- Faith & Family
During the summer of 1895, a multi-racial group of teenagers known as the Rufus Buck Gang went on a vicious and deadly 13-day rampage in the Indian Territory that is now known as Arkansas. They were fed up with how the U.S. government had continued to steal land away from the Native American tribes. Their objective was to reclaim those lands that were being settled by whites. What prompted those teenaged boys to embark on such a mission and what led to their ultimate demise is the basis of a book by Leonce Gaiter, 53, “I Dreamt I Was in Heaven: The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang.”
Gaiter says he had trouble finding a publisher for his book because it dealt with topics that “still make people very uncomfortable.”
“I have worked in the entertainment and high tech fields and often lived in mostly-white neighborhoods especially during my youth,” he said. “I don’t know what an all-Black world is like because I’ve never really lived in one. What happened to the young men in my book and to me is what I like to explore — the tensions that occur when we live with the majority. There are subtle tensions that many want to pretend aren’t there.”
Gaiter says he first became interested in the fictional account behind the Rufus Buck Gang after seeing a newspaper clipping almost 20 years ago.
“When I saw the picture I was immediately struck by how young these boys were and the fact that they were Black and Cherokee-mixed,” he said. “There was a sense of righteousness that fueled their cause to take back land that had been stolen from the Native Americans. Sure they were naive but then it’s amazing how vicious they were in their 13-day rampage. I believe they were extraordinarily violent because that’s what they saw around them. They were in violent times and used violent means — but they were convinced that their cause was just.
Three times is the charm
“I made three abortive attempts to write the book and at first just wanted to talk about the five boys that made up the gang,” he said. “But when I expanded my palette to include the socio-political context of America and its drive to gobble up all of the Indian Territories, that’s when the story finally began to come together.”
Gaiter embellishes the story just a little with a few fictional characters, but the facts are unchanged and the major players really did exist. The author says he sought to do more than just share a slice of history.
“This is not a polemic about noble Indians or evil whites,” he said. “I had to see both sides from the judge that was bent on hanging the gang to Rufus Buck, the gang’s leader. The story is really a tragedy — we see how racism impacted the five boys’ lives. Maybe one cannot approve of their actions, but at least we can begin to understand what drove them to such extremes. Both the mixed boys and the Black boys lived in a world that promoted the purity of the white race. There was no room for racial pride — not unless you were white.”
Does the book have an happy ending or provide us with some kind of comfortable resolution? Gaiter says “No.”
“We have to realize that sometimes in life, there is no redemption,” he added. “That’s a religious term — this is a book about the tough realities of life. But more than that, I hope readers will realize that Blacks are a complex, multi-dimensional people — just like others. We are more than the stereotypes of victim or saint that the media seeks to paint and then to exploit. Even many of the great Black classics are about us taking the hatred that others have for our race and turning it in on ourselves. It’s tragic but sometimes rage and violence are the only emotions that fit our condition.”
By D. Kevin McNeir