Little House on the Prairie was a staple of American television in the 70s that accentuated the wholesome family dynamic that was popular in the era. Audiences had not yet been exposed to the likes of the Simpsons or Married with children and their skewed sense of humor. Based on the popular series of novels called, Little House, The show featured the prairie life of the Ingalls family based on the author’s middle name. They dealt with things like displaced Natives, natural disasters, and other settlers but there is one aspect that Laura Ingalls decided not to feature in her books.
in 1937, Laura Ingalls Wilder spoke at a book fair where she relayed the story of how her family lived close to the Bloody Benders., a couple that owned an inn and general store where they killed upward of eleven people who were simply passing through. Considered by many to be America’s first serial killers, the Bloody Benders lived in between Wilder’s family and the town of Independence, Kansas.
The Wilder’s would often stop at the Benders place on their way to Independence where Laura’s father would stop to get water but never strayed to visit the tavern. An odd occurrence as the Bender’s was the only place to stop when travelling south. Odder still, that those travelling south that stopped at the Benders were never heard from again. One of the victim’s brothers showed up and began snooping around, eventually leading to the Benders’ inn.
Locals had noticed that the Bender’s property was always freshly plowed, despite there being no crops growing on any of it. It didn’t take long for the brother to gather a search party to head up to the Bender’s property. Somehow, they must have gotten the word and had already made their getaway when the party arrived. Soon after, they found the Bender’s first victim with a head that had been bashed in and a near burried.
This caused an extensive digging around the property where the other corpses had been buried, several skeletal remains, and one small girl who had evidently been buried alive. Pa Ingalls talked to Ma Ingalls, grabbed his shotgun and walked out the front door. He joined a vigilante gang that went looking for the Benders. The next day, Pa returned, saying nothing about what happened. If asked, he would merely state that the Benders would never be heard from again.
As with all historical crimes, there are inconsistencies in the retelling. It is unclear whether the Benders were biologically related, or if they were simply two couples that joined together with under the same name. It is generally believed that there were two men and two women. Official documentation states that the crimes weren’t discovered until 1873, two years after the Bender’s left Kansas and five years after Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in 1867.
It is unclear as to whether Ingalls simply remembers the events wrong or elevated them due to her age at the time they occurred. There is no reason for her to relay this information to boost sales of her books as they were obviously quite popular. She even states that the reason she omitted it from her recounting is that it didn’t feel right in telling the story of gruesome murders in books aimed specifically at children. Less so in one that involves a small girl, one of her intended focus groups.
Having all that said, The Bloody Benders were an actual band of people that gruesomely killed people for no more reason than they were passing through and could get away from it. The Wilder family did indeed live close to the Bender’s at their inn, so there could have been some interaction between their families. Apparently, little houses reside in small worlds.