in only to be finished off with a sledge hammer blow to the head from Pa.  The brother who was muscular and said to be a bit simple and the mother who by all accounts was kind “acting” also participated in robbing and murdering these unlucky people. If you want to learn more, a new film about the Bender family has just premiered in Wichita and will be shown at the Cherryvale History Museum on Sunday, October 16th. For more information call (316) 258-4247.

In the next couple of weeks I will also be bringing you news of another film being shot in the area that you might find interesting.

Till next time, I’ll see ya down the road…..




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