Robinson Crusoe Buck

This photograph of Robinson Crusoe Buck holding a picture of Cordell Hull was taken by Virginia Goolsby.  Most everyone will remember her as the late Jenny Coffman.


Scrapbooks have certainly provided me with some interesting material to write about recently. An earlier story I did was found from some newspaper clippings my mother had saved about Judge L.D. Bohannon. This time a very interesting story is taken from some newspaper clippings saved by Dellas (Peterman) McCormick, wife of Walter McCormick. My granddaddy on my father’s side of the family, Marvin McCormick, and Walter McCormick were related. Mrs. Dellas McCormick clipped out and saved this article about Robinson Crusoe Buck. It was written by Celia Cullom, but the date is unknown. It begins with headlines that read: "Friend of Cordell Hull" Underneath that headline it says: "Livingston’s Robinson Crusoe Buck cherishes the photograph of the statesman and memories of a trip to Washington aided by his friend." The article then begins:

"Beside a brightly glowing fire in a little stucco house a short walk from the public square at Livingston, Tennessee, sits Robinson Crusoe Buck, 103 year old ex-slave and friend of Cordell Hull. On a winter day the fire glints dully on Crusoe’s heavy white-thatched head and deep reddish tan skin, smooth as the hickory of the old home-made rocking chair in which he sits. Crusoe is six foot two with square, wide shoulder and amazingly large hands. He got his finely chiseled features and aquiline nose from his mother, who was three-fourths Cherokee. Robinson Crusoe Buck looks more Indian that Negro.

"Sometimes the talk in Crusoe’s little stucco house (which you can reach by a crooked, rock path through the neat little yard) is of faith, for the people around Livingston have come to look upon Crusoe as a faith healer. "Faith," the old Negro will sometimes whisper when they come to him with their troubles. "Faith in yourself and in God. Then everything’s all right." Sometimes the talk is of the war, and bushwhackers and hiding out in the woods with his Mass’r.

"Buck was born October 15, 1844, on a pleasant 1000 acre farm three miles south of Cookeville. The farm and its 40 slaves belonged to an old German settler named Abraham Buck, for whom Crusoe’s mother cooked. Robinson Crusoe is the name given him by his owner. A grandson was born to the owner the day after Crusoe was, and Crusoe’s mammy nursed them both and they slept in the same crib until they were big enough to walk.

"Buck was 19 when the war ended, but refused to accept the freedom won him in that war, staying on at the farm with his Mass’r. It wasn’t long before Abraham Buck died in Crusoe’s arms, a broken man, and Crusoe soon left for Cookeville, did odd jobs there for a while, and then became interested in the Algood project. "You might say I started the town," say Buck. (Buck helped to haul the first planks that went into the town). In 1870 he took him a wife and by 1902 he had saved enough money to start a livery stable in Algood. It was there he first met Cordell Hull, then a schoolboy and son of Billy Hull, whom Buck used to drive around. The friendship between Hull and Crusoe grew, and when Hull became a circuit judge, Crusoe drove him on his judicial rounds. After Hull went to Washington, he once remarked to some friends in Congress: "When I start a campaign in Washington, I know that old Crusoe Buck is starting another one for me back in Tennessee."

 "Crusoe remained in the livery stable business 19 years, and then started a grocery in Algood that thrived for nine years. His wife died in 1935, leaving him two daughters, four grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren, and he married again in 1943 at the age of 99.

"It was in 1941 that Crusoe got the biggest thrill of his long life. Hull invited him to come to Washington and see the sights, and Hull and ex-Congressman Ridley Mitchell sent him a round-trip train ticket.

"Mister Hull was wonderful to me," Buck says softly. "He took me all through the White House and made sure I saw every other sight in Washington. Why, I even got to go to that old theater where Lincoln was shot and sit in the same place he did."

"While in Washington, Robinson Crusoe Buck, who was born into slavery, got to do and see wonderful things (even appearing on a radio show called "We The People") and he came back a wiser man. Also in his valise when he returned were two autographed pictures, one of President Roosevelt and the other of Mrs. Roosevelt. (But he is proudest of the picture he received long ago from Hull and inscribed "With best wishes.")

"Crusoe moved to Livingston two years ago. His little stucco house on the state highway to Celina is sought out by the people who have heard that he can help them with their problems, and when they come, Crusoe speaks to them softly of faith. Crusoe never learned to read or write, but that is of no consequence, he occupies himself with the radio and with visitors. "I’ve found that kindness to people and helping others is about the greatest happiness there is in life," he says.

"Crusoe is spry and in good health and still boasts four good teeth. He daily chores around the house come easily, and his step is sure although a little slow. Sometimes he goes in to Livingston to visit around.

News of Mr. Buck also reached the Chicago Tribune and an article was published in that famous newspaper as well. It reads:

"Mr. Buck, a former slave, was getting ready to go over to Cookeville to ride a horse and lead the centennial parade. He is only 109 years old. His wife, Ollie, a mere kid of 72, knew better tho. She knew he was going to ride in an auto, despite the fact he had his picture taken on a horse.

"You have to watch him every minute," said Mrs. Buck. "The other day I forgot to lock the lawn mower in the shed. He got out and mowed the yard before I knew what he was doing."

"There is some doubt about Mr. Buck’s age. For instance, Uncle Ed Bilbrey over in Cookeville, himself 92, does not believe Crusoe is 109. "He has to be at least 115," said Uncle Ed, "because I used to buy things from him. He was an old man when I was a boy."

"Mr. Buck a lean six feet, white of hair and moustache, distinguished in appearance, and with more than a trace of Cherokee blood, sat in front of his open fireplace, talked of Civil war days, and of the man he worked for, Abraham Buck, whose name he took. "I saved $7,000.00 in gold and silver for Mr. Abraham Buck all thru the Civil War," said Robinson Crusoe Buck. "When I gave it back to him, he said, ‘well done thou good and faithful servant.’"

"Buck smiled at the recollection, and said Mr. Abraham Buck also said at that time, "You will live to a ripe old age." Apparently Mr. Abraham Buck was a man who knew what he was talking about.

"When the Yankees came to kill Mr. Abraham Buck during the Civil War, Mr. Abraham Buck, being a pretty sharp cookie, went and hid in the woods. "I took him food," said Robinson Crusoe Buck. "I wrapped it in a handkerchief in fodder, and I carried it over my shoulder on the end of a long stick." He said he did this right under the noses of the Yankees. "I loved Mr. Buck," he said, "and he loved me."

"Once Buck worked for Cordell Hull, and in 1936, went down to Washington with Mr. Hull and met Franklin D. Roosevelt, and both their autographed pictures hand in his living room. "Mr. Hull kept saying, tell them what it was like when I was young," said Buck. "And I would tell them that we used to tie logs together and ride the 110 miles to Nashville on the river. That was the only way to get there then. I told all them Democrats ‘I am a died in the wool Democrat’ and you should have heard them Democrats yell."

"Buck attributes his long life to the fact that he always has tried to be good to everyone. "I have a lot of friends," he said. Buck said he thought the old days were best, and the south was the greatest place in the world, and General Robert E. Lee, whom he had seen, was a fine man and a gentleman. When he was asked about Abraham Lincoln, he just shook his head and smiled a little.

"And what did he think is wrong with the world, if anything, at the present time. "Well," said Buck, "in the olds days they meant their religion. They say a lot of words about religion now, but they don’t seem to mean them."

"That’s right," echoed Mrs. Buck, "There’s no knee way religion now."

These newspaper clippings answer a lot of questions I had in the story I did earlier about this very distinguished gentleman. I hope one day soon to hear that the Tennessee Historical Commission will find a way to recognize a very deserving past citizen of our little town.


On August 21, 1936, the Livingston Enterprise had this story on the front page of the paper:
Former Slave, 91, Marries Woman, 66, In North Livingston
The marriage of Mrs. Ollie Cullom McDonald, colored, and Robinson Crusoe Buck, colored, which occurred on Friday, August 14, 1936, at the residence of the bride in North Livingston, was one of wide interest among their many friends.  The Rev. W.M. Hunboard, colored, of Lebanon, performed the ceremony in the presence of a number of their relatives and friends.  The bride was the daughter of Elza Cullom, a former slave of the late Judge Alvin Cullom and had twice married, first to Webb Copeland, colored, and secondly to Bud McDonald, colored.  She was 66 years old, owned her own home, and bore a good reputation.  The groom was 91 years old and lived on his own farm in Algood, Putnam County.  He talks interestingly about slave time and things occurring during the War between the States.  He was a former slave of Abraham Buck near Cookeville who operated a farm there during the years proceeding the war, before the abolition of slavery.   He says that his master was a native of Germany but came to the States with his parents and finally settled in Putnam County.  Crusoe, as he is commonly called, is strong and active physically and mentally and his appearance would indicate his age to be 88.  He is well to do for one of his race and has many friends wherever he is known regardless of race or color.  They will reside at Algood.  (writer's note - evidently the couple at some point decided to remain in Livingston where they lived on North Church Street for several years.)



Click Here to Read a previous story about Robinson Crusoe Buck