|Born||January 28, 1828
Lincoln County, Kentucky
|Died||January 14, 1864
Virginia City, Montana
|Cause of death||Hanging|
|Other names||The Kentucky Cannibal|
|Criminal penalty||Death penalty|
|Number of victims||unknown (at least 11)|
|Span of killings||1850–1864|
|State(s)||California, Missouri, others.|
Boone Helm (1828 – January 14, 1864) was a mountain man and gunfighter of the American West known as the Kentucky Cannibal. Helm was also a serial killer who gained his nickname for his opportunistic and unrepentant proclivity for the consumption of human flesh taken from the bodies of enemies and traveling companions. While this was usually done in survival situations, Helm sometimes took flesh in preparation of being in a survival situation.
Boone Helm was born in Kentucky into what was considered an honest, hard-working and respected family. Helm's family moved to Missouri when he was still a boy. Helm delighted in demonstrating feats of strength and agility, and would goad men into fights and regale others by throwing his Bowie knife into the ground and retrieving it from a horse at full gallop. In one incident that demonstrates his contempt for authority, Helm, on horseback, rebuffed the sheriff's attempt to arrest him and walked his horse up the stairs of a courthouse and into the courtroom, while circuit court was in session, and verbally harangued the judge.
Helm married 17-year-old Lucinda Browning in 1848 and soon fathered a daughter. Helm became known for his heavy drinking, riding his horse into the house, and beating his wife. The domestic violence grew to such an extent that Lucinda petitioned for divorce. Helm's father paid for the costs of the divorce. In return, Boone Helm bankrupted his father and ruined his family's reputation. Helm then decided to move to California.
Serial murder and cannibalism
By 1850, Helm had decided to head for California in search of gold. Helm asked his cousin, a man named Littlebury Shoot, if he would accompany him to California. Shoot initially agreed to accompany him, but when Littlebury attempted to back out of the trip Helm became angered and stabbed him in the chest, killing him instantly. Helm then headed west alone. Littlebury's brother and friends pursued and captured Helm, but his antics in captivity quickly landed him in an asylum for the mentally deranged. Upon entering the asylum, Helm became taciturn and convinced his guard to take him on walks through the woods. After these walks became routine, Helm was able to take advantage of the guard's trust, deceive him, and escape.
Helm then headed west to California. On the way, he murdered several men in various altercations, eventually committing premeditated murder. Forced to flee to avoid arrest and vigilante justice, Helm teamed up with six men with whom he confided that in his past Helm had eaten all or part of some of his murder victims. "Many's the poor devil I've killed, at one time or another... and the time has been that I've been obliged to feed on some of 'em." This boastful allusion is the first report of cannibalism on the part of Boone Helm.
An attack by Natives on the way to Fort Hall, Idaho, forced Helm and his party into the wilderness. Short on provisions, Helm and his remaining party killed their horses, ate the meat, and made snowshoes out of the hides. The journey was arduous, winnowing the party down to two men: Helm and a man named Burton. When Burton could go no further, Helm left him only to return in time to hear the pistol shot of Burton taking his own life. Helm ate one of Burton's legs and wrapped the other to take with him on his journey. Someone finally discovered Helm at an Indian camp and allowed Helm to accompany him. Despite having over fourteen hundred dollars in coins on his person, Helm reportedly neither paid nor thanked this person for feeding, clothing, and transporting him to Salt Lake City.
Boone became wanted by the law and fled to San Francisco, California. While in California Helm killed a rancher who had befriended him and taken him in, sheltering him from the vengeance of the law. Helm had no understanding of the concept of gratitude. Helm then traveled to Oregon and resumed robbing people for a living, frequently murdering them. In 1862 after heavy drinking Helm gunned down an unarmed man named Dutch Fred in a saloon and fled. While on the run, Helm ate another fugitive who had been accompanying him. Captured by the authorities, Helm implored his brother "Old Tex", one of Helm's twelve siblings, for assistance. With a considerable amount of money, Old Tex paid off all of the witnesses. Unable to convict Helm without witnesses, the authorities released him and he accompanied his brother to Texas. Helm soon reappeared at many of the settlements mentioned before, killing many more men in the process. Finally Helm was apprehended in Montana.
Capture and execution
After teaming up with the notorious Henry Plummer and his gang, Helm and four other gang members were captured, arrested, and tried in secret. At trial, Helm kissed the Bible and then proceeded to perjure himself, accusing Jack "Three-Fingered Jack" Garner, Helm's close friend and fellow gang member of crimes Helm himself had committed. The Montana Vigilantes hanged Helm, Gallager, and other members of the gang in Virginia City, Montana on January 14, 1864 in front of a crowd of six thousand. Upon seeing his friend Gallager hanged, Helm reportedly remarked "Kick away old fellow. My turn next. I'll be in Hell with you in a minute."
When the executioner approached Helm, he allegedly exclaimed "Every man for his principles! Hurrah for Jeff Davis! Let 'er rip!" and then jumped off of the hangman's box before it could be kicked away. Boone Helm is buried in Virginia City's Boot Hill cemetery.
- Young, Jason (Summer). "Kentucky Cannibal in Cariboo: A Story of the Killer, Boone Helm". The Gold Rush Trail Journal (British Columbia, Canada: Ron Young) 2 (1): 9, 12, 14, 16. ISBN 0-7627-3624-0.
- Hough, Emerson. "OLD WEST LEGENDS: Boone Helm - Murderer, Cannibal & Thief". Retrieved 1905.
- Langford, Nathaniel Pitt (1912). Vigilante days and ways: the pioneers of the Rockies; the makers and the making. A. C. McClurg.
- Axline, Jon (2005). Still Speaking Ill of the Dead: More Jerks in Montana History. The Globe Pequot Press. ISBN 0-7627-3624-0.
- Pace, Dick. "The Spell of the West - Montana Vigilantes". Retrieved 1980.
- Young, Ron. "Kentucky Cannibal In Cariboo: A Story of the Killer Boone Helm". Retrieved 2011-02-23.