Bonaparte, Iowa - Riverfront area
For one reason or another, I found myself in south eastern Iowa yesterday. Specifically, I was in Van Buren County close to the state's border with Missouri. I hasten to add that I was not there physically, only virtually courtesy of Mama Internet.
I landed in a small town by the Des Moines River. It's called Bonaparte and has a population of some 430 people. It got its odd name because one of the first white settlers - an entrepreneur called William Meek was a fan of the famous French emperor.
Meek developed a successful flour mill and later the little riverside settlement became a pottery centre too. A one lane bridge was built across the river in 1882. William Meeks had dreamt of another town being developed on the southern bank. It would be called Napoleon but that dream never came true.
Today Bonaparte seems like a sleepy place. I checked it out courtesy of Google Streetview which is the cheapest way to travel. Unfortunately, not all of Bonaparte's streets are covered with the usual imagery. Perhaps Google could not be bothered with the town, instructing the driver of the Streetview camera vehicle to keep going.
Houses in Bonaparte
I also checked out a happy video news item about Bonaparte resident Marie Hainline who at the age of ninety five was still working as a waitress in a family restaurant called Bonaparte Retreat located in the former flour mill which was developed by Williiam Meeks's son Robert.
I kept digging away, finding out more and more about Bonaparte - even wondering if one day I might visit this obscure settlement - perhaps the true heart of America - the one that Paul Simon was "looking for". After all, you will not find it in New York City or L.A.. Maybe Marie would serve me a cheeseburger with fries.
A fire in Bonaparte
And then I stumbled upon Shawn Bentler who in October 2006 shot dead his mother, his father and his three teenage sisters in their lovely home with its river view on the eastern side of Bonaparte. He needed money - possibly to support his drug habit or maybe to pay his household bills down in Quincy, Illinois where he was living and working. What a wicked thing to do - perhaps in his crazed mind he thought he would get away with it and inherit his mother and father's estate. At his 2007 trial he received five life sentences.
The Bentler house - scene of the 2006 killings
It is sad that sleepy Bonaparte is now associated with the Bentler murders and reading about that dark moment in the town's otherwise unremarkable history rather besmirched my virtual visit to Van Buren County. Needless to say, if a rifle with bullets had not been stored in the Bentler home that poor family would almost certainly still be alive.
The Bentler sisters - murdered by their brother
I think that you have found America, shootings and all.ReplyDelete
"Kathy, I'm lost", I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I'm empty and aching and I don't know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They've all come to look for America
We run into some surprising stories when 'surfing" the net. What a tragic event for very sleepy little village.ReplyDelete
I hope nothing like that has happened on sleepy Spencer Street in Red Deer.Delete
You haven't encouraged me to visit. The place looks deserted; usually for a good reason. And the sting in the tail doesn't make it very appealing.ReplyDelete
I have visited several obscure small towns in America They can be very endearing but this one was hiding a very dark secret. Who could ever live happily in the Bentler House? It is currently up for sale for $395,000.Delete
The true heart of America - I suspect it beats in more than one places, among big city sky scrapers just as much as in a log cabin somewhere remote. And it has as many faces as it has hearts, even the one of Shawn Bentler. How does he live with what he has done? Not very well, I imagine.ReplyDelete
You call Bonaparte a town; in my eyes, it would classify as a village. Even O.K.'s village with around 2,500 inhabitants would never call itself a town. Where does a village end and a town start? What makes a town a city? (Apart from old City Rights granted to even small places such as Ripon.)
America seems to call many small settlements "towns" when to Europeans they are just village-sized.Delete
It always amazes me that a "civilised" country like America still has guns in most homes. But how do you reverse something like that now the cat is out of the bag? Bonaparte reminds me of a joke my Dad was keen to tell. What do you call a man who falls off the roof? you've guessed it!ReplyDelete
Was your dad a stand-up comedian? Was he perchance Tommy Cooper? I think you are right about the guns. Things have gone too far to reverse gun ownership in America. Another Catch 22.Delete
Oh, I was rather enjoying your story today until I read the unhappy ending.ReplyDelete
Faraway locations are often interesting to see but, as Dorothy said, there's no place like home.
That is if you have a home and not a long term rental!Delete
Ooh, you know how to wound a girl, YP.Delete
America is a fascinating place, and just using your fingers to type and we can see its history. Photos of people who have been murdered are always sad as you imagine the lives they might have lived and then the shallow motives of the murderer.ReplyDelete
Those poor girls. They would probably be married now with children of their own.Delete
A sad tale I'm sure Bonaparte residents wish had not happened. Well everyone would wish it had not happened. It's an interesting little study you made. I had some of my antecedents come to Australia via a small town in, umm, whatever state where Chicago is. Illinoi I think. I can't remember the detail now but I did as you did and had a good look at the town and I wrote about it at the time. I can't even think of how to find the post now, aside from it being tagged Family. My best bet would be look at Google Maps and I think I could find it there. That might be a job for tomorrow as it is important family history.ReplyDelete
Why not use the search box in the top left-hand corner of your illustrious blog?Delete
I can't remember any detail to enter the box. If I had to, I could find the post.Delete
Every place has a long long history of people who lived their lives there, with hopes and dreams and aspirations - and sometimes terrible things. When you delve you find some, but not all.ReplyDelete
Where there are guns there always going to be more tragedies. I guess there are very few in Shepley which may or may not be where you live you mystery man you.Delete
It would not be fair and sometimes not possible to write about others as I do without pseudonyms and changes to personal details, especially on issues involving as school bullying and workplace malpractice, e.g the gentleman with the same surname as the HC footballer.Delete
You were at school with Jimmy Bullard? I thought you were older than him. He's 42.Delete
The town near where I lived as a child had an incident in 1989 when a man shot many people - killing one and injuring 14 others. It was hugely traumatic for the town (Monkseaton) - guess it can happen anywhere, though clearly more likely when guns are so available.ReplyDelete
Is this why you escaped to Wales, fearing detection?Delete
So very sad, but it seems we've heard a similar story so many times before in American towns. Violence and death happen everywhere, not just the big cities.ReplyDelete
The first, and so far only, mindless street violence I ever witnessed was in America - no one helped or tried to break up the fight. When we talked about it later at our hotel, shoulders were shrugged, and we were told we were lucky we weren't involved, and that no-one was shot. It was treated as an everyday occurrence.
I have visited rural America several times and always found the people to be welcoming and peace-loving... but you wonder what might be hidden from view.Delete
Don't know if you know it, but you struck close to home. I grew up in Van Buren county which is along the Missouri border and not Kansas as stated. Bonaparte is one of the villages of our county that has become a tourism draw mostly because it hasn't been modernized like other river towns. Mainly to us locals, it is known for The Retreat where you can get the best pork chops to eat in all of Iowa as far as I'm concerned. We don't eat there regularly but we get there a few times a year.ReplyDelete
The murders were big news but I bet if you asked most people from the area, few would remember it already. As I mentioned, the most common association is by far that it is the home of The Retreat.
There is another small town just upriver called Bentonsport that probably gets most of the tourism draw though. It is much smaller than Bonaparte but has some shops along Main to cater to the people such as a pottery shop, iron forge, antiques, Indian artifacts, etc. We often take people for a morning spent walking around Bentonsport followed by a late lunch at the Retreat in Bonaparte.
Thanks Ed. It is because of you that I went to Bonaparte. I was using Google aerial imagery to try to find the "river bend" in your blog header but I failed and investigated Bonaparte instead. I will alter the error in my post. Thanks.Delete
As Yoko Ono said, "Every one has a story to tell." I believe that every place has one too.ReplyDelete
Though an unexceptional place, Bonaparte seems to have a whole bunch of stories to tell but maybe not as many as Lloyd FL.Delete
Well, this was unexpected! Got sick of stomping around in Yorkshire, huh? Or too rainy, maybe?ReplyDelete
Every once in a while I get on Google Street View and check out some random community somewhere on the globe. Just yesterday, prompted by a New Yorker article, I was exploring a town in southern Congo. (It didn't have street view, but it had still photos.)
I hadn't heard of that Bentler murder. He must have been seriously drug-addled. But you're right -- if the gun hadn't been handy, might it have all turned out differently?
Travelling by Google and Streetview is the safest way to go. In southern Congo thy would have probably boiled you in a cauldron with onions and herbs.Delete
Those girls look so lovely and their lives were snuffed out in an instant. Sad.ReplyDelete
The Wikipedia article on Bonaparte, Iowa, refers to it as a city with a 2010 population of 433.
Much of my family history is on the map you have shown. My father’s mother was born in a small town near the Mississippi River in southeastern Minnesota (north of Iowa & could be shown on your map). My father was born in Tomah in southwestern Wisconsin and raised in La Crosse in western Wisconsin (northeast of Iowa & both places could be shown on your map). The family then moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa (shown on your map; both of my father’s parents and all four of his brothers are buried there). My wife and I lived a few miles south of Omaha, Nebraska (shown on your map) for three years and our first child was born in a hospital in Omaha in 1964. Finally, you and I have a mutual friend in Blogworld, Emma Springfield, who lives in far northwestern Iowa diagonally across the state from Bonaparte; she went to school in Sioux Falls (shown on your map).
Thanks for the family geography lesson Bob. Lots of coincidences there. Those typical American girls had so much to live for. One of them was shot in the closet of her bedroom where she was hiding. She was speaking to 911 and the bullet went right through the handset into her head. Terrible.Delete
Interesting to visit other places via google and then let the rabbit holes lead you where they may. :)ReplyDelete
It could count as a hobby! I will do the same again some time soon.Delete
If you like traveling via Google Street View, I recommend you check out the Geoguessr game. I've always been a geography buff and think it's great fun. Here's the link if you'd like to check it out.ReplyDelete
It can be addictive, so don't say I didn't warn you!