To call the story of the Sawney Bean cannibal clan history would be a bit of a misnomer; "Sawney Bean folktales" is a more appropriate moniker. While there's likely some truth to Sawney Bean, also known as Alexander Bean, his story may not have enough basis in fact to be considered true history. Yet he's an impactful figure nonetheless. Widely considered to be The Hills Have Eyes true story basis despite the dubiousness of his veracity, Sawney Bean is an important folkloric figure, and may be a product of propaganda; even if he didn't exist as the tales suggest, his story is no less significant because of this.
Sawney Bean is said to have been the leader of a Scottish clan sometime between the 1200s and 1500s. As the legend goes, he led his family to murder and cannibalize more than 1000 victims. This idea of a family of killers who ambush victims is prime horror film fodder, and while the clan itself might not be the historical cannibals they're often made out to be, there's no doubt they're still incredibly relevant in a mythic sense.
Sawney Bean Left A Life Of Work For A Life Of Crime
As the story goes, Alexander "Sawney" Bean was born to an honest ditch-digging and hedging family. Sawney, disinclined to manual labor and looking for an easy way out, left his family business along with a woman named, according to some stories, "Black" Agnes Douglas. Together, they moved into a cave somewhere between Girvan and Ballantrae, on the southwestern coast of Scotland, and stayed there for the rest of their lives.
Isolated from society and refusing to work, Sawney and Douglas are purported to have ambushed travelers for 25 years.
Black Agnes Was Believed To Be A Witch
Bean reportedly left his life as a laborer behind around the time he entered a relationship with Agnes Douglas. Though not much is written about her life prior to their relationship, one of the few things that has survived is that, after they got together, Douglas was accused of being a witch in East Lothian, Scotland.
When Bean and Douglas left their home, it was as much because they no longer wanted to work for a living as it was because both had been rejected by society, as Bean's father was allegedly abusive and Douglas was accused of human sacrifice and conjuring demons. Given their later activities, it's hard to feel sympathy, but we can still wonder how their stories would have turned out if not for those events. Assuming any of this actually happened. Which it probably didn't.
Sawney Bean And His Clan Robbed Travelers On The Nearby Road
Though Bean retreated from a life of honest work, living wasn't free. To make ends meet, he and his girlfriend (for lack of a better word) ambushed passersby on a nearby road. To maintain the secret of their whereabouts (the cave in which they supposedly lived is pictured above), Bean and Douglas had to get rid of the bodies, which they could do by tossing them from nearby cliffs or, as Bean discovered, turning them into a food source. Cannibalism became an intrinsic part of the Bean clan lifestyle, a gruesome but effective means of sustenance and hiding their attacks from authorities.
Sawney Bean's Cave Provided Plenty Of Room For A Growing Family
Sawney Bean's cave (the entrance to which is pictured above) wasn't just a hole in a cliff face. It was an incredible network of tunnels that supposedly extended for miles, giving him and Douglas plenty of room to live and, naturally, expand their family. Even better for their purposes was the fact that the cave flooded during high tide, making it an unlikely place for people to live, and thus a place those on the hunt for the reported thousand or so victims wouldn't bother to check. Because of its size and hidden nature, the Bean clan was able to grow to around 45 people strong, all of them, aside from Bean and Douglas, related to one another.