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Guthrie museum exhibit tells colorful tale of criminal in Oklahoma

Elmer McCurdy was shot and killed in 1911 in Osage County, but his legend lives on in an exhibit at the Guthrie Territorial Museum.
by Matt Patterson Modified: November 12, 2013 at 12:12 pm •  Published: November 13, 2013

— As outlaws go, Elmer McCurdy isn't as notorious as some of those who prowled the Oklahoma plains in the late 1800s and early 20th century, but the story of his death and what happened afterward is one tall tale.

A new exhibit highlighting the life of McCurdy and his death at the hands of lawman Stringer Fenton in Osage County in 1911 during a shoot-out with law enforcement is on display at the Oklahoma Territorial Museum.

McCurdy is buried in Guthrie.

But his journey to a final resting place was anything but quick. McCurdy was embalmed in a Pawhuska mortuary, but the bill was never paid, and his body sat in the back of the establishment for years. The undertaker occasionally would allow people to see the mummified body for 5 cents.

Years later, a man claiming to be the brother of McCurdy took possession of the body. The man was not his brother, but rather a carnival promoter. McCurdy's body was sold over the next 60 years to fun houses and carnivals before ending up at The Pike in Long Beach, Calif., which included a fun house.

During the filming of an episode of “The Six Million Dollar Man” in 1976, a production assistant attempted to move the body but ended up tearing one of McCurdy's arms off, exposing bone. A medical examiner investigated, and the body was later determined to be McCurdy thanks to a carnival ticket that was lodged in the body's mouth.

Exhibit tells story

McCurdy has been portrayed as an inept outlaw because he melted about $5,000 worth of silver to the floor of a train he was robbing, but museum curator Michael Williams said he was a criminal with some talent.

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by Matt Patterson
Matt Patterson has been with The Oklahoman since 2006. Prior to joining the news staff in 2010, Patterson worked in The Oklahoman's sports department for five years. He previously worked at The Lawton Constitution and The Edmond Sun....
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