John Mankins – Flayed Alive on the Frontier

Authors Will Dabbs
3-Will-Flayed Alive: It Seems Karma is a Real Thing
Most black bears tend to keep to themselves. I would not voluntarily chase one into a cave myself. John Mankins did.

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

The timeless truth to be found there is that guys of almost any species can be mind-numbingly stupid sometimes. That was certainly the case on the American frontier back in the early 19th century.

I’ve Never Been Hungry Enough to Chase a Bear Into a Cave

Nowadays bears are fairly scarce in western Arkansas. However, that was not always the case. Back in the early 1800’s, three local men struck out bear hunting with dogs. Brown Roberts and “Flatty” Jones were experienced woodsmen who were well respected in the community. John Mankins was an unusually large man who was both boisterous and generally disagreeable. Roberts and Jones agreed to take Mankins along with the stipulation that he do what he was told.

The dogs picked up a big black bear in short order and chased him into an ample cave. This is the point in the story where I would have gone back home to whip up some biscuits. However, Jones and Roberts left Mankins outside the cave with a gun. His instructions were to manage the psycho dogs and be ready to shoot the bear should it come running out of the cave. The two men then lit up a torch and headed into the labyrinthine cavern.

Seriously John Mankins?

3-Will-Flayed Alive: It Seems Karma is a Real Thing
Umm, nope. I ain’t ever been hungry enough to get this close to a bear.

Roberts led the way with the torch, while Jones followed close behind with a rifle. The cave soon narrowed, and the bear wisely determined that it was time to leave. As the big bear trampled Roberts he swatted the torch down, extinguishing it. Now in total darkness, the two men and the bear had an opportunity to get to know each other a little better. All three soon decided they should exit the cave post haste. 

Amidst the chaos, Flatty Jones made it to the cave mouth first. As luck would have it, he was a large hairy man himself with ample dark whiskers and a big black hat. To exit the cave with the utmost dispatch he was also scampering on all fours. In this configuration, he veritably flew out of the cave mouth right into John Mankins who, taking him for the bear, reflexively opened fire.

Mankins: An Aggressive and Obnoxious Man

Fortunately, Mankins was fairly agitated himself. In the excitement he fired a bit high, shooting Jones’ big black hat right off of his head. In the resulting heated confusion, the bear trampled both men and successfully fled into the woods. Jones subsequently gave Mankins an aggressive and profane remonstration. John Mankins was not invited to hunt with the two men again.

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3-Will-Flayed Alive: It Seems Karma is a Real Thing
Unless you wanted to circumnavigate South America by sea, this was the only way to get to California from Arkansas in the mid-1800’s.

By 1853, John Mankins had worn out his welcome in Marion County, Arkansas, and resolved to seek greener pastures in California. Nowadays that is an afternoon in an airplane or a few days of monotonous driving. Back in the 1850’s getting to California from Arkansas meant weeks of toil in a wagon train. 

Wagon trains were fairly formalized affairs back in the day. Settlers banded together for mutual protection as they slowly traversed some of the most dangerous real estate on earth. In this case, two sizable trains initially struck out together.

Some People are Just Bad

In short order, the expedition leaders appreciated that such a large number of wagons had grown unwieldy. They therefore agreed to separate into two groups. Both trains traveled along the same route about ten miles apart. Throughout it all, the obnoxious John Mankins boasted incessantly about his enthusiasm for shooting Indians. He claimed that he would kill the first Indian he saw no matter if it was a man, woman, or child. He boasted of this so persistently that his fellows began avoiding his company.

His train-mates attempted to cool down Mankins’ homicidal rhetoric. They rightly feared the fierce Plains Indians and wished to transit Indian country while maintaining as low a profile as possible. However, his companions later described Mankins as a “long-headed and don’t care sort of fellow.” This would prove to be his undoing.

The Crime

3-Will-Flayed Alive: It Seems Karma is a Real Thing
Heed my advice, friends. If ever you find yourself traveling across the remote American plains in 1853 just leave these good folks alone.

In the first Indian encampment they encountered, the male braves happened to be out on a hunting party. Mankins retrieved his rifle and shot dead the first Indian squaw he could find just for giggles. Now having temporarily slated his insensible blood lust, Mankins returned to the wagon train only to find his companions in quite a state.

The Plains Indians were not the forgiving sorts, and the other travelers rightfully expected a retaliatory attack at any minute. For four days not an Indian was to be seen anywhere. However, on day 5 a group of 100 Indian braves fully armed and sporting war paint galloped up. Given their unwieldy wagons and livestock, there was no way the settlers could outrun them.

The Indians had little patience and did not offer to chat. They immediately surrounded the settlers’ camp and explained that they would kill and scalp every last one of them unless they handed over the murderer forthwith. Though the white men were well-armed by the standards of the day, there was little debate. Mankins’ traveling companions trussed him up and passed him off to the enraged natives. Good riddance…

It Gets Worse…

3-Will-Flayed Alive: It Seems Karma is a Real Thing
Much like the Israelis in Gaza, given the egregious nature of the affront suffered these particular American Indians were in no mood to negotiate.

These Indians had come for revenge, but they also wished to make a point. Maintaining their cordon around the wagon train to ensure a proper audience, they stripped Mankins naked and lashed him to the wheel of a wagon with a sixty-foot-long length of rope made from buffalo hide. Throughout it all, the now-terrified John Mankins screamed and shouted for help from his countrymen. However, the inveterate bully had brought this sordid fate upon himself. That and the settlers were both hopelessly outnumbered and lyrically outgunned. They all simply looked on helplessly.

The Indian braves proceeded to meticulously and expertly skin John Mankins alive. These men had lived their entire lives on the prairie and were experts in both fieldcraft and blade work. They started at his neck and teased the skin loose in a single contiguous sheet as though Mankins were a deer or buffalo.

Mankins Was Effectively Skinned

This process took a while. As the Indians were relieving Mankins of his skin the poor wretch screamed, shouted, and cursed. Blood flowed forth with vigor, but the subsequent volume loss was insufficient to take the unfortunate man’s life.

3-Will-Flayed Alive: It Seems Karma is a Real Thing
Holy snap! You really can buy anything online. There’s no telling what kind of watch list I am on having tripped over this ghastly thing on the Internet. The website claims it’s real. Seriously!?!

When finally they were done, the Indian war party had perfectly flayed the man. They left none of his skin intact below the neck. After the gory deed was done they cut the dying murderer loose and watched him slowly exsanguinate for about an hour. Once satisfied that he was indeed properly demised, the Indian braves, their blood lust slaked, mounted up their ponies and turned around for home with John Mankins’ skin in tow. What they did with it has been lost to history. After the Indians disappeared, Mankins’ companions retrieved what was left of him and gave the man a decent burial. Within an hour of the completed internment, they resumed their trek west.
READ MORE: Dr. Dabbs – Bella Twin: The Tiny Little Woman and the Really Big Bear

Ruminations On the Skinning of John Mankins

3-Will-Flayed Alive: It Seems Karma is a Real Thing
Every baby doctor gets his or her start in the gross anatomy lab.

I have actually skinned a woman myself. Freeing your cadaver of its skin is an obvious prerequisite for discovering its many manifest mysteries during the med school crucible that is Gross Anatomy. No matter what sort of medicine you ultimately practice, all physicians get their start in the gross lab. It is a necessary and time-honored rite of passage. I honestly cannot even imagine that process on a living human being. The experience both on the giving and receiving end would be too horrible to contemplate.

A man’s actions are a reflection of his character. Though we have all of us sinned, innately bad men tend to do innately bad things. Combine this disagreeable nature with some poor impulse control and you have the recipe for something truly horrible. Prisons are full of such men as these today. Back in 1853, however, America was a simpler, more savage place. Back then if you murdered an Indian woman in cold blood you might just have a war party hunt you down and relieve you of your skin.

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  • Frank March 1, 2024, 9:09 am

    I gotta say… this just might be your most “skin-crawling” tale yet!

  • ES February 28, 2024, 1:51 pm

    Gotta’ love the writing and tell-tailing of this article. Had HAMAS just let the natives to themselves and stop firing rocket after rocket at the natives. All would be good. And, until you have lived and worked in the Middle East as we have, it’s easy to be an armchair quarterback. Great article! I can’t even imagine the screams and even more important, to still be alive after that well deserved torture.

  • Gregory Pecker February 27, 2024, 1:44 pm

    It’s too bad this article was published, this got way too violent and political.
    And then the author was admiring their violent justice by relating?
    Ok…the part about the hunters and the bear was amusing, and traveling by wagon train interesting.
    The rest was over the top and unnecessary.
    Yes, we’re all sad about the Indians (Native Americans), which was like 200+ years ago…don’t forget there were many things we learned from them, and many things suffered at their hands as well. Those of us who’s families settled here in the West know the facts.
    I’ve always enjoyed reading the historical interpretations and opinions of Will (“Dr. Dabbs”) but come on man.
    Stick to jets and helicopters, and Vietnam.

  • Martin Wayne February 26, 2024, 7:04 pm

    I am quite certain the Israel reference is both undeserved and tasteless. Unless you meant to say the Palestinians were the natives.

    • Jeff Kyle February 27, 2024, 7:59 am

      I would guess the Gaza reference places the Mankin’s role squarely upon the Palestinians. The vengeful Indians are playing the part of the Israelis. No matter the crime, there seems to be almost always someone playing the part of the wagon train settlers. If we juxtapose the two events; the murder of the squaw and the rape and murder of the innocent Israelis, we come to the part where revenge takes its place in the discourse.
      The wailing and gnashing of teeth about the plight of the innocents is all well and good, regardless of the location it takes place. But the people affected by the wanton murder of innocents will have their revenge. The Plains Tribe took their revenge by skinning Mankin. The Israelis will not finish till they remove the Hamas murderers from ever committing atrocities in the future. The Plains Indians eventually lost to the white man. We must have to see how it plays out in Gaza. IMHO, Hamas is going to be one skinless corpse for the Gaza residents to dispose of.
      Never piss off the Indians and never, ever piss off the Israelis.

  • LEROY M Sorensen February 26, 2024, 2:41 pm

    I just loved to read about Mankins.Too bad for him. I just love history like this.

  • Steven Reed February 26, 2024, 9:01 am

    Another great yarn by Dr. Dabbs. Keep them coming.

  • Clint W. February 26, 2024, 8:51 am

    The second to last paragraph about the author and in his training to become a doctor, having to skin a woman, reminded me about the origin or all those old, old books on anatomy. ‘Doctors’ in merry old England, would find drunks and prostitutes on the street who were dead or dying for the most part, sometimes not as you need a healthy reference to compare to, then finish them off and take them apart, meticulously drawing every detail of the human body.

  • Tip Tover February 26, 2024, 8:40 am

    The tribe showed much more restraint than if the the reverse set of facts were true.

  • Will Drider February 25, 2024, 5:47 pm

    I’m suprised they didn’t “take” a replacment for the slain woman. I4NI

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