• Rifle Regiment arriving at Belle Point, 1817. Artwork by Michael Haynes

    Fort Smith

    National Historic Site AR,OK

Rufus Buck Gang: A Time to Die

During Judge Parker's years in Fort Smith, the death warrants of people convicted of capital crimes, those being rape or murder, always stated that the U.S. Marshal was to determine the time that an individual was to be hanged by the neck until dead. The judge's only guidance was for the execution to occur between the hours of nine in the morning and five in the evening. In the case of the Rufus Buck Gang, maybe Judge Parker should have been a little more explicit.

The Buck Gang rose to prominence in July of 1895. Named for their leader, Rufus Buck, the gang had a total of five members. Sam Sampson and Maoma July were both Creek Indians. The brothers Lewis and Lucky Davis were Creek freedmen. All of them had been apprehended on minor offenses and served time in the Fort Smith jail prior to their crime spree that summer. The rumored cause for the spree was that Buck "boasted that his outfit would make a record that would sweep all the other gangs of the territory into insignificance."

It started on July 28, 1895, when they shot and killed Deputy Marshal John Garrett near Okmulgee. On their way from that murder, they abducted and raped a Mrs. Wilson. They killed Gus Chambers when he resisted the gang's theft of his horses. They then robbed a stockman, taking his clothing and boots and fired at him as he fled naked. Two days later the gang raped Rosetta Hansen while they held her husband at bay with Winchesters.
The gang was finally apprehended, brought to Fort Smith and convicted in a rape trial. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court which upheld the verdict, and the gang was to die together on July 1, 1896.

Most men hanged in Fort Smith spent the morning of their executions deep in prayer or saying goodbye to friends and family. At least one member of the Buck Gang had more pressing concerns on his mind. That morning the execution was set for one in the afternoon. Immediately, Lucky Davis, a gang member, objected, saying he wanted to be hanged at ten in the morning so his body could be taken home on the "Cannon Ball" at 11:30. "Rufus Buck [then] said that if he were hanged at an early hour he would subjected to the inconvenience of several hours delay" before his body started home, and this would annoy him. Rufus and the three other gang members, including Lucky's brother, sided together against him. Finally the gang decided to allow Marshal Crump to determine the time, which he set for one o'clock. At that point Lucky suggested that he might be hanged by himself, but Crump refused.

The execution proceeded at one o'clock with little incident. The Buck Gang were the only men to die on the gallows in Fort Smith for rape.

Juliet Galonska
February 1995

References: Law West of Fort Smith by Glenn Shirley; Fort Smith Elevator

This sketch is part of a series, “Fort Smith Minutes,” originally developed by the park staff to provide one minute long public service announcements for local radio stations. These sketches provide a light and entertaining glimpse into the complex history of Fort Smith.

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