Buck Nelson: Tall Tales—Part 2
Wed, 04/26/2023 - 4:37pm admin
In Part 1, I related the story about Buck Nelson, the hillbilly farmer from north of Mountain View, who, in the mid-1950s, claimed to have been visited by extra-terrestrial space aliens who took him on a trip to the moon, Mars, and Venus in a flying saucer. His tale stopped short of describing green cheese on the moon, but it provided a lot of room for skepticism. Nevertheless, for a man with a sixth-grade education he had some believers (mostly from outside the Ozarks) and even greater entrepreneurial talent.
Buck, small in stature, reportedly, 5 feet 4 inches tall and generally appearing with short cropped hair, was not an Ozarker by birth. He was born near Denver, Colorado, in 1895 and moved to his Ozark farm sometime in the 1940s. He claimed several prior occupations, including working as a ranch hand and running a sawmill, but he adapted and played the part of a hillbilly well, always wearing his signature bib overalls. And, in my view, he perfected the art of Ozark yarn spinning.
As a matter of tradition in the Ozarks of my youth, a lot of tales got spun around potbelly stoves in crossroad country stores, and some were more or less believed. For example, a white-haired woman (I suppose she was in her late eighties), who lived down the gravel road from our farmhouse near Montier, had supposedly read the entire Bible. For most folks in the area, this was an unimaginable feat. It was rumored she knew of esoteric messages in the text. One of her hidden parables that circulated involved God exiling a man to the moon for cutting brush on Sunday. Maybe, he was the ruler Buck encountered on his trip.
I suspect the woman may have been referring to the biblical event in the book of Numbers where a man was stoned to death for picking up sticks on the sabbath. But like the “telephone game,” stories grow. Although the good ol’ boys at the country stores might have thought twice before cutting brush on Sundays, I suspect they would have thought Ol’ Buck was a bit windy.
Dale Freeman, a writer for the Springfield News-Leader, underscored the local attitude about Buck in a February 26, 1956, article. “Any news about Bucky [the English teacher on Venus] or anything else to do with Buck is definitely no surprise to residents of this community. They became accustomed to the weird goings on involving Nelson long ago and have ceased to be amazed at anything he’s done . . . [f]ew in these parts put any stock in Buck’s fantastic claims.”
After reading the February 1956 Springfield News-Leader article, James Hill, a space enthusiast from Seymore, Missouri, sent a letter to the editor that was published on March 11, 1956. Hill said he “greatly enjoyed” the article about Mr. Nelson and further stated, “There is no doubt at all about the genuineness of flying saucers in my mind.”
After the newspaper coverage, Buck’s fame spread beyond Howell County. In his book, “My Trip to Mars the Moon and Venus,” Buck credits James Hill for extending his fame even farther. “Mr. Hill thought the world should know about my experience and mailed a copy of the paper to Flying Saucer Clubs in the East.” Buck’s timeline is a little fuzzy in his book. The February 1956 article referenced earlier news accounts, and notes Buck had previously given lectures in Chicago and to the “Study Group on Interplanetary Relationships in Detroit.” Apparently, Mr. Hill sent an earlier clipping back East.
As to Buck’s earthly travels, Freeman reported “Next month Buck takes an expense paid trip to Washington, D. C. where he will bring everybody up to date on his friends, the space men, at two separate lectures. ‘Flying Saucer’ clubs are footing the bill for the jaunt, which will not be made in a space ship.”
As singer Jerry Reed might say, “When you’re hot, you’re hot.” A headline in the September 16, 1956, Springfield News-Leader proclaimed: “Buck Nelson Gadding About Country, Via Bus, to Tell About Whirlwind Saucer Spin.” In this follow-up article by Dale Freeman, he reports Buck had a “busy summer relating his out-of-this world experience to eager Easterners and the ‘guvment.’ ” His trips included Washington, D. C., Baltimore, Detroit and “several points from there on home.” Buck said, “I’ve made a little money on the road . . . and I get quite a few gifts and a lot of folks want pictures—enough that I can get by.”
With his notoriety, the “guvment” got interested, and when he in was in the nation’s capital, he claimed to have been taken to an underground facility and questioned, but the officials were disappointed because he “couldn’t tell them anymore than what they already knew.” Buck also claimed scientists and men from the armed forces visited him at his farm, and the military men bought the clothes he wore to the moon. Hmmm? I wonder what a FOIA search would yield?
And there is a Willow Springs connection. In a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article in April 1958, the writer states, “Buck has quite a story to tell. I listened to an hour-long tape recording of it the other day, made by Radio Station KUKU at Willow Springs, when they interviewed him. He tells of the things he saw. It’s a fascinating chronicle, in its way . . . .”
Buck parlayed his fame into holding a “space convention” on his farm in 1958 on the weekend of June 27, 28, and 29. His timing was spot-on. The Russians had launched Sputnik the year before in October, and outer space was the rage. The Kansas City Star on June 29, 1958, reported the attendance to be “[a]bout 300 persons from all over the United States and Canada. Convention visitors attended from as far as California, Michigan, Utah, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Texas and Kentucky.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch additionally noted cars from Oregon, North Dakota, Kansas, Louisiana, and Iowa.
I attended Buck’s first space convention that weekend with my mother and stepfather. I’ve often wondered how my mother talked her innately skeptical husband into going. I suspect he agreed because he owned an 80-acre farm down the road from Buck’s place.
I have the same recollection of the venue as Kansas City Star reporter Bill Vaughn described in his June 29 article. “It was hot and shade was scarce in the field Buck had cleared beside his 3-room home. There was a raised platform for the speaker . . . [b]eside the rostrum was Buck’s souvenir stand where he sold flying saucer paperweights, Missouri pennants, and, at $1 each, copies of his book about his friends out there and his visits to them.”
With great anticipation, I kept looking for a flying saucer to land, but to my disappointment, none did. To me, Buck just looked like a gaunt Ozark farmer. He allowed me to go inside his house, and I recall photographs cut from newspapers decorating the walls.
As to the absence of spacemen or flying saucers, Bill Vaughn reported: “But even without them, Howell County had an excited realization that something was stirring. A small boy on a Willow Springs corner called out to a passing stranger: ‘Hey, mister, eaten any purple people lately?’.” I don’t recall that incident. It sounds like something a friend from the WSHS Class of 1964 might have said.
Buck held space conventions annually until the mid-1960s, and he even had a carnival set up there one year, but newspaper accounts suggest a decline in interest from their heyday. Nevertheless, a quote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in July 1966 may be instructive. “A woman who had returned to Mountain View after years away related: ‘I was in the post office, and I asked my sister, ‘Who is that man in overalls:’ She said, ‘That’s Buck Nelson, why?’ and I said, ‘Well, I was curious, he’s in here every morning just opening those envelopes and taking out money.’ ”
Several publications report that Buck spent his last days in California before passing on to the next dimension in 1982. Much has been said and written about him, but Dale Freeman in his February 26, 1958, article may have summed it up best. “But all are agreed on one thing: Nelson is a first-class CHARACTER. And don’t forget the capital letters, they’ll tell you.”
Personally, I am curious about the UFO phenomenon, particularly the stories shared by astronauts and military pilots. And Uncle Sam spends millions investigating the subject. Nevertheless, on April 19, 2023, Sean Kirkpatrick, director of the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office (AARO), informed a Senate Armed Services subcommittee that “AARO has found no credible evidence thus far of extraterrestrial activity.” But then, he’s from the “guvment.”