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Rufus Buck Gang

on the back of a family photograph
click image to enlarge
Languishing in jail, Rufus penned this poetic farewell to his wife, mother and sisters.

There was nothing of Robin Hood in Rufus Buck, the young Yuchi (non-Muskhogean Creek) fullblood who, in his small way, was as vicious as Cherokee Bill and coupled with it a depravity rare even among Indian outlaws. He was born and raised near Okmulgee, in the Creek Nation. It was in that country that he committed his first robberies, minor crimes but so successfully carried out that three young Creeks, Sam Sampson, Meome July and Lewis Davis, were attracted to him. A fourth man, Lukey Davis, by name, a Creek Negro mixblood, accepted his leadership.

It was commonly believed that a mixture of Creek and Negro blood was a dangerous cross, and that the offspring of such a union was sure to be "mean." It was true enough in the case of Lukey Davis, but there would seem to be little reason to accept it as generally so. For several hundred years there had been a strong infiltration of Negro blood into the Creek tribe, more so than with the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw. Few Creeks were a hundred per cent Indian. Undoubtedly intermarriage had had some effect on Creek culture. That it worked any tribal character change or was responsible for the inflamed criminal instincts of some Creeks, such as those with whom Rufus Buck surrounded himself, must be dismissed as absurd.

If the life of the Buck Gang was brief-a year would cover it - it was deadly while it lasted. In midsummer of 1895, they killed four men, committed half a dozen robberies and raped a middle-aged widow by the name of Wilson, all five of them taking a turn at ravishing her, which set a record for criminality even in the sanguinary history of Indian Territory.

On Snake Creek, a trifling stream that heads near Sapulpa and flows into the Arkansas, they carne to the cabin of Henry Hassan. It was lonely country, and Hassan and his wife knew nothing about the red trail their visitors had left behind them. They told him they would pay Mrs. Hassan if she would cook them a good dinner. She was happy to oblige. She was a comely woman. When they finished eating, instead of paying her and riding on, they forced her husband out into the yard and took turns guarding him while the others violated his wife.

The first sentencing of Rufus Buck - 1896

The five members of the Rufus Buck Gang were convicted of rape and sentenced to die in 1895. This initial verdict and sentence was appealed to the Supreme Court. Following their unsuccessful appeal to the Supreme Court, Judge Parker had the opportunity to resentence them to death. The execution of the Rufus Buck Gang on July 1, 1896 was the second to last execution to occur at Fort Smith.
I want to say in this case that the jury under the law and the evidence could come to no other conclusion than that which they arrived at. Their verdict is an entirely just one, and one that must be approved by all lovers of virtue. The offense of which you have been convicted is one which shocks all men who are not brutal. It is known to the law as a crime offensive to decency, and as a brutal attack upon the honor and chastity of the weaker sex. It is a violation of the quick sense of honor and the pride of virtue which nature to render the sex amiable has implanted in the female heart; and it has been by the lawmakers of the United States deemed equal in enormity and wickedness to murder because the punishment fixed by the same is that which follows the commission of the crime of murder.

Your crime has been proven beyond question, and the evidence showing the manner of its commission exhibits it as of the most repulsive and abhorrent character. The proof shows that each of you first took part in the robbery of the house of Henry Hassen, and afterwards that each of you in the most revolting and brutal manner in turn outraged his wife, Mrs. Rosetta Hassen. Some of you held the family at bay. Some of you overcome all resistance by armed violence while each of you in turn committed the terrible crime against decency and virtue, and you all exhibited the most horrid and brutal depravity. The acts so aroused the indignation of your own people, the Creek Indians, that they were almost persuaded to take you from the officers and execute upon you summary vengeance. It was only through respect for the law, and the belief that it would be enforced in this court, that induced them to permit the officers to bring you here.

The enormity and great wickedness of your crime leaves no ground for the extension of sympathy to you. You can expect no more sympathy than lovers of virtue and haters of vice can extend to men guilty of one of the most brutal, wicked, repulsive and dastardly crimes known in the annals of crime. Your duty now is to make an honest effort to receive from a just God that mercy and forgiveness you so much need. We are taught that His mercy will wipe out even this horrible crime; but He is just, and His justice decrees punishment unless you are able to make atonement for the revolting crime against His law and against human law that you have committed. This horrible crime now rests upon your souls. Remove it if you can, so the good God of all will extend to you His forgiveness and His mercy.

Listen now to the sentence of the law, which is, that you, Rufus Buck, for the crime of rape, committed by you upon Rosetta Hassen, in the Indian country, and within the jurisdiction of this court, of which crime you stand convicted by the verdict of the jury in your case, be deemed, taken and adjudged guilty of rape; and that you be therefore, for the said crime against the laws of the United States, hanged by the neck until you are dead; that the marshal of the Western District of Arkansas, by himself or deputy, or deputies, cause execution to be done in the premises upon you, on Thursday, the 31st of October, 1895, between the hours of 9 o'clock in the forenoon and 5 o'clock in the afternoon of the same day, and that you be now taken to the jail from whence you came, to be there closely and securely kept until the day of execution, and from thence on the day of execution, as aforesaid, you are to be taken to the place of execution, there to be hanged by the neck until you are dead.

May God, whose laws you have broken, and before whose tribunal you must then appear, have mercy on your soul.
As reported in the Fort Smith Elevator
September 27, 1895.

Later in the day, they met a horsernan, who was astride a goodlooking animal. They surrounded him and said they wanted to trade horses. The stranger demurred, only to discover that he was going to trade whether he wanted to or not. The exchange was made and the man jogged away on the horse they had given him, glad to escape with his life.

East of Sapulpa, they encountered a traveler named Callahan. They robbed him of all he possessed, and then, to amuse themselves, they opened fire on him as he fled to safety. He raced into town with news of what had happened, The Creek Light Horse (Indian police) went after the Buck Gang but failed to find them. Posses of Indians and posses of whites took to the field. They had no better luck than the police.

Boldly, the Buck Gang rode into Okmulgee and robbed a store. Before the day was finished they robbed two more stores, some miles apart. When they saw a horse they fancied, they offered to trade for it. If the owner said no, they shot him and took the animal. Almost within sight of Eufala they met a Negro boy walking to town. Apparently for no better reason than to enjoy seeing him twitch as he died, they killed him.

They had the country terrorized by now. As the number of their crimes mounted, farm families feared for their lives. Then, suddenly, no more was heard of them for several months. With winter at hand, it was presumed they had holed up somewhere. The hunt for them continued, however.

With the opening of spring, U.S. Marshal S. Morton Rutherford came out from Fort Smith with a brigade of deputies, among them reliable Heck Thomas, Paden Tolbert and Bud Ledbetter. It took them weeks to track down the gang. The outlaws were camped in a mott of live oaks, three miles south of Muskogee, when Rutherford and his deputies surprised them. A furious battle, in which several hundred shots were fired, began at once. There was a hill behind the camp. Rufus Buck and his companions retreated to its highest point and held off the attackers for hours. When their ammunition was exhausted, they had no choice but to surrender.

Hands manacled and in leg irons, the prisoners were put in a wagon and taken into Muskogee. It was Marshal Rutherford's intention to hold them in the federal jail there overnight and take them by train to Fort Smith in the morning-. But news of the capture of the Buck Gang preceded their arrival in town, and when the wagon bearing them turned up North Third Street, an angry mob of several hundred armed men made a rush for it and tried to drag the cowering wretches away from the officers and string them up at once. It was a Creek mob, ninety-five per cent so. As it surged about them, held off only by the pistols of Rutherford and his deputies, Rufus Buck, Lukey Davis and the others knew only too well that their crimes had outraged their own people and that they could expect less mercy from them than from white men.

The prisoners were hurried into the jail - a flimsy, wooden building, a story and a half high, surrounded by a stockade of pickets. Outside, an interruption took place. General Pleasant Porter, at that time the principal chief of the Creeks, climbed up on the empty wagon and appealed to the mob to disperse. He reminded them that Marshal Rutherford and his deputies would protect the prisoners with their lives. "They are brave men," he told them. "Let them take these killers to Fort Smith in the morning, where judge Parker will see that they pay for their crimes."

The mob refused to listen. Men were surging against the stockade as Rutherford stepped out, a rifle cradled in his arms. He could only say what other marshals and sheriffs have said in similar circumstances. It was largely an echo of what Pleasant Porter had told them. He added a warning. "We captured those men. Though their hands are stained with blood, I intend to see that. they are given a trial according to law. You may batter down the door and overpower us, but I warn you that the first man who comes through that gate will be shot."

As mobs will, it was slow to break up. Imperceptibly at first, men began to drift away. Half an hour later there was no one left in front of the jail. The night passed quietly, and in the morning - it was Sunday - there was no demonstration as Rufus Buck, Lewis Davis, Sam Sampson, Meome July and Lukey Davis were marched to the railroad station. Fort Smith was going to church when their captors led them down Garrison Avenue in chains to the Fort Smith prison. It was a spectacle that the town was never to see again - five murderers being escorted to their doom.

In due course, they came to trial. The verdict was guilty. Parker sentenced them to death - a sentence he was to pronounce only once more before his court was abolished. Usually there are some expressions of sympathy for men who are about to die, especially when they are young. If there were any when the Rufus Buck band was led to the gallows' steps and placed on the hinged platform where so many others had stood, they were voiced silently by relatives. With a show of bravado, the five men called to acquaintances among the spectators before the black caps were pulled over their heads. A moment later the trap was sprung and they were sent plunging into eternity. It was, the local press agreed, a good day's work, well done.

Harry Sinclair Drago. Outlaws on Horseback: The History of the Organized Bands of Bank and Train Robbers Who Terrorized the Prairie Towns of Missouri, Kansas, Indian Territory, and Oklahoma for Half a Century. Bramhall House, New York, 1964.

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