Sunday, September 12, 2021

Elmer McCurdy, Part Two

By Carrie Aulenbacher, WMD Managing Editor
Editor's Note: This is the conclusion of Elmer McCurdy, the escape artist, part one, published two weeks prior. To read part one, click here. --Al Colombo

I love to see the towns
 a-passin' by
And to ride these rails, 
'neath God's blue sky

Let me travel this land 
from the mountains to the sea
'Cause that's the life I believe, 
He meant for me

                                                                   --Hank Williams Sr, Ramblin' Man

Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office, 1976

"He what?"  An assistant to the coroner did a double take, trying to comprehend the discovery even as he held the container with the recovered bullet.

"This John Doe was murdered."  The assistant closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Well, a place like Laff in the Dark is a great place to hide a body if you want to get away with murder."  He sighed as he heard himself say such a strange sentence.

"A murder from at least 50 some odd years ago?"  The coroner said.  The assistant lifted his head in amazement.

"The body has high amounts of arsenic.  They haven't embalmed bodies with that since the twenties and this is looking to be more than 40 years post mortem."

The thought hung unspoken in the air between them: "Who IS this guy?"

Elmer McCurdy
The 1,700+ mile journey Elmer McCurdy took in 31 years of life could have never compared to the thousands of miles he would accumulate in the next 66 years. 

As the sheriff's posse cleaned up the scene, McCurdy's body was taken to the undertaker in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.  The Johnson Funeral Home agreed to prepare McCurdy's body but the search was on to find kin to not only claim the body but to pay for services. In order to make sure the body lasted until family members showed up, the mortuary used an arsenic-based preservative to preserve Elmer. This was common practice before the deadly effects of exposure to arsenic were fully understood.

So McCurdy was shaved, dressed and embalmed. But no family showed up. The undertaker, Joseph L. Johnson, was out the money he invested in preparing the body so he decided to earn a bit back. His idea was to prop Elmer's body up in the back of his shop and charge folks a nickel to take a look at him. With a rifle for a prop, Elmer was posed and advertised as "The Bandit Who Wouldn't Give Up".

Exhibiting McCurdy earned him money and attention. Word began to spread about "The Embalmed Bandit", "The Oklahoma Outlaw" - Elmer began to be "The Mystery Man of Many Aliases" in this second incarnation. Carnival owners started popping up offering Mr. Johnson a fee to buy Elmer off of him. But being a man of principle, he refused in the hopes that rightful family would come eventually.

Almost five years later to the day Elmer McCurdy was killed, in October of 1916, Johnson thought his wish had finally transpired. Aver McCurdy showed up at the funeral home, explaining that he was Elmer's brother and had been in contact with the sheriff and a local attorney about gaining possession of his brother's remains to have him properly taken home and buried.

Agreeing to the brother, Johnson prepared things and the following day, Aver's brother, Wayne McCurdy, showed up and they both gladly loaded up Elmer for the trek home to his eternal rest.  Johnson's fees were paid, everything was set right and everyone breathed a sigh of relief that things were finally over for the unlucky train robber.

And those who breathed the biggest sigh of relief were Aver and Wayne McCurdy - better known as the brothers Patterson.  James and Charles Patterson were owners of The Great Patterson Carnival Shows, a circus and sideshow act that had heard of the embalmed bandit. Knowing it would make for a great curiosity, their scheme worked. They had the body. Now to make real money.

For the next few years, the Pattersons traveled with Elmer McCurdy in their circus. Some sources say that Patterson sold the circus off in 1922, some say 1925, but for all intents and purposes, it is safe to say that regardless of what exact year, the circus toured the Eastern United States in the estimate of 3,500 miles a season. A located 1924 circus schedule of the Gentry/Patterson circus, courtesy of the Pfening collection shows a route between Kansas and Connecticut between April and October.

Little did McCurdy's family know that, for several years, he came within less than 200 miles of finally being home. Elmer could have never imagined that the 1,700 miles between Maine and Oklahoma he journeyed in life would pale in comparison to his travels in the afterlife. Estimating the circuit from the 1924 schedule, it is easily possible that Elmer traveled ten times further dead than he ever did alive - covering over 15,000 miles in the circus!

As the years passed, the Pattersons sold the circus to Louis Sonney, who used the body in his 'Traveling Museum of Crime' and changed his history to that of a crazed drug user who took his own life when surrounded by police. The embalming and years of touring in less than ideal conditions had worn at the body and lent to the fantastic story dreamed up by Sonney. There Elmer remained amid wax figures of Bill Doolin and Jesse James for the next decade.

In the mid 1930's, Elmer briefly took a break from the sideshow life to help film director Dwayne Esper advertise his new movie Narcotic! in theaters. He haunted the movie theaters as a dead dope fiend in the hopes of deterring the public of experimenting with drugs. Afterwards, he was returned to Sonney.

When Sonney stopped touring, everything went into storage, including Elmer McCurdy. With Sonney's death in 1949, everything was forgotten for a time. When filming began in the mid 1960's for the horror film, She Freak, McCurdy's body came out of storage with permission of Sonney's son, Dan, and was lent to be featured as a prop in the film. After the film was released, the family sold the body along with other wax mannequins from storage to Spoony Singh, owner of The Hollywood Wax Museum.

Now thought to be a wax mannequin, Singh lent Elmer and some other mannequins to two Canadian men who were hosting a feature at Mount Rushmore. Now over five decades since being embalmed, McCurdy's body was showing signs of wear and the harsh elements of the South Dakota landscape did no favors. Elmer endured a windstorm during his showcase there and lost the tips of his ears and some fingers and toes.

Once returned to Singh, he saw the damage and decided that the figure was too gruesome to be displayed any further and sold it to a Long Beach California amusement park company called The Pike. Mostly known for its boardwalk attractions, The Pike had a ride called 'Laff In The Dark' where Elmer was set up as a spooky character to scare riders. Now painted fluorescent red, he was a grotesques ghoul in a funhouse on the other side of the country from where he started. Hanging from a rope, he startled and repulsed, all the while his real truth remaining a mystery.

Almost five years later, now the mid 1970's, a crew came in to use The Pike, and specifically the Laff In The Dark area for filming of an episode of 'The Six Million Dollar Man'. As a prop man was setting up a shot, he unfortunately tried to move McCurdy's body as it hung from the gallows in the funhouse ride and broke off Elmer's arm. Seeing that the mannequin had bones, authorities were immediately notified and McCurdy was taken to the Los Angeles coroner's office.

With expert help from Dr. Joseph Choi, it was determined that this had been a man in his 30's who had perished from a gunshot wound. Even with the damage from years of touring the country, he discovered the original incisions from the autopsy and embalming over sixty years ago. He tested the body and found the high levels of arsenic, the evidence of tuberculosis, the bullet jacket from the sheriff's posse and even tickets in Elmer's mouth from Sonney's traveling crime museum shows.

With the tickets placing McCurdy back in the 20's and the bullet jacket being a gas check design, which was first used in 1905, investigators began to approximate the time in which the body had lived. By contacting Sonney's son, Dan, to ask about the tickets in Elmer's mouth, Dan verified that his father had purchased the mummified body from a circus back in the day and gave the name Elmer McCurdy.

Forensic Anthropologists were called in to radiograph the skull and use a superimposition technique to try and match old photographs to the skull. The examination lined up and it was indeed the unsuccessful train robber from last century. The media got wind of the story and that December of 1976, everyone was hearing about the strange case of the funhouse mannequin who turned out to be real.

Funeral homes contacted the LA coroner's office to offer burial services free of charge. But just like Joseph Johnson from decades ago, officials held onto Elmer in the hopes that a direct descendant would come forward to claim their relative. Elmer's luck, as it was in life, was the same in death and no living family members contacted them.

As it turned out, Fred Olds, who represented the Indian Territory Posse of Oklahoma Westerns, requested to accept the body and give it a proper burial in Oklahoma. Working with the county, Olds was finally given custody.

That spring, April 22, 1977, with a proper horse drawn hearse and a plain pine coffin, Elmer McCurdy's remains were taken to Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma. There, in the 'Boot Hill' section of the grounds, his body was finally interred alongside other noted Oklahoma outlaws like Bill Doolin. Over 300 people came to attend the burial and pay respects. To insure that the body would not be disturbed, two feet of concrete was poured over top the grave.

A little over one hundred miles from where he had breathed his last in 1911, Elmer McCurdy was finally at rest.

In a strange postscript to this tale:

The following summer, newsstands carried an issue of Johah Hex, a DC comic about a gunslinger having supernatural adventures. In the special series #16, an aging Hex is shot and killed, sent to a taxidermist to be preserved and then the body endures a series of adventures similar to a certain Mr. McCurdy. Although the character does not eventually get a peaceful rest as Elmer did in real life, it makes one wonder whether fans of the comic book hero realized that, in this case, fact was much stranger than fiction.

And when I'm go-one 
and at my grave you stand
Just say God called home 
your Ra-amblin' Man

-- Hank Williams Sr,  Ramblin' Man
Editor's Note: Be sure to Carrie new Facebook Page! Click Here!

About Carrie Aulenbacher

I’m a working mom who’s been at her first official job for 19 years now. I’m a mom and wife who loves spending time outside exploring our woods and enjoying all sorts of nature. Just ask my friends on Facebook and they’ll tell you that my bug pictures are getting to be an obsession with me! 

Visit Carrie's Partner Page: click here!

   Please post a comment below!   

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The 97 year journey of 31 year old bank robber, Elmer McCurdy

By Carrie Aulenbacher, WMD Managing Editor

"Some folks might say 
that I'm no good
That I wouldn't settle down
if I could

But when that open road
starts to callin' me
there's something oe'er the hill
that I gotta see."

                           --Hank Williams Sr, Ramblin' Man

Long Beach, California, 1976

"Uh, Boss?" The prop man called out.
"Thought I told you to get the shot set up-" The words stop as an arm comes into view.
"How detailed do they make these mannequins?" The tone of his voice gave pause.
"Just get it moved already!  What's wrong with-"  

The two stood there looking at the arm that used to be suspended from a fluorescent red spray-painted body in a makeshift gallows inside The Pike Amusement Zone 'Laff in the Dark' carnival area.  

"Thought they used wire, not bones..."

How does a bank robber from the 1880's go on a 66-year-long journey after being killed by a sheriffs posse? The curious tale of Elmer McCurdy is one not to be missed.

A New Year's baby is said to always have luck on his or her side.  But when Elmer McCurdy was born on January 1, 1880, luck was running short.

Elmer McCurdy (image)Born to 17-year-old Sadie McCurdy on that cold January day, Elmer's father was never known. Whether she had been with her cousin, Charles, or someone else, no father ever came forward to claim or raise Elmer. Sadie's brother, George, adopted Elmer to save her the shame of the situation.  After he passed away from tuberculosis in 1890, Sadie and her sister-in-law, Helen, moved north to Bangor.  It would be well into his childhood before events transpired so that 'Aunt Sadie' would explain to Elmer that Helen was his aunt, not his mother. Turning his world on its ear, the news sent Elmer into tumultuous teenage years of drinking and rebellion. The alcoholism would follow him his entire life.

Returning south to Washington, Maine, Elmer moved in with his grandfather and learned the trade of being a plumber. Things went smoothly for a few years until the economic downturn of 1898 when Elmer lost his job. Two years later in the hot summer of 1900, Elmer's mother suddenly died of a ruptured ulcer and his grandfather passed a short month later after suffering with Bright's disease.

Elmer took to rambling and drifting, taking jobs as a lead miner and a plumber. The alcoholism prevented these from becoming long term jobs, however, and Elmer eventually left mining and landed in Kansas. Troubles followed as he was arrested there for public intoxication, forcing him to move on to Missouri.

By 1907, he enlisted in the army and was assigned to Fort Leavenworth as a machine gun operator.  Elmer was trained to use nitroglycerin for demolition purposes. His enlisted years passed quietly and he was honorably discharged in November of 1910.  He would be dead less than one year later.

McCurdy's rambling led him back to Kansas where he met up with an Army buddy and they got arrested for possessing burglary paraphernalia. At the trial, the judge believed their story of their honest need for tools such as chisels, hacksaws, gunpowder, money sacks, etc., because of their work in inventing a foot-operated machine gun and found him not guilty. He was released in January, shortly after his 31st birthday.

Undeterred, Elmer took to the idea of using his knowledge of nitroglycerin in new robbery attempts. Two months after his release, McCurdy was in Oklahoma where he and three associates had devised a plan to rob the Iron Mountain-Missouri Pacific train.  Word in town was that one of the train cars was transporting a safe with $4,000 inside.

Although they successfully stopped the train and found said safe, the overzealous McCurdy used too much nitroglycerin to break the safe open. Not only was the safe destroyed but any paper monies inside were burnt up. All they escaped with was a melted hunk of $450 worth of silver coins.

That fall, Elmer found two new accomplices to help him rob The Citizens Bank in Chautauqua, Kansas. His bad luck fell the other way this time, however, and the initial charge of nitroglycerin was only enough to blow the bank's outer vault door. The second charge placed on the safe didn't even ignite and they had to run with only the $150 in coinage that was in a tray outside the safe.

To avoid the law, the group split up and McCurdy ended up at Charlie Revard's ranch in Oklahoma where he hid out in the hayshed for a few weeks and drank his time away. Little did his friend, Charlie, know what had gone on or what was yet to come.

Elmer McCurdy somehow found out that a $400,000 royalty payment to the Osage Nation was being transported along the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad that September. The rail line had often been referred to as 'The MKT' which eventually became shortened to 'The K-T'.  Soon, everyone colloquially referred to trains along this line as 'Katy Trains'.

This Katy Train caught Elmer's eye and soon, he had two more hands to help set up his new robbery plans. Unfortunately, with the frequency of 'Katy Trains' along the MKT line in those days, McCurdy's group stopped the wrong train. Only able to rob the passengers of small items such as a gun, watch, a coat, $46 in money and two carboys of whiskey, the group fled and Elmer wound up back at Revard's ranch by October 6th.

Sick with tuberculosis and heavily drinking, Elmer McCurdy was not only coming down with pneumonia, but what little luck he had ever had was just about to run out. Little did he know that a $2,000 dollar reward had been put out for his capture and men were on the move.

In the early morning hours of October 7, 1911, a posse of three sheriffs showed up on Revard's farm, where they had tracked McCurdy with their bloodhounds. In the hour long shootout that ensued, McCurdy was eventually felled with a gunshot to the chest. With the carboy from the train nearby as evidence that they had their man, the posse ended the life of a train robber who, as one newspaper had put it, been a part of "one of the smallest in the history of train robbery."

But this outlaw's story does not end with a bullet. 

Editor's Note: Be sure to tune in on 9/12/21 for part 2 of Elmer McCurdy!

About Carrie Aulenbacher

I’m a working mom who’s been at her first official job for 19 years now. I’m a mom and wife who loves spending time outside exploring our woods and enjoying all sorts of nature. Just ask my friends on Facebook and they’ll tell you that my bug pictures are getting to be an obsession with me! 

Visit Carrie's Partner Page: click here!


   Please post a comment below!   

Sunday, August 8, 2021

The Divided Loyalties of 'Half Breeds' (part 2)

By Monette Bebow-ReinhardWMD Author

Editor's Note: This is part 2 of 2 of  "The Divided Loyalties of 'Half Breeds' (part 1)," by WMD author, Monette Bebow-Reinhard. 


In September 1869, John Richards Jr., a sub-contractor for hay and “mixed blood” interpreter at Fort Laramie, shot Corporal Conrad of the Fourth’s Company E at Fort Fetterman in Wyoming for no apparent reason or provocation. Conrad died the next day. Commissioner Ely S. Parker wanted his trade license reinstated, but Governor Campbell thought that wasn’t a good idea, since he had killed a soldier and then disappeared. Richards reappeared in summer of 1870 with Joe Richards, his half-breed cousin, and Toucon to report an attack by Northern Cheyenne, who supposedly ran off a few head of their cattle around ten miles from their post.

On July 31st six six-mule teams loaded with corn arrive at the post, with John Richards, one “Calluff” and three “squaws or women.” They reported that Joe Richards had killed Toucon (or Touissant) near the military lime kiln. They were put in the guardhouse for detention, while a military guard went out to arrest Joe Richards. To elude capture Joe hid among the Sioux in Powder River, and eventually Toucon turned up alive and uninjured.

Half-breeds were given positions as teamsters, jobs not given to full-bloods. We know why Richards was at the fort, mingling with soldiers, and we might even guess what could have been the source of the altercation: drunkenness. It was quite possibly self-defense on Richards’s part. As for the prank between family members of falsely reporting murder, it could well have been divided loyalties emerging between family members.

Fort Laramie (image)

John Richards Sr. had traded with Indians in the Fort Laramie region and had a Sioux wife. His son became well known as a trader and civilian contractor for the military. He voiced friendship with the Crow and declared himself an enemy of the Whites during the 1868 peace treaty negotiations where he served as interpreter. But these turned out to be accusations leveled against Richards that were declared false by General John Sanford, who said that he had accomplished much toward bringing Indians to council in a peaceful manner.

As a result, John Richards Jr. received an Indian trade license in February 1869 but saw it revoked two months later. He was working as a subcontractor when he killed Conrad, supposedly in a drunken fit. They’d earlier had an altercation, when Conrad ordered him to leave the room of a whore. He then joined the Sioux and was heard to say he’d incite them to war. He eventually sought a pardon, received it, and went back to doing business.

But on June 17, 1870, after fighting with a Sioux relative, John Jr. was cut him to pieces in response.

Another lesser known demonstration of one foot in each world is Toussaint Kensler, who was jailed for murdering a rival for the affections of a whore at a hog ranch. He told his captors that an invasion of the Black Hills would bring on a war with the Indians for which the Sioux had been preparing for two years. He believed the Sioux would even make peace with the Crows to get them to join. Half-breeds” like Kensler, who was of German and Indian descent and once dressed as an Indian to “avoid detection,” were often used as interpreters and agents or as teamsters for the army and had an ear in both worlds. (He became the second man legally hung in the territory.)

After the Little Bighorn, half-breed interpreters were no longer sought out by the army. Instead, Indian children were sent to school to learn English on their road to becoming “civilized.” And still, they returned to the reservations and given nothing to do.

After the Dawes Act of 1887, where each Indian was allotted a certain amount of reservation land and the rest opened up to white settlement, more half-breeds were found willing to sign away the land, leading their Indian relatives to hope they would go poor out there in the White world and not try to come crawling back.

It would appear, too, that unscrupulous Whites were able to use the “mixed blood” of settlers on Indian land against them. In the 1830 Prairie du Chien treaty (Wisconsin/Minnesota), a clause was added to allow land to go to the half-breed settlers of the area. The land in question remained unsettled, so the Minnesota legislature gave these half-breeds scrips that could be exchanged for any federal land anywhere of their choosing. Whites then bought off these scrips, and some even used it to buy rich timber land around Lake Tahoe during the Comstock Lode rush that built Virginia City, Nevada in the early 1860s.

Divided loyalties always came with a price.


Having divided loyalties appeared to be a common experience, especially in the west with both sides fighting each other. But having interpreters helped to tame the west down, at least at first. When the interpretation became suspect, by either side, the references to half-breeds in general became derogatory.

How did the term half-breed come to mean something negative in today’s world? First, we saw that when whites no longer needed them, they were seen as unduly influencing the Indians. We could also blame the media, too, although the media generally only reflects current beliefs, rather than creating new ones.

Mark Twain (image)
Here’s a survey of “half-breeds” in the movies and TV, where we can see how this stereotype of divided loyalties was perpetuated.

  • Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” was published in 1876, at or around the time of the Little Bighorn, making the Injun Joe the main bad guy probably made that book gain quickly in popularity, as the defeat of Custer’s men made even the Eastern Indian friends turn against them. Yet, making him only half Indian could have reduced the negative impact, indicating that Mark Twain himself believed the Indians were goaded into war that year; half white here perhaps meant both sides were to blame.

  • Half Breed” was used as a political party term by the Republicans in 1880. It was a derogatory applied to the more liberal half of the party that wanted anyone but President Grant as the candidate. They eventually embraced the term to differentiate themselves from the Stalwarts; Garfield, who became president as a moderate between the two, was eventually killed by a Stalwart.

  • From a commentary on “The Half-Breed,” a silent movie in 1916: Films like The Red Girl and The Child (1910) and A Redskin’s Bravery (1911) focused on interracial friendship, continuing the romantic tradition popularized by James Fenimore Cooper in his Leatherstocking novels. Moving Picture World warned viewers away from 1911’s Red Deer’s Devotion because it “represents a white girl and an Indian falling in love with each other. While such a thing is possible … still there is a feeling of disgust which cannot be overcome when this sort of thing is depicted as plainly as it is here.” Mixing the races was here considered taboo, hence the western cliché of white settlers under attack reserving their last bullets to kill the womenfolk, saving them from the fate worse than death. This scene appears in countless movies, from Griffith’s The Battle of Elderbush Gulch to 1950’s Winchester ’73. As Kevin Brownlow wrote, “the moment that the Noble Savage procreated with a white woman, the offspring became a vicious character.” The real story [in this movie] is not Lo’s parentage, but the triangle of Lo, Nellie, and Sheriff Dunn. Anita Loos, who wrote Half-Breed’s scenario, might have been at least partially responsible for turning the stereotype of the virginal white woman and the rapacious redskin on its head. The film follows a common strategy of exposing racism and then evading a real confrontation with its consequences; in this case, by revealing Nellie to be a heartless coquette and providing Lo with a more worthy love interest, Teresa, who, as both a Mexican and an outlaw, as his social equal. Yet it’s unfair to condemn the film for its inability to transcend its time period’s prejudices. (Lo is a term used in place of ‘noble Indian.’ From Alexander Pope’s “Essay on Man.”)

  • In 1917 in an article in Wisconsin Archeologist, Vol. 16, No. 1, the word “half-breed” was still being used as an identifier and not as criticism of a person’s character or as an insult to his heritage.

  • The Half Breed” was a 1952 movie about a crooked politician on Indian land. It's just after the Civil War and Frank Crawford it trying to start an Indian war so the Indians will be thrown off the reservation and he can then claim the millions in gold contained there. Dan Craig, a wandering gambler, arrives and meets the half-breed Apache, Charlie Wolf. The two become friends and for a while they are able to prevent trouble. But after Crawford murders Charlie's half sister, Charlie rebels and an Indian uprising appears imminent. Let’s face it; half-breeds are used in movies so that they don’t have awkward conversational issues. It’s also likely a way for whites to show they are culturally sensitive.

  • Even John Wayne got in the act with “Hondo” in 1953, although the description of the movie doesn’t refer to him as a half-breed. Wayne is mostly known for his anti-Indian movies, increasing the stereotypical western image of savages.

  • The Underdog,” was a Bonanza episode in late 1964 that starred Charles Bronson as a half-breed Comanche who couldn’t get along with anyone. But the reason was that he was a horse thief in disguise. He claimed to be persecuted because of his heritage. Another episode in 1968, called “The Burning Sky,” featured a half-breed who hated his Indian side. And when the Cartwrights heard that his heritage was the reason, they nodded as in complete understanding.

  • Winnetou and the Crossbreed” was a German movie based on the popular Karl May books with an interesting twist to the word, deeming “crossbreed” as more acceptable. This movie was made in 1966, and gives the positive slant on the Indian culture, as Karl May’s books were pro-Indian.

  • Chato’s Land” in 1972 features Charles Bronson, this time as a Mestizo. Again it features a half-white going after ruthless whites. One has to wonder why he needed to be a half-breed? The answer is why would a White be against other Whites; making him only half-white gives him a reason to oppose them.

  • Cher’s song “Half Breed” tells us how she “learned to hate the word.” That was released in 1973, and reflects this negative perception. She did supposedly attempt to claim Cherokee ancestry, but in later years denied it. She was attacked for continuing to sing the song, but the attacks could be more related to her singing it in a fake headdress.

  • Keoma” came out in 1976 and featured a half-breed who returns after the Civil War to save his land and its people from ruthless Whites, another on that theme.

  • England’s JK Rowling called her half-human people “half-breeds.” They were also half wizards, and this, perhaps (I don’t know her personally nor did I read the books), was an indirect tribute to the Indian world.

  • As late as 1990, cavalry refugee Kevin Costner as John Dunbar is provided with a white captive to marry rather than a Native Indian bride in the Oscar-winning Dances with Wolves. Again, this was used to save them from long and awkward phase communication issues. No half-breed was used here; however, we see a White embracing her Indian life and her desire to shun memories of her life as a White.


The Meriam-Webster dictionary notes that “half-breed” is an offensive term to mean offspring of parents of different races, especially of Indian and White. Wikipedia notes that this is especially used in the U.S. to mean half Indian and Half White, while Rowling could use it in Britain to mean something else.

The Free Dictionary online noted this: “This term is usually used with disparaging intent and perceived as insulting, implying that a person of mixed race is somehow different or inferior. However, half-breed is also used as a neutral descriptive term.”

Historically, it has been used as a neutral term, simply to identify someone and perhaps only to indicate the role they’re playing in history. But because Europeans first saw these natives as nothing better than animals compared to their Christian civilization, “half-breed” became a word the Indians hated.

Today many tribal peoples are at least half White. Tribes cannot make tribal members out of people below one-quarter Indian; there is concern that being Indian is being married into extinction. Reservation leaders often struggle between two sides: Progressive and Traditional. But this essay is not saying that the more Indian blood you have, the more traditional you are. It is, however, possible that half-breeds were used to help tear the Indian world in two; either side with the Whites (progressive) or be driven into extinction (Traditional). This issue is responsible for the Massacre of Wounded Knee in 1890.

Every historic half-breed was a distinct individual raised in a manner that affected how he or she sees or saw the world. The whole concept of divided loyalties made them appear derogatory by one side or the other when it appeared they had only their own best interests at heart. It is in the best interest of historical relevance to keep their positions intact.

Negativity toward half-blood people began once the Indian wars had ended; half-breeds were thought to be those people who took advantage of both sides of their families, lazy no-goods who lived on the Indians government dole, while inciting them into asking for more “than they deserved.” Gradually, half-breeds came to be seen, if seen at all, as having a negative influence on the Indians, and on the government’s desire to take away their excess land and open it to development. Quanah Parker fought against allotment and felt leasing the land was better for his Indian people, and ultimately, reservations were restored.

But after the Indian wars, half-breeds lost their voice, and came to see that taking money for the land and walking away from their Indian heritage might be their only route left.

It may be politically correct to remove “half-breed” as a term from our language today. But learning the realities of being “half-breed” in historical records helps us to understand the complex history of this country. The use of “breed” is considered derogatory not because of the person’s blood, but because of the comparisons to animals, and because of divided loyalties, a reality they could never quite escape.

This is a simplified look at a complex topic, but one that has been ignored in most historical sources. I challenge writers not to neglect but to include these voices in your work and recognize the role they played in western events.

My novel, coming out soon, is now called “Saving Boone, Legend of a Kiowa Son.” It had previously been published by All Things that Matter Press, who argued that I keep “Saga of a Half-Breed.” Their issue cover was so bad I did not promote it and finally canceled that contract.

Read Part 1 now: click here!

Read more on divided loyalties in “Civil War & Bloody Peace: Following Orders, 2d edition” available at Author copies of first edition available for $10 in the US, includes shipping.

SOURCES (an unofficial listing):

On the Plains with Custer and Hancock: The Journal of Isaac Coaates, Army Surgeon,” edited by W.J.D. Kennedy. Boulder: Johnson Books, 1997.

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History,” by S.C. Gwynne. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. Lots of references to “half-breeds.”

With Crook at the Rosebud,” by J.W. Vaughn. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1956.

A Century of Dishonor: A sketch of the United States Government’s Dealing with some of the Indian Tribes,” by Helen Hunt Jackson. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995 (original printing in 1885).

Warpath & Council Fire,” by Stanley Vestal. New York: Random House, 1948. This author felt that “a half-breed always felt more at home with the Indians than with the whites” (66).

The Fighting Cheyennes” by George Bird Grinnell. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1915. Can provide a map of the Sand Creek massacre from here, has been used in other sources listed here as well. (171).

Encyclopedia of North American Indians,” edited by Frederick E. Hoxie. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 1996. Can provide a photo of Quanah Parker from here, appears to be free use (469).

Life of George Bent, written from His Letters,” by George H. Hyde, edited by Savoie Lottinville. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968.

500 Nations: An Illustrated History of North American History,” edited by Alvin M. Josephy, Jr. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994. Possible use of George Bent and wife photo (366).

The Native Americans: an Illustrated History, edited by Betty and Ian Ballantine. Turner Publishing Inc., 1993.

Drybone: A History of Fort Fetterman, Wyoming,” by Tom Lindmier. Glendo, Wyo.: High Plains Press, 2002.

My Life on the Plains,” by George Custer.

Indians, Infants and Infantry: Andrew and Elizabeth Burt on the Frontier,” by Merrill J. Mattes. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988.

The Half-Breed,” Silent,

Treaty with the Chippewa, 1826”

Mendota MMdewakanton Dakota Tribal Community,,

Cher the “Half Breed” - Does Cher have any Cherokee ancestry? ( - an interesting read, and likely why she never claimed to have a last name.

About the Author
Monette Bebow-Reinhard is an established book author, specializing in historical accounts, issues, and events. She began writing movie scripts in 1975 and from 1992 to 1995, she co-wrote scripts for the Bonanza series. She has won several minor awards and Monette has several novels on the market.

Monette's new Bonanza nonfiction history project is now revealed: 
Be sure to get a copy of Monette's "Felling of the Sons" at 
“I VERY HIGHLY (HIGHLYHIGHLYRECOMMEND Felling of the Sons to every Western genre enthusiast, especially those that hold Bonanza in high-esteem.—Patricia Spork, Reviewer, ebook Reviews Weekly.  

Here's a link to Monette's Website where you will find some very interesting reading: https://www.grimm2etc.comAlso, connect with Monette via email at

Learn more about  the half-breed experiences in
CIVIL WAR & BLOODY PEACE: Following Orders

"This is an attempt to get at the real and objective truth of military orders between 1862 and 1884, and beyond, by following a regular army private's orders during those years that he served. You will be walking through real records of history, with the people who made the U.S. what it is today."

Order your copy of Monette Bebow-Reinhard's book:
Civil War & Bloody Peace: Following Orders

Be sure to visit
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   Please post a comment below!   

Sunday, July 25, 2021


By Monette Bebow-Reinhard, WMD Author

Editor's Note: This is part 1 of 2 of The Divided Loyalties of 'Half Breeds' (part 1), by WMD author, Monette Bebow-Reinhard. Tune in August 7th when we'll feature part 2.

“Half-Breeds” in the history of the west played a distinct role and yet readers of western history today would need a six-foot sledge hammer and twenty years to chisel out these experiences.  One reason is that the term “half-breeds” is considered derogatory. Because I was doing research on a novel about a half-breed in the Indian wars from his white perspective, I used an eight-foot chisel and set out to answer the question: Why did the term “half-breed” become derogatory? In all my primary document readings of the 1800s, it was simply an identifier. Before long, however, they came to be mistrusted as having divided loyalties.

Here we’ll explore the evolution of the “half-breed” from neutral identifier to a derogatory concept that made local teachers shudder in horror when they heard I was calling my book “Saga of a Half-Breed.”  We’ll look at some case studies through the Indian wars and into the media to see what happened to the use of this term to describe half-white, half-Indian people. 

Here in the United States in the 1800s, there was no other term for half-Indian, half-white. In Canada, half-French and half-Indian were called Metis, while in Mexico the half-Spanish, half-Indian were Mestizos, and neither word has taken on a derogatory status. Half-black and half-white were at first called Mulattoes, but then the derogatory term “muley” was applied. “Half-Breed,” too, bears an animal connotation, as in breeding horses; yet when they were sought out to be interpreters, it was a neutral identifier. Many early settlers found only Indians to marry, and many Indians felt this marriage would be to their advantage.

“Half-Breed” is a term anchored in time. We call them “mixed blood” today, but that’s not what they were called in the old west. The half-breed trader and agent was a necessary one in a world of conflict between the two sides. Understanding the experience of half-breeds adds another element to understanding what the West was like after the Civil War.


In the first half of the 1800s William Bent was a trader with the Indians and found relations peaceful. He had children with his Cheyenne wife. George Bent was there on that fateful day at Sand Creek in 1864 when Colonel Chivington with the Colorado Volunteers attacked Black Kettle’s sleeping village. This “half-breed” thereafter sided with the Cheyenne. 

No one knows for sure if Crazy Horse was Indian, half-Indian, or full white.  There are stories, like the one where his Indian mother killed herself when she was accused of bedding with a white man.  Crazy Horse was fairer skinned and had lighter, partly curly hair.  He sided firmly with the Indians, as did “half-breed” Comanche Quanah Parker, son of abducted white woman Cynthia Parker.  She was eventually taken back into the white world against her wishes, but her son remained with the Comanche, the only people he knew.  

The half-breed was the natural result of whites settling sparsely-populated lands where only Indians lived. When the two cultures met without knowing each other’s language they easily felt intimidated by lack of understanding; the primary records abound in bloody events caused by this fear.  Half-breeds had the ability to interpret and change this climate, if raised by both parents.  

But once the two sides could understand each other, the lies began. The Whites realized they didn’t want the Indians to know the truth; that they were ultimately to be pushed aside for land and the taxes that could be reaped from White ownership after the Civil War. The Indians, however, felt they could treaty the land away and still retain the resources. This is one reason for continuing conflict, and only half-breeds were trusted enough by both sides to tell the truth.


William Bent was an early trader in the west with the Cheyenne Indians.  His experiences with them in the first half of the 1800s had always been peaceful.  Before the use of half-breeds as official interpreters, however, clashes began to occur in 1857, and worsened as the country headed for civil war.  It wouldn’t be until after the Civil War that a more stringent effort was made to communicate with Indians for treaties, particularly the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868.

Before the end of the Civil War, Chivington started a war of his own in Colorado in 1864, by holding an entire village of Cheyenne responsible for some unproven infraction. William Bent told Chivington the Cheyennes wanted peace, but Chivington didn’t listen. He didn’t care about guilt or innocence in that village, but felt he had just cause. There has been some trouble earlier in 1864, and fault or blame was not sought but simply applied against the Cheyennes. William’s son George Bent helped to locate the various tribes at Fort Lyon on Sand Creek, where they would be better protected. He had been encamped with them the morning of the attack.  Chivington used George’s brother Robert as a guide, threatening to shoot him if he didn’t go.  A few of the half-breeds in the camp, and women married to white men, were spared in the massacre that morning of November 29th. George was shot in the hip, while making a stand with other Cheyenne men to stop the attackers.  

Edmund Guerrier was also there, but escaped and ran off to spread the news.  Three children had been abducted to show off on an opera stage.  The general feeling across the country was horror, and the government ordered an investigation, but Chivington resigned before they could court-martial him. After traveling the circuits as a famous Indian hunter, he lived out his life in relative obscurity.  Most of the westerners approved of Chivington’s activities. The Cheyenne and other tribes saw this as war.

Guerrier was a half-Cheyenne interpreter and guide who rode with George Custer during General Hancock’s Kansas campaign against Cheyenne and Sioux in 1867. Guerrier told the army where he believed the Indians had gone when they disappeared without a trace, but Hancock didn’t find them there.  

George Custer was also on this campaign; he called Guerrier “Geary” and a “half-breed,” and said that Geary wanted to prevent bloodshed in Hancock’s march on the Sioux & Cheyenne villages because he was married to a full blood Cheyenne woman who lived there.  Guerrier himself preferred to play it low-key, because of the risks he took with his life in delivering and interpreting messages between the Indians and the army.  Why would that be dangerous?  If one side didn’t trust the other, or didn’t like the message the interpreter delivered … well, we’ve all heard the term “shoot the messenger.”  So the half-breed was also seen as expendable, while the service they provided was invaluable.

Custer was probably wrong, anyway.  Guerrier was married to Julia Bent, sister of George Bent. He narrowly missed being killed at Sand Creek, after having helped the Cheyenne write letters to Colorado Governor John Evans asking for peace.  Hancock told Guerrier that he would hold the interpreter personally responsible if the Indian families left the villages before he could council with them.  Guerrier responded that he would not ride with Hancock on those terms, so Hancock relented.  But Guerrier has been held historically accountable for their escape because he delayed reporting to Hancock.

After years as an interpreter, Guerrier was involved in 1877 when the Cheyenne were starving on government rations and dying of disease. This was during the pursuit of dispersed tribes after the Little Bighorn. Guerrier attempted to help with a conversation between the army and Little Wolf and Dull Knife’s people that led to the government’s final rejection of their plea to return to their northern country. When he found everyone in an ugly mood, he fled back to the agency, where his Cheyenne relatives told Guerrier to stop interpreting or he would be killed.

Killing Custer, it seemed, killed all need or desire for half-breed interpreters, at least on the side of the army and government.

Quanah Parker was the son of a Comanche chief and a white woman.  His mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, was one of the best known of Indian captives in the second half of the 1800s, a woman who repeatedly refused to return to her people.

Quanah was not immediately accepted as Comanche, especially after his father died and his mother was returned to the whites. When it came time to marry with Weckeah, he had to win the heart of her father, who saw Quanah as a pauper, and his white blood gave him no standing in the tribe. This need to marry her led him to become a great horse thief and gained him the status of a fully-fledged war chief by 1863.

By 1875, a year before the march on the Little Bighorn, the army was in full pursuit of Quanah and his band of Quahadis, the last of the Comanches to remain in the wild following the battle of Adobe Walls.  Between 1863 and this time he was angry over the death of his father and recapture of his mother and sister, and had spent much time killing whites.  Before taking the white man’s road, however, he meditated at a mesa top, where a wolf and an eagle both gave him the same sign; negotiate with the army at the fort to the east.  On June 2nd, 407 Quahadis surrendered to the army a few miles west of Fort Sill, giving up their 1500 horses and arms to the army.  

Colonel Randall Mackenzie admired him: “I think better of this band than of any other on the reserve.”

Quanah first worked to be a part of the Comanche world, and then he had to force himself to fit into his mother’s world. He never forgot her.  She had been taken from him when he was 12, making him an orphan at a pivotal age.  She had been unable to re-adjust to the white world, and died there. He was not well accepted by either half, white or Indian, but had to work at what he wanted and what his white mother wanted; for him to stay Indian.  Perhaps he thought the transition to the white world would be an easy one. When he gave talks, he never talked about all he had done to try and protect his homeland, as though a source of shame. He did not keep touring, saying he was no monkey to be put into a cage.  

This could well be how Sitting Bull felt after a season’s tour with Wild Bill Hickock.

Editor's Note: This was  part 1 of 2. Be sure to tune in on August 7th when we'll feature  part 2!

About the AuthorMonette Bebow-Reinhard is an established book author, specializing in historical accounts, issues, and events. She began writing movie scripts in 1975 and from 1992 to 1995, she co-wrote scripts for the Bonanza series. She has won several minor awards and Monette has several novels on the market.

Monette's new Bonanza nonfiction history project is now revealed: 
Be sure to get a copy of Monette's "Felling of the Sons" at 
“I VERY HIGHLY (HIGHLYHIGHLYRECOMMEND Felling of the Sons to every Western genre enthusiast, especially those that hold Bonanza in high-esteem.—Patricia Spork, Reviewer, ebook Reviews Weekly.  

Here's a link to Monette's Website where you will find some very interesting reading: https://www.grimm2etc.comAlso, connect with Monette via email at

Learn more about  the half-breed experiences in CIVIL WAR & BLOODY PEACE: Following Orders

"This is an attempt to get at the real and objective truth of military orders between 1862 and 1884, and beyond, by following a regular army private's orders during those years that he served. You will be walking through real records of history, with the people who made the U.S. what it is today."

Order your copy of Monette Bebow-Reinhard's book:
Civil War & Bloody Peace: Following Orders

Be sure to visit
on Facebook!

   Please post a comment below!