Elmer McCurdy

Elmer McCurdy

The Bandit
Who Wouldn’t Give Up

Stranger than all other crime tales is the tale of Elmer McCurdy. Deep in the heart of the Osage Hills, just over 100 years ago, one cold autumn morning in October, 1911, Elmer robbed the Katy (M-K-T) Train, at gunpoint, near Okesa, Oklahoma. Believing he was going to become rich from Osage Indian payment money he escaped with the loot and two bottles of whiskey to a nearby barn to hide. He only got $46. Alas, he had robbed the wrong train. Distraught, he began to drink the whiskey, and the deputies soon found him. In a shootout, three deputies ended the life of Elmer McCurdy, or so it seems.

Elmer was taken to Pawhuska Oklahoma, capital of The Osage, for burial. No family came forward to claim Elmer’s body. Embalmed, he stood in a burial basket in the funeral home for five years. Displayed for viewing, people came and went to see the outlaw, but no one paid the bill. Finally, two men from California, claiming to be family, paid the bill and the body was shipped for burial. The trail of Elmer McCurdy’s body is long and twisted. The two men were not family and in fact owned a traveling carnival show, so his corpse was displayed for money. For years the body meandered from place to place, all the time becoming more and more mummified.

After 66 years, in 1977, it was discovered that the dummy hanging in the Laff in the Dark fun house in California was really a body. The Six-Million Dollar Man was being filmed, using the dummy. Elmer’s arm fell off while being handled, and authorities were called. It was a long investigation, but the trail finally led back to the Pawhuska Funeral Home, and the true crime story was revealed. Elmer was given a decent burial, sixty-six years later, in Boot Hill at Guthrie, Oklahoma, near another very famous outlaw of early day Oklahoma history. His horse-drawn carriage and his wooden box seemed decent after all. One of Osage County’s most famous longtime deputies, George Wayman, assisted in the burial proceedings.

All that remains of that long ago day is an old iron train trestle near Okesa and the tombstone at Boot Hill. The Elmer McCurdy story and other tales of The Osage may be found in the Osage County Historical Society Museum. One can view an iron train safe from the “old days” at the old Santa Fe Train Depot, now a museum, or a handcuff key from a famous U.S. Marshal from the Indian Territory.

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