Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sebastian Boston "Boss" Buck

Infamous Horse Thief & Counterfeiter (1817- 1896)

Knox Borough, in Clarion County, PA is known as the “Horsethief Capital of the World”.  Knox gained this reputation through the operations of  my ancestor, Sebastian “Boss” Buck who was touted as the most notorious horse thief in US history. He and his gang continuously moved a string of stolen horses along a trail from Kentucky to Maine.

Clarion County, Pennsylvania was renown for its horse thieves in the 1800s. The county had this reputation because it is the only locale in the eastern U.S. where a man was hung as a horse thief. Horse thieving relates to the Buck family because one of the most famous of the thieves was Sebastian Boston "Boss" Buck. Boss was great grandfather of Mary Emma Buck. Although he was a known horse thief, he was never convicted of this crime. Boss was not hung as a horse thief, but he did spend about five years in jail for counterfeiting. He was the main catalyst for the formation of the Clarion (and others) County Anti-Horsethief Association. I have tons of genealogical info on the Buck family not only from searching genealogy but historical books written about him at length.

From articles printed in the Clarion Democrat and the Clarion Republican Gazette, dated Oct. 15, 1885, Oct. 22, 1885 and Nov. 12, 1885.

"During the past month few names have been brought more prominently or frequently before the reading public in this section of the state than that heads this sketch, not during the past quarter of a century could any man in this section of the country, for shrewdness, cuteness and alleged cussedness lay claim to a more brilliant record than this same distinguished individual. Boston, or as he was more familiarly known, "Boss" Buck, whose real name was Sebastian, was born in Centre County, Pennsylvania in 1817 and is at present (1885) 68 years of age. In early life he became a resident of Beaver Township and afterwards moved to Washington Township, near Tylersburg, where he became the possessor of a farm in a locality remote from the public highways and well suited for carrying on any doubtful schemes in which he might desire to enjoy with little fear of molestation. Although his ostensible business was that of trading and dealing in horses, it was not long until his neighbors had come to suspect him of more doubtful transactions than any legitimate business required. From the most reliable of the numerous publications caused by the recent arrest and conviction of himself and several of his gang we obtain the following compilation.
"In appearance he is 6'2", weighs 230 pounds, dresses in a shabby brown well-worn suit of rough clothes with flannel shirt and old fur cap, his large head and rather attractive face being covered with a shabby growth of fine hair turned white as snow by his almost three score years and ten. That part of his face which is not hidden like his clothing, is brown and seamed with exposure to the weather, and a pair of bright, piercing, unfathomable and distrustful large gray eyes shone out from underneath thick growing eyebrows of a darker color than his hair or beard, giving a very uncanny look to a tough ensemble that otherwise would be prepossessing and benevolent. His frame is powerful. In his early days he was known as an athlete of unquestioned power and daring. Though uneducated, he is a man of unusual intelligence and resources, and his ingenuity as a general and planner of criminal schemes has baffled the detectives, outwitting their carefully laid traps designed for his! capture, and kept him of out the clutches of the law for 25 years, six years of which he spent in Canada as a fugitive from justice. He does not talk much, but his manner is interesting, his influence magnetic and his presence commanding. In fact, "Boston Buck" was a born leader of men. With an education and early training, he might have stood as high amongst the prominent men of the county as he ranks among the most noted criminals. Buck's business was horse dealing and he was supplied with horses by thieves in almost every state in the union. It was an art of his to change a stolen animal so that even the owner could not recognize it. Buck's place was the rendezvous of the sleek criminal of every class and well suited it was for that purpose - five miles from Tylersburg in Clarion County, on the edge of the wildest section in forest County, adopted in every way for the abode of a counterfeiter.

It was way back in the fifties that "Boss Buck" and his clan of outlaws became known to the public. It was discovered by Clarion County people that they were not only in the part of an "underground railroad" for the transportation of stolen horses, extending from Kentucky to Maine, but that the chief of the clan made his headquarters in the midst. While "Boss Buck" spent much time riding the long trail that extended from the great forests of Maine and into Canada to the land of Blue Grass and fine horses in the South, Eagle Furnace;, Clarion County, near the Clarion River, was his headquarters. It is said that a continuous string of stolen horses was kept moving both north and south. Thus it seems that Boss Buck was the original "return trip operator" - horses were picked up at both ends and all along the line moved north and south and sold when far enough from their owners to be undetected. The selected horses were taken from the field or barn of the owner at night, and by the time the rays of the morning sun fell upon the latest acquisition of the clan, that colt's own mother would not have known it. The paint brush was applied so artistically that it was impossible for the owner to identify the stolen animal. Not only was the paint brush used, but other means of masquerading the animals were employed. In the event of young horses that had never been worked, sandpaper was applied to the sides and shoulders to indicate they were rubbed by harnesses and thus made out to be work horses. Another trick was to reverse the sides of the horse so they would appear to be g!oing in the other direction.The authorities found it difficult to connect "Boss Buck" with any of the raids. This was because he seldom, if ever, participated in the operations himself. He saw to it that no horses were stolen in the immediate vicinity of his headquarters, Eagle Furnace.

Boss Buck lived up to certain standards that kept him in the good graces of those who looked upon his livelihood with scorn. He would not permit the theft of a horse from a person who could not afford to lose the animal. Like Jesse James, there are innumerable stories in circulation as to his acts of kindness, his generosity as well as his desperation.It is said that the chief did not sanction cruelty or murder on the part of his clansmen. Horse stealing and counterfeiting seemed to be his vocation. At Eagle Furnace, Bear Creek and just west of Parker's Landing were three distinct counterfeiting plants under the direction of Boss Buck. During the sixties and seventies, every piece of coin passing between the natives of these sections was scrutinized carefully as a safeguard against receiving some of the Boss Buck products which were so plentiful there. Boss Buck made his counterfeit money from lead and molten glass which was poured in plaster of paris molds. They were so perfect they defied detection.

In 1872 Boss Buck was arrested by the United States secret service agents for manufacturing and circulating counterfeit coins near Parkers Landing.Finally, tangible evidence was secured and a warrant was issued for the chief of the outlaws. He, of course, was given warning and seemed to disappear from the face of the globe. His organization was so complete from Maine to Kentucky that he had no fear of apprehension, so long as he kept away from his usual haunts. His visit to Pittsburgh, where he thought himself secure from the long arm of the law, proved to be his undoing. He secured a room in a tenement district near Second Avenue and there kept under cover for some time. A young man from the pine forests of Clarion County helped run a log raft to Pittsburgh. He located an old acquaintance who lived in the Second Avenue district, and when he came out on the back porch for a breath of fresh air, he looked across the way to another back porch and saw a man washing his face. There was just one man in the world, thought the young man, who washed his face like Boss Buck. That surely was the much wanted outlaw, and a handsom!e reward was offered for his apprehension."Thus it was that Boss Buck finally fell into the toils as a result of his having a peculiar way of washing his face. He served time in the Western Penitentiary and when released, was broken of health and spirit. He visited his old haunts, but was never active in the horse and counterfeit traffic. He drifted away to parts unknown."

(NOTE) In fact he did not drift away to parts unknown; back then they had no more info. His life after prison and death is chronicled in a few books on his life by retired teacher Edward B. Reighard, his most recent work is a history of the notorious Sebastian Boston "Boss" Buck and the Clarion County Horsethieves