The 5 best historic finds in Red Dead Redemption 2

A look at the best hidden (and not so hidden) historic finds in Red Dead Redemption 2

Set in 1899, Red Dead Redemption 2 has become one of the year’s best selling games. It’s a sweeping western, taking place at the turn of the century, just as the old west is starting to fall and a new world rises. And believe me when I say this game is packed with incredible historical story arcs, themes and (of course!) Easter eggs

Now before we get to looking at the best hidden and not so hidden history gems in RDR2, let’s get this out the way – In no way am I saying RDR2 is historically accurate all the time. It’s not. Like at all. It’s a game; it’s entertainment, not a documentary.

Think of RDR2 as a really long (like 60 hours long) western film. It can’t be accurate all the time because it would massively impact the pace, plot and entertainment.

But that doesn’t mean that the history it does contain isn’t incredible!

Historic events are intertwined with several of the games main quests. Then there’s the Easter eggs and nods to the macabre side of US history. And all that’s not even mentioning the stunning turn of the century backdrop!

Basically, if like me, you’re both a gamer and a history nerd, it’s Christmas.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

1.The real life murderers!

During the course of RDR2 you might come across two sets of really messed up serial killers, both of whom are based on real life murderers of the old west (yes this stuff actually happened! Sleep tight.)

First up we have the ‘Aberdeens’ and their pig farm. Upon coming across the farm you’ll be invited in by Bray Aberdeen to have dinner with him and his wife, Tammy.

It quickly transpires that Tammy and Bray are in fact super close siblings. And if you stay for their offer of dinner and drinks, you’ll wake up in a blood soaked mass grave, having had all your money and valuables stolen.

And this all happened in real life! In the 1870s The Kansas based Bender family opened up a general store come inn, The Wayside Inn, right by the Osage Trial. Run by the John Sr and his wife, Elvaria, as well as grown up children, John and Kate (who claimed to be brother and sister, but also, separately, claimed to be married)

The Benders took the Osage trails tired travellers into their inn. They’d offer them a warm bed for the night, feed them and thenbeat them to death with a hammer (slitting their throat for good measure) before robbing and throwing the corpse into a mass grave. Sound familiar?

Meet the Benders, history’s most fucked up family

The Bender family soon realised that people were starting to suspect something was up with them. So they fled.

By the time the authorities arrived at the Benders inn, it was completely empty. Inside was a foul smell, the source of which turned out to be the mass grave that was hidden underneath the floorboards.

Around a dozen victims were found, but it’s suspected the Benders killed many more. Though, as the family successfully disappeared without a trace, we’ll never know what other bloody secrets they were hiding. (Shout out to historian, Mike Stauchberry, who was the first person to spot the Bender Aberdeen link!)

RDR2s second serial killer is the fully deranged, Edmund Lowry Jr, who you meet as part of the American Dreams side-quest.

Throughout the game you stumble across several male corpses, all brutally murdered (with by the looks of it, an axe) their body parts strewn around the landscape. Clues are left to track the killer; which is how you’ll find Edmund Lowry Jr and his kill bunker.

The bunker is littered with hacked apart bodies. And, by the differing size of bodies, as well as the several posters for missing children, we can tell that Edmund really isn’t picky about who he murders.

Edmund himself is a gentleman, well spoken and dressed, but with a deranged look in his eye.

Now, Edmund Lowry Jr is some Inception level Easter eggery. His character name is a nod to serial killer, Eddie Low, from Rockstar games other series, GTA. AND, he is also based on real life serial killer, Stephen Richards

Stephen Richards and Edmund Lowry Jr

Richards was Nebraska’s first serial killer (earning him the nickname, The Nebraska Fiend). Much like his RDR2 counterpart he murdered wherever he went. Shooting 4 men between 1876 and 1877 in both Nebraska and Iowa. With most of the victims killed either because they bored Richards, or they’d had a minor falling out.

Then in 1978, Richards proved himself to be totally indiscriminate in killing, when he murdered the Harleson family.

He crept in their house in the dead of night. Taking an axe and murdering a lone mother, her young daughters and baby.

For some reason, after butchering an entire family, Richards decided to stay in Kearney, the town where he had just committed one of the eras most brutal crimes. But Richards being Richards, he couldn’t just lay low and within months had to flee Kearney after beating his neighbour to death with a hammer.

Running from the law initially went well for Richards. Despite the fact that behind his calm smile he was clearly unhinged, he just didn’t look the part of a murderer. In fact the only reason he was caught was that police had time to catch up with, after Richards took the night off being on the run to go to a ball!

Moral of the story: don’t go to social gatherings

2. The suffrage of it all

Now, there’s been a lot of bad press about the inclusion of the suffrage movement in RDR2.

With the setting of the game 20 years before much of America gained equal voting rights across the genders, the player comes across several suffrage campaigners throughout the course of the game. Both as side characters and characters you go on side missions with.

So of course, the internet being the internet, a few YouTubers decided to use RDR2’s open world mechanics to film themselves brutally murdering suffrage campaigners. The media immediately fell on this and decried RDR2 for encouraging players to kill women’s rights campaigners.

But that’s just not true, because:

RDR2 is really good at exploring & explaining suffrage!

The game slowly introduces the concept of suffrage. It works as a sort of playable history lesson. Introducing individual suffrage campaigners before immersing the player into a local suffrage group.

Early on we see a woman campaigning on the street. And, my god, the details around her peaceful protest are just fantastic.

In fact I’d be surprised if her paper set up and stance weren’t partly inspired by the below picture of English suffragette, Sophia Dulep Singh.

At one point, the player actually helps facilitate a suffrage rally. Driving a wagon of campaigners through streets of people jeering at the women.

The whole time, the leader of the suffrage branch explains the movement and what they’re campaigning for. It’s a fantastic way of introducing people to a chapter of history that everyone knows happened, but many don’t actually know much about.

3.The landscape inspired by a 19th century art movement

RDR2 arguably has one of the most stunning explore-able landscapes in any game. And that takes your breath away, luminous rural art is all inspired by 19th century art movement, The Hudson River School. 

That’s right all this high tech beauty is straight 19th century art

Started in the early 19th century by a group of landscape painters led by Thomas Cole, the Hudson River School created dramatic and somewhat enhanced depictions of America’s great sweeping lands.

But it’s this movements second generation that clearly had the biggest impact on RDR2.

From around 1850 until the mid to late 1870s, artists like Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Beirdsadt pushed the movement out West. Going to extreme lengths to get inspiration, they’d join Westward Expeditions. Putting themselves at the forefront of America’s quickly changing landscapes.

These artists also bought the new style of ‘luminisim’ to the Hudson River School. Experimenting with how light effected an environment and creating hyperreal worlds of hazy skies and glowing streams of light.

These paintings took America by storm. Often standing at 6ft (or taller!) people would pay to come and look up at this new world that was being created around them.

Albert Beirdsadt , The Sierra Nevada, 1868

In Oct 2018, RDR2s studio, Rockstar ,welcomed the comparisons with Hudson River School and it’s citation as a source for inspiration. However, in a December email exchange with Polygon, the studio denied having used any art as a source of inspiration.

Now I’m really polite, so I’m hesitant to call straight up bullshit on Rockstar’s statement from December…. instead let’s use this as an amazing example of how such iconic art movements ingratiate themselves into our societal psyche.

Even though the movement was created more than 150 years ago, The Hudson River School lingers. It helped shape how America saw itself and that impact lasts for centuries. All the way from the canvas to the computer screen.

William Louis Sonntag, Golden Sunlight

4.The Pinkerton Detectives

Throughout RDR2, pretty much every major character either has a run in or a bitch session about ‘The blasted Pinkertons’ (these guys are criminals after all!)

And oh my, have these guys found fame online. With countless threads excitedly chatting about how the Pinkertons were actually real (and not a yarn created for westerns)

The Pinkertons were the FBI before there was an FBI. Founded in 1850 by Allan Pinkerton, the agency were essentially super cops for hire. Contracted out by everyone from the government and private business groups.

Allan Pinkerton, detective agency founder and owner of exceptional facial hair

In 1861 the agency successfully uncovered a plot to kill Abraham Lincoln, eventually foiling the murder (though Lincoln would still be assassinated 4 years later)

Forerunners in crime, the Pinkertons hired one of the world’s first female detectives and created arguably the first modern crime data system.

By the 1890s the agency had grown so much that there were more Pinkertons than there were standing US army (so Arthur wasn’t lying, you really couldn’t get away from them!)

But just like in RDR2, these ‘good guys’ weren’t always nice. Take for example the time when the Pinkertons threw flares into Jesse James family farm, in an attempt to flush the outlaw from his hiding place. Except Jesse James wasn’t there. And one of the flares exploded, killing James kid brother and leaving his mother armless.

Fun fact: this logo supposedly helped popularise the term ‘private eye’

5. You get tuberculosis!

Ok, this might seem like a wierd one to end on, but for a game jam packed with guns, knives, shoot outs and the odd blood thirsty bear, it’s fair to say that it’s surprising when the big nasty turns out to be tuberculosis.

But… is it surprising? After all, Red Dead 2 is set in 1899, when tuberculous was a massive killer! You were way more likely to die from tuberculosis than bounty hunters or rival gangs.

The US census shows us that in 1899, TB was the biggest killer in America (gun shot wounds coming in last on the list of causes of death). And TB wasn’t just ravaging America. It was an epidemic that was attacking both Europe and the US so much, it became known as the white plague.

Tuberculosis related deaths were now so common that they were just a fact of life. The illness even became romanticised! Poet, Lord Byron, actually once commenting that he would ‘like to die of consumption.’

So of course, if anything was going to put the games protagonist, Arthur, in real mortal peril, it’s TB. And what makes this even better (historically speaking at least) is that when Arthur, is diagnosed with tuberculosis, there is no cure.

Because it’s 1899 and if you have tuberculosis, you’re pretty fucked.

Though in 1882, Robert Koch successfully demonstrated the exact causes of TB, medical science just wasn’t ready to use this information to provide a cure. In fact it would be anouther 50 years until a widespread TB medicine would be available.

So, when Arthur gets diagnosed with TB, it’s a real death scentence.

And the fact that RD2 sticks to its historic guns on this one is amazing and rare!

To give you an idea of how rare this is in gaming – swathes of Red Dead players are still hitting up the internet looking for a cure to save Arthur.

Spoiler: there isn’t one. Sorry lads.

Sorry Arthur!

And that’s the list, for now! I couldn’t fit in so much and I know that 2nd time around, I’m going to find even more. So let me know what you think I’ve missed and what should make the list next time.

4 hacks to smuggle booze prohibition style

Booze! Who doesn’t love it? Trick question – we all do! But what happens when this universal love suddenly becomes illegal? Well, you drink it anyway…just very craftily.

During the prohibition you could be fined thousands and even thrown in jail if you were caught with alcohol, so smuggling booze became serious business.

business.gif
And its only slightly very illegal!

Now first step for smuggling alcohol – you need to get alcohol to smuggle.

Whilst some breweries got through prohibition by making ‘near beer’ (anywhere from 2 – 0.5% alcohol) those who kept on making the strong stuff had to go deep underground. Operating in woods or under the guise of farms and other out of the way businesses.

It was vital that these suppliers remained unknown and untraceable for police.

This wasn’t an easy task – keeping entire breweries secret required some James Bond level covert operations! Bar sneaking and guns, we all know that James Bond is nothing without wierd gadgets from Q…with that in mind I present:

Cow Shoes

Cow shoes, used during the prohibition, these shoes helped mask the footprints of bootleggers, making them appear as vow hooves and throwing of policeNo these are not lift shoes (a ‘la Tom Cruise) they are in fact designed to make the wearers footprints look like cow hooves.

The idea was that any cops looking to try and trace bootleggers to their supplier would lose them when a persons footprints suddenly turned into a cows….which I guess that was a totally normal occurrence in the 1920s and early 30s, as was cattle going for lone forest jaunts…

shrug gif.gif
I don’t know, I’m not a cow historian *shrug*

Cow shoes weren’t the only method to throw off police. Bootleggers also pimped their rides into supped up cars that were easily able outrun the po po. They even went so far as to build a cross country underwater cable car to outfox the fuzz.

Yep, that’s right:

 A cross country underwater cable car… made of torpedoes

Detroit was a bootleggers dream, mainly because it sat right next to Canada, land of maple, manners and legal alcohol!

But how to transport this booze to the US? A boat could was very visible (therefore very catchable) and swimming it over seemed like a whole deal. So naturally an underwater system was built

From Popular Science, 1932
From Popular Science, March 1932

Torpedoes were filled with liqueur and then attached to a mile-long underwater cable line, running from Canada to Detroit. Thanks to the quick motor running the cable line, a 1932 edition of Popular Science estimates that around 40 torpedoes worth of hooch were transported to America every hour.

clapping gif.gif
That is an impressive amount of definitely tainted illegal booze

As well as torpedo underwater pipelines, bootleggers also had more, erm…homespun ways of smuggling alcohol:

Stuffing booze in random crap

The imagination of bootleggers was apparently endless. Sadly rather than using this imagination for writing the next great American novel, they funneled their skills into putting alcohol into anything they could get there hands on.

Here are just some of the things Alcohol was smuggled in:

  • Eggs
  • Tinned ‘food’
  • Walking canes
  • Bibles
  • Tailors dummies
  • Christmas trees
  • Pig carcasses

babe gif.gif
I fear Babe may not have made it to the city during prohibition

But no matter how ingenious (or mean to pigs) the smuggle, the bootleggers always got caught…welll…unless they were women.

The riot girls of rum running

For some reason police just didn’t seem to suspect women of smuggling booze and even when they were caught, they were let off really lightly (seriously, one woman’s sentence was actually to attend church each Sunday for 2 years…)

Unsurprisingly some women took advantage of this and made serious coin.

Marie Waite (AKA Spanish Marie) was one of these women. Marie single handedly created an entire convey to move tons of alcohol from Havana to Florida’s Key West. Through her active prohibition years she raked in at least $1 million, which in 1920s money, is some Gatsby-esque shit. money gif.gif

Marie wasn’t alone. Female bootleggers even created a guide to smuggling booze on ones person. From flasks attached to thighs to full on aprons ladden with whisky bottles, their creativity for creating clothes made of cocktails knew no bounds.

The world of female ‘rum running’ was a really diverse one. This open – yet illegal trade -allowed women from all walks of life to make their fortune, as one journalist put it:

‘Some are bold, brainy and beautiful, some hard-boiled and homely, some white, some black, some brown. (But) All are thorns in the sides of Prohibition’flapper wink gif.gif

 

This was interesting, where can i find out more? Well, I really need you guys to help me on this one! I’m struggling to find any really amazing books on women in prohibition, in particular, female rum runners…if you know if any, hit me up in the comments or on our Twitter! 

%d bloggers like this: