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Legend of Sawney Bean

Updated on February 19, 2011

* Warning - Details of a Graphic Nature

I'll try to keep the details of this legend in simple terms and not get flashy with adjectives, since the Legend of Sawney Bean involves cannibalism and violence.

Alexander Sawney Beane - or Bean:

In late 15th or early 16th Century Scotland it is said that Sawney Beane was head of a 48-member clan, many members of which, Sawney shared his inclinations toward violence with.

The source for this legend is indisputably questionable, and many historians say that Sawney Beane never did exist, however, even if he did not ever truly exist, this legend is an extraordinary tribute, then, to the strength of Scottish storytellers.

Sawney Bean Was Notoriously Lazy and Fantastically Cruel

Though Alexander Sawney Beane was born to regular, hard-working folk, in East Lothian, he found out early on that he didn't share his father's drive for honest labour. He tried ditch-digging and hedge-trimming - trades that his father was skilled with, but Sawney just didn't have the gumption to exhibit any stick-with-it-ness!

He left home early either with a like-minded woman or he found his vicious female partner very shortly after leaving home. Right away, the pair turned to crimes, petty and otherwise, to eke out a living, and they made their home in a cave near Galloway.

Apparently, Bean and his partner lived in the hard-to-access cave for about 25 years, during which time they had children, then more children, and built a population of over 40 in their unwholesome clan. Some of the children and grandchildren were, of course, products of incest and rapes, and included 6 daughters, 8 sons, 14 granddaughters and 18 grandsons.

Without instruction in the arts of honesty and labour, the entire clan turned to crimes in order to survive. They conducted regular ambushes of travellers in the region and would murder individuals - and later, once the clan was larger, larger groups - and bring their victims back to their cave.

At the cave, they would dismember the victims, eat choice parts of their bodies, then often discard the rest, so that in the region, bodies with missing parts - or missing parts of bodies, were often found by local villagers and even authorities. If any extensive investigations about missing people were ever conducted, then the clan was so well hidden in their cave they were never found for around 25 years. The clan only committed their crimes at night, the old storytellers say, and 48 cannibalistic murderers were seemingly untouchable for the longest time.

Home Video, Tour of Sawney Beane's Cave

Growth of the Clan

Naturally, as the clan grew in number, so did their attacks on people. More clan members meant more mouths to feed - and feed, the clan did, until hardly anyone in the Galloway area could ignore that something was terribly wrong near Galloway.

Finally, several very extensive searches were organized, in order to find out who was murdering people and dismembering them at such a rate. At one point, the Sawney Beane-clan cave was probably located, but those who entered the cave and saw what state it was in concluded that nobody would actually live in such a place.

Hysteria and fear overtook the villagers around this time, and with the searches providing no answers, some lynching of innocents took place. Soon after, people noticed that the killings and human disappearances just kept right on happening, and from there, many inn-keepers were bothered incessantly while people suspected THEM of the grisly murders and unexplained disappearances.

Pointing the finger at Inn-Keepers seemed the logical next step, since Innkeepers were often the last ones to see people alive right before their partly mutilated bodies turned up near the sea or discarded outside of town.

The Clan's Bungled Ambush

Fortunately for the nearby villagers of Galloway - unfortunately for the clan, an ambush didn't turn out as planned one night when some of the clan members choose to attack a certain married couple who were travelling through the area on horseback, after having visited the fair during the daytime. Unbeknownst to the attackers, the husband was highly skilled in the arts of combat, and had with him on this night, a sword as well as pistol.

Although the husband's wife fell during the ruckus - and the clan mauled her to death, the man kept fighting bravely for his life and soon, a group of travellers happened along, took stock of the very disturbing scene, and rushed to the area, saving the now lone traveller.

The clan simply fled from the situation but with such a scene, their general location was revealed and reports of this location went all the way to the authority of the King. The King launched a massive manhunt, deployed at least 400 armed and trained men, along with hounds, and it was a very short time until the clan's hideout cave was uncovered.

The cave found found by the King's men was, indeed, the one which had already been looked upon but discarded as too unfit for human habitation. Finally, the Sawney Bean clan was apprehended. It is said that the entire clan was captured alive, chained together, and taken a jail while the cave left behind was found to be littered with human remains. It was hard to imagine the hundreds of murders and cannibalistic events which must have taken place there.

Fear Incorporated Performs/Tells Sawney Beane Legend in Song "Sawney's Cave"

Have You Heard This One?

Have you encountered the Legend of Sawney Beane Before?

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    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 2 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Yes, totally gruesome, Gipsy Dianic! Thanks for stopping by to read and comment! :)

    • Gipsy Dianic profile image

      Gipsy Dianic 2 years ago

      How bloody gruesome and fascinating!

    • profile image

      Rachael 6 years ago

      very very interesting and scary. My family members have went to try and find. It quite dangerous. I am to scared.freeks me out

    • profile image

      √©lida seixas 6 years ago

      bacana gostei ^^

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Great story myth, I didn't know you had written it and wrote one myself.

    • profile image

      cant tell you 7 years ago

      subisiling at animal

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Hey cant tell you - where did you see the video at?

    • profile image

      cant tell you 7 years ago

      i fot i saw a video just like this but in coler

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Hi KenWu - I don't know how much of the Sawney Beane legend is true. I have had a great deal of trouble tracking down legitimate sources for info on the Sawney Beane story. I think there might be a lot of "cautionary tale" bits in the legend, however - many Europeans I have spoken to about this legend say it is a valid legend - plausible - and that it's true.

    • KenWu profile image

      KenWu 7 years ago from Malaysia

      An interesting legend or myth. Doubt that this is true.

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Haha - twogunbob - and if you find one of these women, are you going to ask her out on a date? Bring the BBQ sauce, perhaps?


      Thanks for the comment.

    • profile image

      twogunbob 7 years ago

      I wonder if there are any women left of the bloodline of that clan... :> sounds like we could have some fun evenings

    • profile image

      Peter C Armstrong 8 years ago

      Most likely based on fact.See bellow. I had been told a story like this. The tale attached deeds to the Armstrong Clan in the Debatable Lands.

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 8 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      amethyst - I will look up the movie title and see what it's all about.

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 8 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      I'm glad the legend wasn't too scary for you, boogie man

    • profile image

      boogie man  8 years ago

      not scary but a would have loved to experience it as i am only 11 years old and have saw the film there for believe in all that stuff

    • profile image

      amethyst 8 years ago

      hi there i had never heard of this legend before until today i purchased a dvd called hillside cannibals and on the reverse it said it was based on the true story of sawney beane so i decided to look it up and found ur article its very interesting x x

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 9 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Glad you were able to feel a bit of nostalgia for Scotland after reading the hub, Sufidreamer. I'm surprised at the number of people who've mentioned that the story brings back memories or that they've not heard this legend for a long time. I had never heard of it before researching for the hub! I am still gathering some research together to place on the hub.

      Cindyvine - luv your comment about a man in a dress. Exposed errr knees must make for a much higher constitution and instinctual preservation of the errr knees and bare spots in a man with a dress on, I suspect!

      nazishnasim - thx for your comment - glad you enjoyed the Sawney Beane legend.

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 9 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      I was there for the premiere, and saw all of the stars. Mel Gibson really is a tiny, tiny little man. I could have put him in my pocket :D

    • cindyvine profile image

      Cindy Vine 9 years ago from Cape Town

      But Mel Gibson did look his best when he was a Scot!

    • profile image

      nazishnasim 9 years ago

      That sent chills down my spine. Plus, I am an instant fan - you know whose obviously *evil grin*

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 9 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Luckily, I am veggie, so never found out. Apparently, it tasted like pork :/

      The Scots certainly were a tough bunch - must be the cold!

    • cindyvine profile image

      Cindy Vine 9 years ago from Cape Town

      And what meat was in the curry, Sufi? Interesting story and quite gruesome. I have heard that the Scots were the most savage though, like little Scottish terriers. This just goes to prove that you must never trust a man who wears a dress.

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 9 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Great Hub, mythbuster.

      I studied in Stirling, Scotland, and there is an Indian restaurant there called 'Sawney Beane's'. It served good curry!

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 9 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Christoph Reilly - thx for the comment. Yes, it's a cool story.

      spryte - when I made the hub, I stayed up long past my bedtime because I was spooked by the information lol

      I hope you will come back and comment, melfitz, and let me know the version of Sawney Beane that you heard!

    • Paper Moon profile image

      Paper Moon 9 years ago from In the clouds

      Oh I am an instant fan!

    • Christoph Reilly profile image

      Christoph Reilly 9 years ago from St. Louis

      Cool story.

    • spryte profile image

      spryte 9 years ago from Arizona, USA

      I had never heard this legend...*shiver*...but that would keep me in for the night if I had.

      Thanks (I think) for sharing that.

    • profile image

      melfitz 9 years ago

      Grew up with that legend...just down the road!!!!!!

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 9 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      I remember reading of this legend many years ago, but you have refreshed my memory and my interest greatly. I wonder if it really did happen to be true, or if it is simply a fascinating legend!


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