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. It is from Lawyer John T. James' 1913 book he wrote after defending Ma and Kate in the 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