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Collection Number RG0828.AM
Collection Name RG0828 Buck, Nelson, -1869
Identifier Correspondence
Size and Materials 1 folder
Title Nelson Buck collection
Date or Date Span 1912-1959
Year Range from 1912
Year Range to 1959
Admin/Biographical History "Across the Fence: Missing; Nelson Buck survey party," by M. Timothy Nolting, The Sidney Sun-Telegraph, April 18, 2014, vol. 141, no. 77.

On January 12, 1909 Mr. Robert Harvey, chairman of the committee on marking historic sites, presented his report at the annual conference of the Nebraska State Historical Society. Among the many sites that he requested to be recognized and memorialized with an appropriate monument was the location of the assumed but unconfirmed massacre of the Nelson Buck survey party. Official records of the U.S. military at Fort Kearney and Fort McPherson indicate that of the ten members of the survey party who had disappeared no bodies had been found. Gathering the details of this tragic event in Nebraska history required the piecing together of events, investigations, observations, telltale evidence and supposed eyewitness accounts. Much of this information was collected several years after the actual events.

Mr. Harvey began his report by noting that "...the work of the deputy surveyors was done in a hostile Indian country in advance of white settlement. The surveyors were therefore continually exposed to danger and were obliged to be always on the alert to avoid surprise and be prepared at all times for attack. It is remarkable that so many small surveying parties were able to maintain themselves through all the years of Indian hostilities with the loss of only about a dozen men, a few horses and mules and perhaps $5,000 worth of camp equipage, provisions and arms." Apparently the majority of those losses were attributed to the Nelson Buck party.

Sixty-year-old Nelson Buck was an Illinois surveyor with more than 30 years experience in the trade and during his career had worked alongside a young Illinois surveyor named Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Buck made application for the position of deputy surveyor for the newly adopted state of Nebraska in December of 1867. Whether or not there was a related question on the application, Mr. Buck deemed it necessary to pen the following statement indicating that he was prepared to "...employ such force as will be likely to protect our party of surveyors. It is not for profit alone that would induce me to make this attempt, but the desire to see the West – so then as far as the fear of Indians is concerned, that has little or no weight in the matter."

The force that Mr. Buck intended to employ was a Spencer rifle for each man of the survey party along with a good supply of ammunition and a military escort to his final destination. Mr. Buck's application was approved in July of 1869 and he was appointed a deputy surveyor of Nebraska for the purpose of resurveying the Kansas and Nebraska border in Red Willow County.

As soon as Mr. Buck received his appointment he made preparations to leave his home in Pontiac, Illinois. In Pontiac he hired five young men with intentions of filling out the remainder of the crew at Plattsmouth, Nebraska. On July 5, 1869 Nelson Buck along with 11 men, most between the ages of 17 and 20, left Plattsmouth for Fort Kearney. The men were:

Nelson Buck, J. L. Logan, J. C. Haldeman, H. L. Levi, F. C. McFarland, J. R. Nettleton,

W. McCulloch, Jas. Wolteman, J. V. Brown, Linden L. Crocker, Stanley Meecham,

H. B. McGregor.

At Fort Kearney Mr. Buck requested an issue of six Spencer rifles with 200 rounds of ammunition for each and a military escort to Red Willow County. None of the requests were forthcoming and Nelson sent a dispatch to the Surveyor General, Robert R. Livingston: "I regret now that I did not procure arms, etc. at Plattsmouth. I made application through Capt. Pollock for leave to draw such as were needed but did not get them. Some, indeed several of my company, feel discouraged at hearing of Indians... and want arms so that if we must fight Indians, all can take part in the matter."

The survey party waited several days at Fort Kearney and then, impatient to begin, the party set out for Red Willow County to begin the survey they had been contracted to complete. Among the 12 men, Buck possessed a muzzle loading rifle, one of the men carried a rusty old shotgun, another had a pistol and a carbine but very little ammunition for the carbine and H. L. Levi carried a large bone-handled, monogrammed knife with which he repeatedly claimed that he would, "...kill the first Indian he saw." There were other weapons but the overall arsenal was meager.

After a three day journey, Nelson Buck and his crew pitched their base camp on the Republican River about a half-mile from the Nebraska and Kansas border. No doubt fearful of the potential danger and the ill prepared condition of the party, Mr. Buck immediately sent two men, J. R. Nettleton and H. B. McGregor, back to the fort to wait for the requested arms and return with the military escort. Nettleton and McGregor left immediately and the ten men left behind would never be seen nor heard from again.

The military never responded to the request for arms. Tired of waiting and apparently disinclined to return to the survey crew on the Republican, J. R. Nettleton returned to Illinois. McGregor continued to hang around the fort and took a freighting job for a few weeks then drifted, eventually hiring on with a local cattle outfit.

In late September or early October of 1869 a reconnoitering party under the command of Lieutenant Jacob Almy, Fifth Cavalry, spent considerable time scouting the area around the Republican River and its tributaries. During those maneuvers a small band of Sioux was captured. Among them was a woman who told them that in the previous August, the Indians under Pawnee Killer and Whistler were moving from the Republican valley to Beaver Creek. An advance party of four warriors was crossing between Frenchman's Fork and Red Willow when they were attacked by a group of white men, not soldiers. Three of the Indians were killed and one white man. The surviving Indian returned to the main body and reported the incident. Pawnee Killer and Whistler led a band of warriors against the white men and returned saying that they had killed five more of the white men that were not soldiers but four others had escaped.

In January of 1870 the Omaha World Herald interviewed Pawnee Killer. He told of the battle on Beaver Creek and how nearly 200 warriors had battled an entire afternoon before the six white men were killed and scalped. He said that the whites were very brave and that many of his warriors were wounded. When asked about the other four men, Pawnee Killer remarked that they must have escaped and been killed by another war party at another location.

Other scouting parties discovered evidence of a running battle between the Indians and the group that was supposed to be the survey party. On Beaver Creek, some distance from the attack on the main party, local settlers later discovered evidence that indicated the survivors were trying to make it back to Fort Kearney to the northeast. About 50 miles from the site of the first attack burnt wagons were found and two skeletons were located in an area now called Wild Cat Canyon. Their remains were buried in 1880 by Isaiah King. In Furnas County, on the farm of Mrs. Daniel McInturf, human bones were found that were believed to be those of Mr. Buck. The identification was made, according to Mrs. McInturf when "...we found parts of the saddle and pieces of his clothing. The saddle had Buck's name on it. There were also many gun balls and arrowheads. A boy by the name of Parks Gibble found the revolver. It also had his name on it. The saddle was cut to pieces, little by little by people wanting souvenirs of the massacre."

Despite significant evidence to the contrary, in 1909 H. B. McGregor of the original twelve sent the following letter to the Pontiac Daily Leader in Pontiac. Illinois. It reads in part:

"Editor Leader: I had the pleasure of an interview with Colonel Cody (Buffalo Bill) last evening and he requested me to write up a statement from him as to the facts relating to the Nelson Buck party in 1869. I had always understood that the bodies of this party were never recovered, but Colonel Cody says he found all the bodies and that none of them had been burned, so it was not likely any of them had been taken alive. They were, of course, scalped and mutilated, but presumably after death. Colonel Cody himself helped to bury all of them and the bodies now rest near the headwaters of Plum Creek, Neb. After performing this duty, later, with his command, he trailed the Indians to their village, killed quite a number of them - all they could - and dispersed the balance. They found in the village some of Mr. Buck's surveying instruments, so he knew he got the right Indians. These hostiles were under the leadership of Roman Nose, one of the most famous fighting chiefs of the Sioux.

Colonel Cody wishes the Leader to publish this statement that the few remaining relatives and friends of this unfortunate expedition might know that the government not only buried their dead, but thoroughly avenged them.

Colonel Cody is the last and best of his type whom I have known and the debt that the nation owes them for their pioneer work on the frontier can never be estimated nor fully appreciated."
Level of description Fonds/Coll
Scope & Content The collection is comprised of papers that relate to the massacre of the Nelson Buck survey party in 1869 in Red Willow and/or Furnas Counties. Relatives, Nebraska State Historical Society staff, journalists, and other interested researchers (Maria A. Cross (niece of Buck), A.M. Brooking, H.B. McGregor, George L. Berger to name a few) piece together the story through correspondence and reports written based on research or firsthand accounts. The material dates from 1912-1959. Attached to the 1959 letter written to Donald Danker by Kenneth Kauffman are two maps: "Location of First Indian Attack on Nelson Buck Party in Fall of 1869"; and "Location of Second and Third Attacks on Nelson Buck Party Fall of 1869". There is also family history information for the Buck family from Pontiac, Illinois, and the Berger family from Cass and Red Willow Counties, Nebraska.
Related units of description See the photo component [RG0828.PH] for images of the Nelson Buck historical marker.

See the Paul Davis Riley collection [RG0949.AM] for additional information on Nelson Buck.

See the U.S. Surveyor General collection [RG0510] for related information.

See the NSHS Library catalog and the Nebraska History index for published materials about Nelson Buck.
Subjects Frontier & pioneer life
Indians of North America
People Allen, E.E.
Berger, George L., 1848-1934
Berger, J.E.
Brooking, A.M.
Buck, Nelson, -1869
Carmody, Arthur J. "Art," 1899-1987
Cordeal, John F.
Cross, Maria A. (Buck), 1864-1945
Danker, Donald Floyd, 1922-2005
Furman, Archie C., 1864-1953
Harvey, Robert, 1844-1923
Hill, G.C.
Kauffman, Kenneth O.
Latrom, R.J.
McCoy, Samuel
McGregor, H.B.
Piper, Joel Alfred, 1851-1942
Ryan, John H.
Sheldon, Addison Erwin, 1861-1943
Watkins, Albert, 1848-1923
Search Terms Berger family
Buck family
Furnas County (Neb.) -- History
Indians of North America -- Nebraska
Massacres -- Nebraska
Red Willow County (Neb.) -- History