The famous "Whipped Slave" photograph depicts fugitive slave Gordon by two traveling photographers, William D. McPherson and his accomplice, Mr. Oliver, are severely beaten in front of the camera.
Gordon suffered a severe whiplash for unknown reasons in the fall of 1862. The beating had left horrific wounds on most of the surface of his back.
The unusual, but normal, way these scars grow out of the skin is a certain type of scar tissue called a "keloid." This is due to excessive protein called collagen within the healing tissue and lifts the tissue up. People of color are more likely to develop keloid scars.
Gordon fled the 3,000-acre (12 km) plantation of John and Bridget Lyon in March 1863, which had held him and about 40 others into slavery at the time of the 1860 census.
Upon learning of his flight, his master recruited several neighbors and together they followed him with a pack of blood. Gordon anticipated that he would be chased and carried with him from the plantation to onions, which he rubbed all over his body to ward off the dogs.
Such tact worked, and Gordon—his clothes were torn and his body covered in mud and dirt—was delivered ten days later to the safety of Union soldiers stationed at Baton Rouge. He had traveled about eighty miles.