GUTHRIE — 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.
“The whole idea that this guy was inept isn't really true,” Williams said. “He was a professional criminal who ran out of time and the law caught up with him.”
The exhibit includes the gun used to kill McCurdy and also some tools of the era like those McCurdy would have used to rob trains and bank vaults.
Turns out, the museum already had the gun in storage. Curator Michael Williams determined it was Fenton's gun by looking at pictures of Fenton, who was wearing it on his hip. Besides the gun and the tools of the era, illustrated panels tell the rest of McCurdy's story in detail.
“We spent about six months putting it together,” Williams said. “People have really enjoyed it. We've gotten a huge reaction.
“We had a guy that came in and he read the panels, and he came back downstairs and he said he couldn't stop reading. People don't always say that about museum exhibits. It's very catchy to the eye. We wanted to get as many images as we could because it is so story-driven.”
If you go
The Oklahoma Territorial Museum is at 406 E Oklahoma Ave.
Regular hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.