Facts About The Kentucky Cannibal That'll Keep You Up At Night

The name "Kentucky Cannibal" sounds like it might refer to a deranged cousin of Jeffrey Dahmer. However, the Kentucky Cannibal actually refers to a mid-19th century frontiersman from Kentucky who had been raised by a good family but wound up a cannibalistic drifter. Here are some facts about this little-known cannibal from Wild West history.


  • He Was A Wild Frontiersman Turned Cannibal

    He Was A Wild Frontiersman Turned Cannibal
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Boone Helm's family was rather well-regarded in Kentucky; they moved to Missouri when Helm was a young boy. But by the time Helm was a teenager, he was known to be the sort of guy who would pick fights with other men just so that he could show off.

    Helm was also a heavy drinker, which may have had something to do with his erratic behavior. He married a 17-year-old woman when he was 20 and became notorious for abusing his young wife. His father eventually interceded when the frightened wife filed for divorce, and he agreed to pay all of the court costs. Helm decided to head west in order to start a new life and try his hand at the Gold Rush. 

  • The Kentucky Cannibal Packed Human Meat To Bring On His Travels

    According to his own account, Helm snacked upon the flesh of a traveling companion who took his life during his trek west.

    Apparently, Helm began to eat one of his companion's legs before packing up the rest for his travels. 

  • Boone Helm Killed His First Victim In A Fit Of Rage

    Before Helm ventured to California, he invited his cousin, Littlebury Shoot, to join him. Shoot was intrigued, but as the departure date drew closer, he got cold feet.

    Shoot told Helm that he was going to stay in Missouri and, as a result, Helm became so angry that he stabbed Shoot in the chest and killed him.

  • Helm Claimed He Was "Obliged To Feed On" His Victims

    While there is no official record of when exactly Boone Helm first sampled human flesh, he encountered a variety of people and apparently killed many of them on his journey to California. As a result, he almost always had law enforcement on his trail. 

    At one point, he was traveling with some other outlaws when confided in the men by saying, "Many's the poor devil I've killed, at one time or another...and the time has been that I've been obliged to feed on some of 'em."  

  • Lost In The Wilderness With Provisions Running Low, Helm Found A Solution

    By the time Helm reached Idaho, he and the men who were still accompanying him had started running low on food supplies. At first, they made do by killing some of their horses and eating them. Ever resourceful, the frontiersmen also used the horses' hides to construct sturdy snowshoes; however, winter was upon them and the journey was about to become even more difficult.

    Eventually, only two men remained in the party: Helm and another man named Burton. Both were tough as nails, but slowly, Burton started to weaken and told Helm he just couldn't continue on. Helm decided to leave him behind, but soon after heard a gunshot. According to his story, he returned to camp and found that Burton had killed himself. Unfazed, Helm then cut off Burton's legs, roasted them, and ate them. 

  • Word Got Around That There Was A Lunatic Flesh Eater Headed For California

    Even though the United States was still mostly wilderness, word about the Kentucky Cannibal started to spread across the country. Helm was on the run from the very beginning of his journey, but the search for the flesh-eating frontiersman continued to heat up the closer he got to California.

    He managed to make it to San Francisco, where he might have been able to continue eluding authorities, but Helm was incapable of keeping a low profile. While in the city, he killed a man who had actually provided him with shelter from the police. Helm then took off north for Oregon, where he continued his crime spree of robbing and murdering random individuals.

    But by 1862, he finally ran out of luck. After he shot an unarmed man at a bar, he tried to take off again. While he was hiding from the law, he killed yet another man, who was also a fugitive, and proceeded to eat him. Not long after that, local sheriffs were finally able to apprehend Helm, and he was brought in for trial.