The Murdering Cannibal, Boone Helm
No doubt about it, Boone Helm was a bad man. People said he was the most despicable man they had ever met. He was one of Henry Plummer’s gang and no other term to describe him was more befitting. There were many outlaws in those days…but not nearly as many known as a cannibal.
Helm was born in Kentucky but raised in Missouri as a youth, so he grew up in a location straddling the fence between the wild Western frontier and civilization. Not much is known about his childhood, but by the time Helm was grown, the great gold rush of California was in full swing and he had joined the ranks of other fortune seekers headed west.
The locals were glad to see him go. Even at his young age, Helm was already a murderer and had a reputation as a violent tempered, dangerous individual. He was a rugged, powerfully built man and a bully. He enjoyed showing off with feats of strength and daring.
In California, Helm continued to hang out with men of his own kind and was always ready for gunplay. While in the gold fields he was known to have killed several men. No one is certain of how many. Although this was a common occurrence at the time, it must have been one awful event which sent him fleeing the righteous wrath of the miners.
John W. Powell
In 1853 he drifted into Dalles, Oregon with a half-dozen others who had joined up with him on the way. Most were strangers to each other. From Dalles, the group decided to head for a place below Salt Lake City. Apparently, all members of the party were inexperienced travelers, as winter weather caught them just west of mountain ranges in eastern Oregon. But still they pushed on, finally reaching the Bannack River. There they were attacked by Indians and fled into territory none of them were familiar with.
Finally, they stumbled upon the Soda Springs on the Bear River, a territory they did know. Unfortunately, by this time their horses were exhausted and they had no food left. They killed their horses for food and made snowshoes with the hides. The nearest civilization was Fort Hall, Idaho, so that became their hoped for destination.
One by one, the weaker of the group began to fall, and were left to perish. Eventually only Helm and one other, a man named Burton, were left. But, almost within reach of the Fort, Burton fell and was left in an abandoned cabin. Helm continued on to the old stockade, but found it abandoned for the winter. All hopes of finding food there were dashed. Helm returned to where he had left Burton. He was gathering firewood when he heard a pistol-shot. Burton had killed himself. The starving Helm feasted upon the body of his companion, eating one leg. He wrapped up the other piece and continued eastward. Prior to departing on the march, Helm had admitted to practicing cannibalism in the past and said if it became necessary, he would do it again.
Helm was later found at an Indian camp by John W. Powell, a soldier, geologist and frontier explorer. Powell soon learned Helm richly deserved his notorious reputation. Nonetheless, Powell gave him food and clothes and took him to the Salt Lake City Mormon settlements. Helm never gave him as much as a thank you, although he was reputed to be carrying a bag of money containing over $1,400.
In Salt Lake City Helm bragged about his exploits and spent his money. Some Mormons hired Helm to kill a couple of men they wanted removed, which he did without so much as a flicker of compassion. But, once the dastardly deeds were done, the Mormons also wanted him to disappear.
He was finally forced to leave Salt Lake City and he moved back to California where he killed a man who had taken him in and given him shelter.While there he also shot an unarmed gunfighter known as Dutch Fred in cold blood. Forced into the wilderness again Helm is alleged to have murdered and eaten a companion.
Later he signed on with Henry Plummer and his gang of outlaws. But, it wasn’t long before he and four other gang members were captured, arrested, and tried in secret. The Montana territory vigilantes hung Helm and the others in what is now Virginia City, Montana on January 14 1846 before a crowd of over 6,000 spectators. Upon watching one gang member being hanged, Helm remarked "Kick away old fellow. My turn next. I'll be in Hell with you in a minute."
When it came his turn Helm allegedly yelled "Every man for his principles! Hurrah for Jeff Davis! Let 'er rip!" and then jumped off of the hangman's box. Boone Helm is buried in Virginia City's Boot Hill Cemetery. It will never be known how many men Helm may have murdered or eaten.