legends of the creek

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Cowboy Spook, Elmer McCurdy - Tale of the Creek

The old Wild West is the stuff of legends: Gunslingers robbing banks and trains. Cowboys on long cattle drives. Gold and silver rushes. But every time period has its strange stories, and the Wild West is no different. Some of those stories are exactly what you’d expect, while others are surprisingly unbelievable.

legends of Cave CreekElmer McCurdy is not exactly a household name. Unlike Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Jesse and Frank James, or Billy the Kid, his exploits as a train and bank robber never gained him much infamy. Neither did his status as one of the last real Wild West outlaws, killed in a shootout with the law. (He’d never be taken alive, he said.)

No, Elmer McCurdy gained his fame more than 60 years after his death, in 1976, when memories of those wild days on the frontier were dying with the last people who’d lived them. That’s when the crew of The Six Million Dollar Man borrowed an amusement park fun-house to shoot an episode of the popular TV show. As one of the crew members moved a dummy, its arm fell off—revealing that the dummy was actually a mummy. McCurdy, specifically, as an official autopsy later revealed.

It seems that after being shot, someone had gone to the funeral home and identified themselves as McCurdy’s long-lost brother in order to take the body. In fact, he was a carnival owner. (Carnivals did a brisk trade in outlaw corpses to attract crowds in the early days of the 20th century.) McCurdy's body also spent time as repayment for an unpaid debt, playing a mummy in a freak show that made its way through the old town of Cave Creek, Arizona before he became a funhouse prop in California.

McCurdy was finally laid to rest on Boot hill in Guthrie, Oklahoma, 66 years after he was killed. Were it not for a clumsy prop crew member in Hollywood, who knows where old Elmer McCurdy would be today.

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