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!


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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

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