Sacramento, CA – July 6th, 2016 marks the 120th anniversary of the hanging of the Rufus Buck Gang—four black and Indian teens who tried to singlehandedly, violently halt the expansion of the burgeoning United States. You’ve never heard of them, but they stand among the most notorious and politically significant outlaws of the Old West. Leonce Gaiter’s novel, “I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang” from Legba Books brings this fascinating, too-long forgotten history to brilliant life.
The famous “Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker oversaw the Buck Gang’s capture and condemned them to death. They were associated with the infamous half-black, half-Cherokee outlaw Cherokee Bill. Their crimes were motivated by the U.S. annexation of “Indian Territory” (today’s Oklahoma). The socio-politics surrounding the Buck Gang rampage clearly heralded the emergence of the 20th century United States.
The Rufus Buck Gang weren’t gunslingers like Billy the Kid, or thieves like the James-Younger gang. They wanted justice, and they sought it with the same violence that had marked their histories as blacks and Indians in America.
The Indian Territory of the late 20th century was a racial melting pot. It contained more whites than Indians as well as a significant population of black Freemen. Judge Parker’s principal deputy was a black man named Bass Reeves. Whites had come to usurp the promised Indian lands, bit by bit. But in Washington, laws were being passed to allow the wholesale submersion of Indian Territories into the United States. Native people would lose their last chance at a homeland. This enraged Buck.
By 1895 “Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker had been the sole law in Indian Territory for decades. Now, with the growing might of the United States, he would lose his fiefdom. Indians would lose their sanctuary, and the Hanging Judge would lose his throne.
His last major duty was to capture the Rufus Buck Gang, who embarked on a 13-day rampage in the vain hope of inciting the Territory’s blacks and Indians to violent rebellion against the encroaching United States.
Featured in Harvard Magazine for its depiction of this tragic, comic and telling forgotten gem of American history, Leonce Gaiter’s “I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang,”captures the social and political turbulence surrounding America’s leap into the 20th century through a prism of a disputed territory and some of America’s most colorful historical figures.
About the author: Leonce Gaiter’s non-fiction has appeared in Newsweek, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, in national syndication, and elsewhere. His critically acclaimed noir, “Bourbon Street” was published by Carroll & Graf. His ‘road movie,’ “In the Company of Educated Men,” was published by Astor + Blue Editions. A Harvard graduate, he has worked in the film, television, music, and marketing industries.