The Cowboy Who Traveled for Decades After His Death


The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Give Up

In 1911 Elmer McCurdy robbed a train of $46. He also managed to take two jugs of whiskey in the Oklahoma event. A posse chased him, and he yelled at them that he would not be taken alive. He stood by his decision, and he was killed during a real western shoot-out. No one claimed the robber’s body in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. In those days, an unclaimed body was often put on display to help with identification as well as to advertise the funeral home’s services.

Funeral Director Demands Payment
Joseph L. Johnson, a funeral director, was determined to be compensated for his work. He embalmed McCurdy’s body with an arsenic-laced ultra preservative. The preservative supposedly would allow the body to remain in a lifelike condition indefinitely. This was common in that era for the unclaimed dead, waiting for the next of kin to identify the remains.

Body Stands For Five Years
Johnson decided to make McCurdy’s body an inviting scene for his funeral parlor. He stood the stiff body up, next to a ficus, with a gun by his side. McCurdy stood there for the next five years. He was given the name, “The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Give Up.” The funeral director charged visitors five cents to see the dead man up close. The bazaar times the body spent at the funeral home included another escapade. Johnson’s children, having watched “Weekend at Bernie’s” put roller skates on McCurdy’s feet and rolled him throughout the house.

Carnival Promoters Want To Buy The Body
Word spread fast about the body. It was reported it was drawing large crowds. This brought carnival promoters from all over the country, making offers to buy McCurdy. Johnson repeatedly said it was not for sale. Then, after five years, a pair of men entered the funeral home, claiming to be McCurdy’s long-lost brothers. They wanted to take their loved one and give him a proper burial. The brothers were Charles and James Patterson. They were a pair of carnies who put on their act of sorrow while taking the body of McCurdy. This was the beginning of the body going on the road, being a part of a sideshow for the following six decades.

A Real Cowboy Corpse
The body gained a mass appeal while bringing in a lot of dollars. Morbid curiosity seekers paid money to see the corpse. The top-billing act was an original cowboy corpse. Through the years McCurdy was given many stage names ranging from “The Embalmed Bandit” to “The Thousand-Year-Old Man.” His body traveled throughout the country. Not only was he a drifter in life, he became a drifter in death.

“Six Million Dollar Man”
It all ended one day when the crew from the “Six Million Dollar Man” discovered the corpse. The show was filming on-location in Queen’s Park, Long Beach, California. The art director found an emaciated-looking dummy. It had been spray-painted in different colors, and it had a hangman’s noose attached. It had been hanging for four years from the gallows in a back corner. It was swinging gently back and forth when it suddenly snapped. The dummy’s brittle wax arm was separated from its ancient wax body – however, the wax arm wasn’t made from wax. The crewmember discovered a human bone surrounded by muscle tissue. My heavens, it was the corpse of McCurdy.

Corpse Taken To Coroner’s Office
The corpse was taken to a Los Angeles County coroner’s office. The once big body had withered to a height of 5’3″ and weighed just 50 pounds. Through a lot of investigation, McCurdy’s corpse was eventually identified. He was laid to rest in the spring of 1977 in Guthrie, Oklahoma. His service brought more than 300 spectators – or were they, curiosity seekers? It is assumed that his remains now deserve a well-earned rest.
McCurdy certainly had many years of traveling and new experiences after his death – even if he could not personally enjoy them.