As the legend of the haunting continued, people began to say that Kate Bender, herself, had returned to the property, doomed to roam the very land where she had committed so many atrocities. Whether the stuff of folklore or fact, many believe that the trapped souls of these century-old ghosts continue to lurk at the site today.
So provocative was the Bender family tale, that the Bender Museum was created in Cherryvale in 1961. In honor of the Kansas state-wide Centennial Celebration, an exact replica of the Bender cabin was built that housed antiques and household items. In its first three days of opening, it attracted more than 2,000 visitors. In 1967, three of the Bender hammers were gifted to the museum by the Dick family. The museum remained a popular tourist destination until it closed in 1978 when a fire station was built upon the site. Though many wanted to relocate the building, it had become a point of controversy in Cherryvale, with locals objecting to the town being known for the Bender atrocities. In the end, the artifacts, including the hammers, photos, and newspaper clippings, were placed in the Cherryvale Museum and can still be seen today at 215 East 4th Street.
In addition to the museum, southeast Kansas may be the only place where a mass murder is celebrated by a state historical marker. While not actually on the old Bender property, the marker sits on the high prairie about a mile northwest of Bender Mounds at the US-400 and US-169 interchange at the Montgomery County Rest area, north of Cherryvale.
215 East 4th Street
Open April to October – Sunday, 2:00 to 4:00 pm, or by appointment.
James, John Towner; The Benders of Kansas; Kan-Okla Publishing, Wichita, KS, 1913, reprinted 1995.
Reader’s Update: January 2011
I listened to a story last night from my grandfather, Emerson Smalley, about the Benders and their supposed end. His family was from the Cherryvale, Kansas area and the story involves a group of men that found the Benders and were in a gunfight with them, one of whom was a judge that lost part of his ear in the gun battle. My grandfather, who is approaching 80 years old, is always full of great stories but, he assured me that his father, who passed this on to him, knew of what really happened. When his father (my great grandfather), Frank Smalley was a boy, he was hiding in the hayloft of the family barn when he overheard a group of men below talking and laughing. Frank’s father, Jesse P. Smalley, along with several men were joking with a local judge, teasing him about his missing ear. As the boy listened, the men continued to talk, relating the tale of how the judge had lost his ear. It was a story about the infamous Benders and about one man who got away. This unnamed man was evidently one of the many who made the mistake of stopping at the Bender Inn. Like others, as he sat at the table, he was hit over the head. The Benders then stripped him of his clothes and went to bury him, when the man suddenly awoke. The Benders were, no doubt, surprised to find that the man wasn’t dead. Somehow, he managed to escape, next appearing naked in the middle of the night at Jesse Smalley’s doorstep. Telling the story of his near-death, Jesse quickly retold it to a nearby doctor and judge, who formed a vigilante group to go after the Benders.
However, by the time the men arrived at the Benders’ cabin very early the next morning, they found the Benders gone. They then began to follow a wagon trail left by the Benders that took them down as far south as near Tulsa, Oklahoma before circling back into Kansas. At a fork of the Fall and Verdigris Rivers, they found the Benders with their wagon backed up against a fallen tree with canvas over it for shelter. When the vigilante group approached, the Benders fired on them, at which time, the judge lost part of his ear to a flying bullet. In retaliation, the vigilantes killed all of the members of the Bender family, buried them where they died, and took the wagon to town, where they left it.
I have heard my grandfather tell of this story since I was a boy and Grandpa swears that this is the real story of what happened to the Benders. Fact or fiction, no one really knows, but, I’ve always enjoyed the tale and hope you will as well.
Today, there are Smalley descendants that continue to live in the Neodosha and Cherryvale area.
— Gabe Gibson, Effingham, Illinois, as told to him by his grandfather, Emerson Smalley, January 2011.