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.

How brothels built America

Fact: Sex workers helped build America. These women came to the Wild West/The Old West (whatever you want to go with) and smashed every expectation of womanhood.

They became business oligarchs, they built entire communities and forged their own independence.

It’s a one hell of a tale! But before we dive it it, let’s quickly knock out the basics:

How did the West come to be?

Around the mid 1800s there was a huge boom in the amount of land being built in the South West of America. Most of this land was built for mining. As new sources for coal and metal mining were discovered, towns sprung up overnight to house the influx of workers that appeared to mine it.

Suddenly you had entire towns with 1000’s of men and maybe a dozen or so women. Now you don’t have to be good at maths to see that the ratio here is a little off.

Having spotted the er…supply and demand issue, business minded women start arriving in these towns and setting up shop as sex workers.

Soon these women were earning in one day what they might otherwise earn in a week as a factory worker or clerk.

buisness gif
GOOD buisness

There were of course risks….a lot of risks. But in the Old West it was these women were effectively working at the same risk level as a working men had. Communities, rules and laws were still being worked out, which meant that murder, beating and work caused incidents/deaths we’re sadly not rare hazards for any gender or line of work!

Yes the risks were high, BUT the clients were many, the going was good and soon the cash was flowing!

So, women started opening their own brothels. This in turn led to women buying land, companies and eventually building business empires of their own.

boss gif
The original boss bitches  

Soon entire towns revolved around one damn good brothel.

This wasn’t luck. The ladies running these brothels had business smarts for days. Seriously they could have smashed The Apprentice (and probably Donald Trump too…)

One of the best examples of this is Mattie Silks: 

Mattie Silks, who became America's youngest brothel owner at just 19 and ran a successful brothel in Denver
Mattie Silks: admittedly looking v awkward here

A small town girl, Mattie opened her first brothel at just 19. This made her the youngest madam in America.

She invested her profits back into the business, as well as growing her income and holdings by buying real estate and land.

These buisness smarts meant that in just a few years Mattie was running one of Denvers most popular brothels. Patrons were greeted with luxury surroundings and a full orchestra – because this wasn’t just sex…it was Silk sex, and it was classy AF.

But Mattie didn’t stop at having a leading chain of high end brothels. She paid her staff a salary that made them some of the highest paid women in the country.

pay it back.gif
Yes Mattie pay it back!! 

OK, so, by now you might be thinking – sure these women created businesses that made them some of the richest women in the country and bought tons of new income to the growing West. But is that really building America? Don’t you need stuff like, schools, hospitals and churches, as well as places to have sexy time?

Why yes.

And they did that too.

These women had made themselves pillars in their communities. They weren’t just there for the money, they wanted to make a difference.

Following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Diamond Jessie Hayman, opened her brothel doors to feed, clothe and shelter anyone that needed help. And Diamond Jessie was far from alone!

Here are just a few examples of how America’s sex workers made a difference:

Lou Graham, donated money to build up Seattle’s schools and also saved countless businesses and banks during a period of depression.

Anna Wilson’s will requested that her huge mansion be turned into Omaha’s first emergency hospital.

And former slave turned influential brothel owner, Mary Ellen “Mammy” Pleasant, campaigned tirelessly for the de-segregation of streetcars in San Francisco.

These women were doing way more for their communities than just providing cash and a good time. They were building them up, and turning them for shit holes to sustainable home steads!

Mary Ellen Pleasent
Mary Ellen Pleasant

And you best believe these communities didn’t forget the women that helped make them!

In 1890, Wyoming refused to become a US state, if it’s women were not allowed to keep the vote (which they had been granted in 1869) saying:

‘We will remain out of the Union one hundred years rather than come in without the women’ 

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Yes Wyoming!!! 

This was really interesting where can I find out more? I’d suggest checking out A Renegade History of the United States, by Thaddeus Russell (great name!), it has an amazing section on this.

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