Before Little House on the Prairie, there was The Bloody Benders…

E.E._BurkeHello, E.E.Burke here.
The peaceful Kansas prairie made famous by Laura Ingalls Wilder saw a series of murders in the mid-nineteenth century that rival any killing spree since for pure viciousness.

Here are the facts, such as can be determined…

Between 1871 and early 1873, more than a dozen men traveling through southeastern Kansas vanished without a trace. At that time, the area was still considered a wild frontier, plagued by outlaws and unhappy Natives. The missing men were presumed victims of one or other since they’d last been seen headed west on the Osage Trail.

The first few disappearances didn’t raise an alarm, as it wasn’t all that uncommon for some tragedy to befall a lone traveler. However, as time passed and the number of disappearances increased, surrounding communities became alarmed.

One of the missing men, Dr. William York, was related to a well-known Kansas senator and a wartime hero, who went to search for their missing brother. The colonel discovered that the doctor had stopped at a store and wayside inn offering meals and a “safe” resting place for travelers headed west.


A German immigrant, John Bender, and his wife, along with a grown daughter and son ran the inn. Pa Bender was a hulking man, over six feet tall with piercing black eyes under bushy eyebrows. He and Ma, a heavyset, unfriendly matron, spoke with such guttural accents few could understand them.

In contrast, John Bender Jr. was slender and attractive, and spoke English fluently with a slight German accent. However, he was prone to laughing aimlessly, which led many in the neighboring community to consider him a half-wit.

Kate_BenderKate was the friendliest of the bunch. She spoke good English and had cultivated social skills. The petite auburn-haired beauty was a self-proclaimed healer and psychic. She gave lectures on spiritualism and conducted séances. In some of her lectures, she advocated free love and justification for murder.  Although her friendly manner and social skills earned her popularity (especially with men), her views weren’t so popular. Some of the locals began to call her “satanic.”

By the time Dr. York’s brother showed up at the Bender’s doorstep, rumors were swirling. Ma admitted the doctor had stopped there for dinner, but indicated he’d left and proposed he’d run into problems with Indians. Kate even offered to conduct a séance to help him. The remaining York brothers were suspicious, but they had no proof of the Benders’ wrongdoing.

The Osage Township called a community meeting at a schoolhouse, to discuss the troubling situation and agreed to search farms and homes in the area. The two Bender men attended that meeting.

Several days later, their inn was found abandoned. Upon searching, authorities found the cabin empty of food, clothing and personal possessions. They were also met with a terrible smell. A trap door was discovered, and beneath the cabin, in a six-foot deep cellar, they found the source of the stench—clotted blood.

A frantic search began. The search party lifted the house off its moorings and tore into the cellar, but didn’t find bodies there. Moving into the field and orchard, they noticed the site of a freshly stirred depression and found the first body—Dr. William York—buried head downward with his feet barely covered. His skull had been crushed and his throat cut from ear to ear.

The digging continued and nine more bodies were uncovered, along with dismembered body parts. All of the men had their skulls bashed in and their throats slit. The corpses of a man and a little girl were found together, and it appeared she might’ve been buried alive. Ironically, it was the disappearance of this father and daughter that had sent the doctor off on his quest. The site was christened “Hell’s Half-Acre.”

Eventually, it even got its own historical marker!

Bit by bit, the story was pieced together into an awful picture of what happened to these hapless travelers. Visitors were invited in and seated at a table with their backs to a large wagon canvas, separating the public area from the family’s private quarters.

Kate would charm the men, flirting or revealing her psychic “gifts.” Pa Bender, hiding behind the canvas, would strike the distracted guest with a large hammer, bashing his skull. The women would rifle the body for money, then push the hapless fellow through the trap door into the cellar, where Kate or her mother would slit his throat.


During the night, the victim would be buried in the garden or orchard behind the house. Neighbors reported having seen the old man out plowing by moonlight, but attributed it to his eccentricities.

By the time the grisly murders were discovered, the Benders had skedaddled. Their abandoned wagon was found in a nearby community. Senator York offered a $1,000 reward for their capture and the governor of Kansas doubled it. Word of the gruesome murders spread fast and thousands of people flocked to the site, including newspaper reporters from as far away as Chicago. The visitors removed souvenirs, including bricks from the bloody cellar and even boards from the cabin’s walls. Pretty soon, nothing was left but the hole where the basement had been.


As for what happened to the Benders, that is the stuff of legend.

The author, Laura Ingalls Wilder, referenced the murders in speeches she made over the years. She said she had at one time visited the inn, and her father, “Pa Ingalls” had participated in the vigilante hunt for the killers. Reportedly he told her, “They will never be found.”  Frontier justice may have been served, but the records don’t reveal the fate of the serial killers.

Later, curiosity seekers visiting the site would report seeing apparitions they surmised were the ghosts of victims, seeking revenge. Some thought it might be Kate’s ghost, doomed to wander the place where she’d committed the atrocities.

This grisly crime is woven into my latest novel, A Dangerous Passion, as are other historical events in Kansas and railroad history. For more information about the book and series, check out my website at Also, I’m running a contest for two free e-books from my Steam series. Check out the box at the bottom of this post to enter!


EEBurke_ADangerousPassion_800Can a hero lurk in the heart of a villain? 

Life in a small New England village is too quiet, too ordinary for a free spirit like Lucy Forbes. When her father lands a job out West, she packs her books and her dreams and eagerly sets off to pursue the kind of grand adventures she longs to experience and write about. The moment she steps off the train, she’s thrust into the gritty reality of an untamed frontier—and into the arms of a scoundrel.

Henry Stevens, the ruthless railroad executive her father has been sent to investigate, is as passionate as he is ambitious. Brave and charming, as well as clever, and possessed of a sharp wit. He is, in fact, the most fascinating man Lucy has ever met. However, his opponents are vanishing, and strangers are shooting at him. Fearing for her father’s life, Lucy resolves to unmask the secretive Mr. Stevens and expose a villain. What she doesn’t expect to find is a hero.


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E.E. Burke writes sexy, suspenseful historical romance set in the American west. Her latest series, Steam! Romance and Rails, includes Passion’s Prize, Her Bodyguard and A Dangerous Passion. Her writing has earned accolades in regional and national contests, including the prestigious Golden Heart®.

Over the years, she’s been a disc jockey, a journalist and an advertising executive, before finally getting around to pursuing her dream of writing novels. Her stories are as deeply rooted in American soil as her family, which she can trace back to the earliest colonists and through both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. She lives in Kansas City with her husband and three daughters, the greatest inspiration of all.


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Sunday Houses



I”m writing a new series set in Two-Time, Texas (wait till you out find out why it”s called Two-Time). Like an old teabag I”ve been steeped in research since the first of the year, and just learned that not everything in Texas is huge.  Take for example Sunday houses.
A Sunday house was a small (and I do mean small) second dwelling located next to a church. These houses were built by devout German farmers and ranchers who lived in the Texas Hill boonies.
sh2Originally, German settlements were laid out as farm communities and farmers were given town lots. They were expected to live in town and drive out daily to their farms or ranches to work. It didn”t take farmers long to figure out that it was less of a hassle to live on the farms and travel to town on weekends.
 This led to the building of Sunday houses. Every Saturday farming families traveled to town to purchase supplies, attend to business and, if necessary, receive medical treatment.
Saturday nights was a time to socialize and this generally included a dance. They would then spend the night at their Sunday houses so as to attend church the following morning. They would either return to farm or ranch on Sunday afternoon, or wait till Monday.
These wood-framed weekend houses were small and usually had only one and a half rooms. Many had gabled attics reached from an Snday houseoutside staircase where children would sleep. The pitched roofs were made from handmade cypress shingles and the windows and woodwork embellished with mill work.
The first floor had a lean-to kitchen and covered porch. A fireplace provided warmth and cooking facilities, but there was no running water.
These second dwellings fell out of favor in the 1920s. Improved roads and automobiles made Sunday houses no longer necessary. Fortunately, many of these charming houses still exist in Gillespie County and supposedly cost a bundle.
Now if I could just figure out how to work a Sunday house into my story.  Anyone seen one of these?


 Hot Flash: Book two in Margaret”s Undercover Ladies series

UNDERCOVER BRIDE can be ordered now (hint, hint).

Who in the name of Sam Hill was the green-eyed beauty

with the iron-like fist?-Petticoat Detective


To order, click cover

E.E. Burke Has Boarded the Train for the Junction!

EEBurke_ADangerousPassion_800Miz E.E. (Elisabeth) Burke has climbed aboard the train that will pull into the station on Friday, January 30, 2015!!

This will mark the dear lady’s first visit to the Junction so we hope you welcome her in style.

Miz Elisabeth relates an interesting historical fact about the first serial killers in the old West. Did they do such things back then? Oh Lordy!

She’ll tell us about the new book in her Steam and Rails series that features early railroads.

Come over and see how you can win a copy!

Friday, January 30, 2015–Don’t forget now!

The “Murder Steer”

newsletter_headerjpg - 2

Sometimes when I can’t think of anything interesting to blog about, I search for inspiration on the Texas State Historical Association website on their Day-by-Day segments of “Today in Texas History.” Boy, was I glad that I had writer’s block! Because without it, I never would have run across this historical gem.

Cow and CalfOn January 28, 1891 – A man by the name Fine Gilliland got in a dispute with cattleman, Henry Harrison Powe during a roundup in Brewster County. Gilliland had been hired by the firm of Dubois and Wentworth to ensure none of the local ranchers absconded with their company cattle. A dispute arose regarding a single, unbranded yearling steer that had been separated from its mother. Powe believed the steer belonged to one of HHP brand cows. Gilliland disagreed.

Now, Gilliland must have been a hired gun, for the way he “disagreed” was to start a gunfight. Gilliland shot and killed Powe, then fled on horseback. Killed a man over ONE steer! Really???

Four Texas Rangers - Jim Putnam is standing, third from the left.
Four Texas Rangers – Jim Putnam is standing, third from the left.

Never fear, though. Justice in the form of the Texas Rangers tracked Gilliland down. Ranger Jim Putman and Deputy Sheriff Thalis Cook tracked Gilliland through a canyon during a January snowfall. They came across a man on horseback and when Cook asked him if he was Gilliland, the hired gun responded with two shots. One hit Cook’s kneecap, the other felled his horse. Gilliland then spurred his mount into a run, but Ranger Putman kept his cool. He dismounted, aimed his rifle, then shot Gilliland’s horse out from under him. (Anyone else feeling bad for the horses?) Putman ordered Gilliland to surrender. How did Gilliland respond? You guessed it – with gunfire. Using his fallen horse as a shield, Gilliland fired at the ranger. Putman took cover and returned fire, taking Gilliland out with a shot to the head the next time the fellow raised up to shoot.

The canyon where Gilliland dies was later named Gilliland Canyon. Seems to me, it’d be more noble to name it for Putman, but whatever.

steer branded murderNow here’s the cool part . . . Remember that unbranded steer that started this whole mess? Well, the poor thing got branded. And not just with a little HHP. Nope. They branded the word “MURDER” one one side of his hide and “JAN 28 91” on the other. Then the steer was released into the wild to roam the countryside. For years, there were sightings of the “murder steer” and it became a thing of legend. Ghost stories were told that if you saw the murder steer (or its ghost) it meant that someone would die. Others claim that the murder steer shows up whenever there is foul play. Tales carried down through history, and they even inspired an episode of the classic western TV show, Rawhide.

  • Have you ever heard tales of the murder steer?
  • Any of you remember the Rawhide episode with this story line?
  • If you’re interested in the Rawhide episode, you can watch it on You Tube here.

We Have a Winner for Karen Kay’s Free E-Book Give Away

bannerWe have a winner for the free e-book give away from Karen Kay.  And that winner is Kim Hooks Cox.  Congratulations to you, Kim!

Thank you, thank you to all of you who came to the blog today and left a comment.  It was wonderful talking to each one of you today.  And what insightful comments you shared with me and with all of us.  It feels as if I’m getting to know each one of you personally, and that’s a very good thing.

Kim, to claim your prize, please contact me personally at karenkay(dot)author(at)earthlink(dot)net.  Put in a (.) for (dot) and the @ sign for (at).

Again, many thanks!


Robert Yellowtail, a Crow & American Hero

bannerGood Morning, Afternoon or Evening (depending on when you’re joining us today)!   I will be giving away the book, LONE ARROW’S PRIDE, to some lucky blogger.  So come on in and leave a comment.  Also, remember that if I pick your name, you must contain me personally (email) to claim your prize.

Today I thought we’d journey into the past, but the more recent past.  Usually I blog about the early or mid 1800’s, but today I hope you’ll come along with me as I tell you the story of an incredible man, Robert Yellowtail, a Crow Indian hero.

The picture to the left is not of Robert, but of a handsome youth taken about this same time in history.  He is definitely Crow — easily identified by the style of his hair and accessories.  Robert may have looked similar in his youth.  Robert Yellowtail was born on August 4, 1889, but was boarded at a government school, away from any his parents and any influence from his tribe at an early age.  He was only four years old.  The 1890’s were an extremely difficult time for the American Indian in general.  Not only was it forbidden by “do-gooders” and government agents for the American Indian to practice their traditional way of life, but Indian land was being looked upon as desirable by powerful corporations who had influence over the government and Indian agents.  Land was needed.  Land was important.  And here were the Indians with “lots” of land, or so it was said.

It was also a tough life at government schools.  No youngster was allowed to speak his own language, or to practice any skill that might be similar to that of the old ways.  The idea was to “kill” the Indian and “give birth” to a “red-white-man.”  Yellowtail was both intelligent and stubborn and gave his teachers much trouble (so would I have done, I like to think).  So much was this the case that Robert was sent to the Sherman Institute in Riverside, California.  California was more tolerant in those days, and here he did very well and graduated in 1907.  He studied law at the Extension Law School in Los Angeles, where he would go on to earn a law degree via correspondence courses.  His main interest was to use the law to help his people.  He also learned to play the clarinet. 🙂

In 1910, senator Thomas Walsh introduced a bill to open up the Crow reservation to homesteaders. Crow Chief Plenty Coups (one of the most famous chiefs of the Crow) knew he needed someone with knowledge of the law, someone with knowledge of the white man’s ways, and someone stubborn and intelligent enough to fight for the Crow.  He called upon Yellowtail, and Yellowtail rose to the occasion.

It was a seven year struggle, a battle that was fought in courts and in Congress, with Walsh attacking the Crow and Yellowtail in particular ferociously.  However, finally, the Crow won this battle much because Yellowtail was an experienced orator and he went on to speak for hours at the Senate — much like a filabuster.  He simply refused to give up.  At last he won, and the reservation lands were kept under the control of the Crow.  Yellowtail was only twenty-eight years old.

In the following years, Yellowtail’s accomplishments grew even more incredible:

  • In 1919, Yellowtail was needed again in Washington D.C. to help write and fight for (if need be) the 1920 “Crow Act.”  Here he shined.  Using his experience in law for the good of his people, he went on to ensure that Crow Lands would never be able to be taken away from the Crow again.

It’s also important to note that because of Yellowtail’s work, the American Indians were at last “given”  the right to vote in 1924.

In 1934, Yellowtail went on to become the Superintendent of the Crow Indian Reservation.  This might not sound like the accomplishment that it was because he was the first Indian superintendent of his own tribe.  Working under the duty to improve his people’s lot in life, the culture of the Crow flourished under his leadership.

Yellowtail was also a prosperous rancher.  And sometime in the mid-30’s he managed to get the ranchers (whites in the area) to return 40,000 acres of land.  Under his leadership buffalo were brought back to the reservation, as well as some breds of horses and cattle.

This photo to the left, by the way, is one of my most favorite photos of the Crow.  It has served me well as images of handsome Indian warriors.

The only controversy that shadowed Robert Yellowtail’s life was what happened at Bighorn River.  Commissioners and unelected officials wanted to damn up the Bighorn River.  Yellowtail was completely against it.  In fact fighting that damn consumed him.  The Bighorn Canyon (which the damn would cause to be flooded) was considered sacred. The tribal council sided with Yellowtail, but as we know, those with unscrupulous morals often take underhanded roles to accomplish what they want.

Unity of the Crow began to crumble under the onslaught of rumor campaigns.  Yellowtail, himself, was said to be willing to sell out the tribe.  It was all a lie, but even to this day, this haunts his image.  In the end, Yellowtail was forced to negotiate or lose everything.  He rose to the challenge and demanded the government pay the Crow tribe $1 million a year for 50 years.  And when those 50 years were finished, the Crow would get their land back.

More rumor campaigns ensued.  In the end, Yellowtail lost and the government got everything and paid an equivalent of only $600 per tribal member.  Yellowtail was downtrodden, and the funny thing about it is that the damn is named after him.

But there was another battle ahead, which came much later, in the 1970’s. This time it was over mineral right (coal) and this time, despite rumor campaigns and attempts to blacken his name, he won.

Yellowtail lived to a ripe old age of 98, but he lives on in the legacy that he left.  Because of him, the reservation retained most of their land, they were able to govern themselves and they hadn’t sold away their mineral rights (and by the way, the offer was a pitance).  It was a different sort of war that he fought, he was a different sort of warrior, but he will never be forgotten so long as the Crow people live.


Also, off to the left here, is a book that I wrote about the Crow, LONE ARROW’S PRIDE.  I’ll be giving away a copy of that e-book today.  And off to the right is THE ANGEL AND THE WARRIOR, which is coming soon for presale on March 8, 2015 for Tradepaper.AngelAndTheWarrior-The-Cover

Now, here’s my question for you today:  In an age where criminality becomes more and more the “norm” for a society, do you think a hero, similar to Robert Yellowtail, with honest concern for his people, has a chance to exist?

All I can say is I certainly hope so.  Come on in, leave a comment

New Release – The Engagement Bargain

I’m super excited about my February release. I always love having a book release in February because it’s the month of love, and people are in the mood for a little romance. I really enjoyed writing The Engagement Bargain and had a fascinating time exploring the suffragist movement. It’s shocking to realize that women have had the vote for less than 100 years!

Leave a comment for a chance to win a paperback copy (I’m giving away FOUR!)

Click here to read a chapter preview:

The Engagement Bargain Chapter Preview

41/2 Stars, Susan Mobley, Romantic Times Magazine
Accompanying his sister Jo to a suffragist’s rally, Caleb McCoy finds himself captivated by Anna Bishop, Jo’s friend and a speaker at the rally. When Anna is shot, it’s veterinarian Caleb who tends her wound. The discovery that the shooting was not accidental, but a personal attempt on Anna’s life, has her traveling with Caleb and Jo to Cimarron Springs to recuperate. It’s a visit that gives Anna a different perspective on her life, what she wants her future to be and who she wants to share it with. With sparkling dialogue and a perfectly matched hero and heroine, along with an intriguing mystery, this Prairie Courtship story makes a highly entertaining read.
Reviewed by: Susan Mobley
The Engagement Bargain
Pre Order from:
And most major retailers.



The Homestead Brides Collection
The Homestead Brides Collection





Dianna, I will email you but if you don’t hear from me, assume I am a disorganized dork

and contact me at to DEMAND YOUR BOOK

And because I’m just a wild and crazy woman, I’m drawing a second winner–


The Homestead Brides releases February 1st. It is available for pre-order now and will be in bookstores everywhere.