John Bender, Sr., or
"Pa" or Old Man Bender
as he was sometimes called, was
sixty years of age. He had the frame of a giant, broad shoulders,
gnarled hands set on powerful
arms, big boned with an enormous strength. He would have stood over six feet
in height, had it not been for his habitual stoop. Pa had a ruddy
complexion, a heavy jaw, high cheek bones and a low forehead. His eyes were
black and piercing, set deeply under huge bushy brows which earned him the
nickname of "old beetle-browed John". His sandy hair was rather long,
and his face swarthly bearded.
All accounts given of John Sr.ís appearance while he lived in the Cherryvale
area compared him to a "gorilla" and talked about him being "a wild, woolly
man" as shown in the above right tinplate print. The sketch above left
shows John, Sr. as a respectable looking clean-shaven middle aged man.
is from Lawyer John T. James' 1913 book he wrote after defending Ma and Kate in
1889-1890 trail in Owsego, Kansas.
Old Man Bender had
a sullen expression and "Never looked a feller in the eye." He talked little
when strangers were about and only spoke in German. Ocassionally he greeted
locals along the Osage Trail. He understood English, but only spoke English
with two or three vulgar expletives. He and his raw-boned
wife, were thought to have been immigrants from Germany but they spoke with
such guttural accents that no one could be certain.
John Flickinger, his real name,
is the only Bender of the four whose end is certain. He supposely committed
suicide in 1884 in Lake Michigan shortly after Ma and Kate caught up with
him. Other accounts believe that Ma and/or Kate murdered him. It was rumored that he had fled Cherryvale with all the cash and valuables they had taken
from their victims.
© 2005 Wayne Hallowell