A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from September 28, 2007
Strap Buckner and the Devil

Strap Buckner (Aylett C. Buckner, 1794-1832) was one of the original 300 settlers of the city of Austin. He was a big man and was famous for slapping citizens on the back very hard, knocking them down. After his death, numerous mythological stories were told about him, such as when he fought with the devil. Buckner shares a place in Texas folklore with Pecos Bill and Kemp Morgan.

The long 1930 Dallas Morning News article below about Strap Buckner is worth reading in full.


Handbook of Texas Online
BUCKNER, AYLETT C. (1794?-1832). Aylett(e) C. (Strap) Buckner, filibuster, Indian fighter, Old Three Hundred colonist, and folklore hero of colonial Texas, was the son of Aylett and Elizabeth (Lewis) Buckner of Louisa County, Virginia. Red-headed, of Irish and Scottish ancestry, he was supposedly nicknamed “Strap” because of his prodigious size and strength. He traveled to Texas as early as 1812 as a member of the Gutiérrez-Magee expeditionqv and returned in 1816 under Francisco Xavier Minaqv and in 1819 with Dr. James Long. He probably spent some of the intervening years in the Natchez, Mississippi, area. With Peter Powell and Oliver Buckner he settled around 1821 on Buckner’s Creek in the area that later became Fayette County. In his letters to Stephen F. Austin, Buckner said that he had been one of the first to build a cabin on the Colorado River, that he had kept an open house ever since he came, and that he had lost more property to Indian depredations than anyone else on the river. He was listed in the March 1823 census of the Colorado district as a twenty-nine-year-old farmer. Buckner became one of Austin’s Old Three Hundred settlers when he received title to one sitioqv of land on July 24, 1824, and two labores on August 24, 1824, all later in Matagorda County. In the summer of 1824 he was probably among those sent by Austin to make a treaty with Waco and Tawakoni Indians near the site of present Waco. The census of March 1826 listed Buckner as a single man with four servants and one slave.

In 1825 he had some conflict with Austin over the location and amount of his land and attempted to hold a meeting to protest against Austin, who consequently ordered Andrew Rabbqv to arrest Buckner for seditious conduct. After consulting with Jared E. Groce and John P. Cole, Austin was able to work out a better understanding with Buckner. After a quarrel with James Cummins, Buckner wrote Austin that he wanted to be buried under his own soil and that he wanted to buy a thousand acres of land. In January 1826 Austin selected Moses Morrison, William Kincheloe, and Buckner as judges for an election for alcalde for the district of Mina. In 1826 Buckner made a trip to Matamoros, Tamaulipas, to find out whether or not he could claim land as compensation for his services in the Mina and Gutiérrez expeditions.

As early as May 1826 Buckner was named by Austin as a commander of the militia against local Indians, and in the winter of 1826 he was part of a retaliatory expedition against a band of Karankawas believed to have killed the families of Elisha Flowersqv and Charles Cavanagh. Probably because of Buckner’s disagreements with Austin, Benjamin W. Edwardsqv solicited his aid in the Fredonian Rebellion in December 1826, but Buckner signed resolutions of protest against the rebellion and ultimately became a faithful member of the colony and a close friend of Austin. He was in command of an attack against the Karankawa Indians at Live Oak Bayou in 1831, and in 1832 he led a company of volunteers from the area of present Fayette and Matagorda counties at the battle of Velasco. There, on June 25 or 26, 1832, he was killed.

Though legend has it that the Indians (who, impressed by his strength, reportedly nicknamed Buckner the “Red Son of Blue Thunder") offered him marriage with Indian princess Tulipita, Buckner never married. One historian has suggested that perhaps it was in part this lack of heirs which allowed the growth of ever-more outlandish legends of his strength and size. Notable among these are the tales of how with one blow he turned back the huge black bull Triste Noche, which had been terrorizing the colony, and how after this feat he was emboldened to challenge the devil himself to a duel. The best account of the latter legend appears in Nathaniel Alston Taylor’s 1877 travelogue, The Coming Empire; Or, Two Thousand Miles in Texas on Horseback.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Eugene C. Barker, ed., The Austin Papers (3 vols., Washington: GPO, 1924-28). Eugene C. Barker, The Life of Stephen F. Austin (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1925; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1949; New York: AMS Press, 1970). Eugene C. Barker, ed., “Minutes of the Ayuntamiento of San Felipe de Austin, 1828-1832,” 12 parts, Southwestern Historical Quarterly 21-24 (January 1918-October 1920). Florence Elberta Barns, “Building a Texas Folk-Epic: The Materials and the Process Which Formed the Saga of Strap Buckner, “ Texas Monthly, October 1929. Lester G. Bugbee, “The Old Three Hundred: A List of Settlers in Austin’s First Colony,” Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 1 (October 1897). J. H. Kuykendall, “Reminiscences of Early Texans,” Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 6-7 (January, April, July 1903). Matagorda County Historical Commission, Historic Matagorda County (3 vols., Houston: Armstrong, 1986). Worth Stickley Ray, Austin Colony Pioneers (Austin: Jenkins, 1949; 2d ed., Austin: Pemberton, 1970). Nathaniel Alston Taylor and H. F. McDanield, The Coming Empire, or Two Thousand Miles in Texas on Horseback (New York: Barnes, 1877; rev. ed., Dallas: Turner, 1936). Vertical Files, Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas at Austin. Leonie Rummel Weyand and Houston Wade, An Early History of Fayette County (La Grange, Texas: La Grange Journal, 1936).

27 February 1878, Galveston (TX) Daily News, pg. 7, col 4:
THE COMING EMPIRE; OR< TWO THOUSAND MILES IN TEXAS ON HORSEBACK
By H. F. McDaniel and N. A. Taylor.
(...)
The work needs only a little judicious pruning—such, for instance, as the omission of the quite unnecessary story of Strap Buckner, and of numerous hackneyed poetical quotations—to be an excellent literary performance.
(...)
N. Y. Tribune, Feb. 9, 1878.

18 May 1924, Galveston (TX) Daily News, pg. 6, col. 1:
The legends of the treasures buried in various parts of the state, of the Bowie mine, the legend of the Devil and Strap Buckner, the legend of Stampede Mesa, and the legend of The Wild Woman of the Navidad—these things are the sort of things that keep one awake until far into midnight such is their allure.
{LEGENDS OF TEXAS, edited by J. Frank Dobie—ed.]

12 July 1925, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Paul Bunyan is the Hero of American Folk-Legend” by J. Frank Dobie, section 3, pg. 11:
It may be news to some, in this connection, to know that Paul Bunyan has come to Texas and the Southwest. He is said to be a favorite, along with the giant Kemp Morgan, in the oil fields, and I wish that I had a parcel of oil field tales about Paul. Furthermore, as I have pointed out elsewhere, Strap Buckner, who in South Texas knocked down 300 men of Austin’s colony and then fought the devil in the form of black bull, seems a descendant of Paul. However, so far as I can learn, only one Texan has ever heard the Strap Buckner legend told. I refer to N. A. Taylor, who in his remarkable book, “The Coming Empire, or Two Thousand Miles in Texas on Horseback” (New York, 1877), tells at great length and with much gusto the legend of “The Devil and Strap Buckner,” as he heard it. Has any other Texan ever heard of Strap?

5 January 1930, Dallas (TX) Morning News, feature section, pg. 3:
How Strap Buckner Wrestled the Devil

Strange Doings of a Folk-Hero Who Knocked Down Each Member of Austin Colony Three Times Over

Strap Buckner Was a Real Person Who Came to Texas With the Original Colonists—His Tempestuous Career Soon Became Wildest Legend—Once He Felled a Bull With One Blow and He Often Challenged Man, Beast or Devil, and When the Latter Called, They Sang Together, After Which Satan Vanished Through the Keyhole, Leaving Behind a Nauseating Odor of Brimstone and Smoke.

By FLORENCE ELBERTA BARNE.
(...)
What Legion Tells.
In the legends Buckner appears as a youthful giant among Austin’s first 300 Texans, called Strap probably because of his stalwart frame. His face was freckled, and his flaming red hair streamed behind him like a meteor. He had the strength of ten lions, and he used it as ten lions. Like other giants he was friendly and kindly.

Very soon after his arrival in the Austin Colony, Strap began to give evidence of the inspiration of a genius; and he became the object of great veneration among the colonists. Little wonder that they beheld him with such reverent regard, for his genius was to knock men down! Smiling and with the most kindly feeling he would sounter up to a group of his fellow men and—knock them all down, one after another. Never was the expression of his genius the result of hard feelings; it was merely the bubbling up and running over of his superabundant physical strength.

If, by chance, his blows were so brisk as to break or bruise his victims, he carried them off to his cabin where he nursed them back to health, in order that he might knock them down again. Before he had been long in the Austin Colony he had knocked down the whole colony three times over, including the great and noble Stephen F. Austin himself.

But about the time for the third turn, everyone suddenly decided that he was tired of being knocked down by the smiling, freckle-faced, red-haired giant. And people began to shun Strap Buckner.

Battling a Bull.
Strap continued, however, to exercise his “genius.” He challenged the huge black bull, Triste Noche, the terror of the community, and with one well-planted blow sent him flying from the colony forever. Then Strap became a hunter; and the bear, the wild cat and the buffalo went west to escape him. Next. Strap made a friend of demon rum; and his “genius” waxed greater than ever. Men, women and children fled at his approach or gathered in armed groups. Finally, with tears in his eyes, he bade farewell to San Felipe, where he was no longer welcome, and went west to the wilds along the stream which came to bear the name Buckner’s Creek. Here he found a trading post, presided over by Bob Turket and Bill Smotherall and patronized by hundreds of Indians.

His “genius” prospered and he had a marvelous time knocking down copper-skinned Indians. The King, Tulescahoma, in return for being knocked down in the presence of the Queen, Muchalatota, gave Strap the swiftest horse in the world, an ugly bob-tailed nag, and offered him Tulipita, his Princess daughter, in marriage. At the same time, the Indians gave Strap the magnificent name of Kokulblothetopoff, meaning the Red Son of Blue Thunder. Strap accepted the homage and the horse, but he shied at the Princess. Poor Tulipita pined away in the silence of grief!

But in time the Indians grew tired of Strap’s “genius;” and one dark night they went west. Strap wept when he discovered their departure, and for two days in his cabin his good and bad angels contended for his soul. Finally, under the influence of the little brown jug, he yielded to his bad angel; he crowed in triumph and announced to the world that his “genius” had vanquished his conscience. The climax came in his challenge to the devil.

Strap Meets the Devil.
Having hurled his challenge, Strap returned to his cabin. Night fell, bringing with it a heavy storm of wind and rain. But, safe within his cabin, Strap paid little attention to the storm other than to bar his door fast, and proceeded to get his supper of bacon and hoecake. As he was saying grace to the inventor of delicious bacon and brown hoecake, an unusual blast of wind blew open one of the windows, and Strap looked up to encounter two flaming eyes glaring at him through the opened window. Strap addressed the creature as ocelot, wild cat, and followed his insults with a stone that missed its mark. The fiery eyes continued to stare. Next he hurled his iron pestle, but it hit only the windowsill and buried itself half through that oaken barrier. The eyes and their owner disappeared. Strap barred the window more tightly than before and sat down to his supper.

Suddenly a blinding sheet of lightning and the simultaneous accompaniment of thunder crash startled Strap into violent expression. When he recovered from his alarm he saw dancing in the middle of his floor a black figure with a thin face and eagle-like nose, two red horns on its head, cloven feet and fiery eyes. Its image expressed unspeakable mischief and villainy. By way of introduction it thumbed its nose at Strap in derision.

Strap addressed it with questions of wonder. The figure gave no answer except to stop dancing and to sit down impishly on a chair next to Strap. Then it began to increase in size until it was twice its original proportions. Next it drew from behind its long tail ending in a sharpened point and threw it upon Strap’s knee. Strap, surprised but not overcome or speechless, knocked off the tail and told his strange guest to keep his tail to himself.

The Devil Sang, Too.
The figure answered only, “Skin for skin,” and tossed his tail toward the fireplace, where it lodged in the mantelpiece. Strap impatiently demanded more information; and the creature, after again repeating “Skin for skin,” answered that he had come in reply to Strap’s three challenges to the devil, and that he would meet Strap in mortal combat at nine the next morning under the oak south of his cabin. They shook hands on this agreement. Then Strap sang, “Then wilt thou be gone, love,” and the devil sang softly and sweetly, “Juanita.” the devil thereupon departed through a keyhole, leaving behind a nauseating odor of brimstone.

Strap spent some time in meditation that evening; and, having put himself into the mood of calm philosophy, he went to bed and to sound sleep. At nine o’clock the next morning the devil appeared in the form of a skinny, ugly dwarf dancing a jig. He politely saluted Strap as a man of honor and of his word; and then together they went out into the raging storm. In the glare of an especially vivid flash of lightning the dwarf disappeared; and in his place appeared a long black cat that mewed as it trotted by Strap’s side. And then, in succession, as the lightning flashed and the thunder roared, the devil changed from cat to Skye terrier to black bear to Noche the black bull to the black imp of the preceding night who derided Strap as before.

Gentleman’s Combat.
Together these strange comrades climbed to a knoll covered by oaks. The devil suddenly began to expand until he was 100 feet tall and 80 feet around, with his tail increased in proportion. As he tossed his tail into the air it caught in a black cloud and stuck there. Strap naturally objected to this latest transformation of the devil and complained aloud of the discrepancy in their statures and might. The devil agreed, therefore, to reduce to normal size if Strap would throw away his iron pestle. Strap obligingly discarded his one weapon and quickly the devil shrank, all except his tail, which was still lodged in the black cloud.

The contest began in the likeness of a boxing affray, but suddenly the black cloud moved on, carrying the devil’s tail farther away and causing the infernal imp much pain. Strap, always the gentleman, instead of taking advantage of the situation to crush the devil forever, volunteered to climb up and unhitch the tail. But the devil merely rolled himself up in the coil of his tail until he reached the cloud; then, having loosened his appendage, he jumped back to earth to meet Strap at the place of combat.

All day the battle raged, with varying fortune, until the devil finally overcame Strap by assuming a monstrous size that gave him unfair advantage. Bob Turket and Bill Sometherall, with forty Indian braves, stood on the river bank and listened to the hideous sound of battle.As night descended they saw a great gray horse riding through the air carrying a red monkey and the limp form of a man.

The next morning, the two traders and one hundred Indian braves went to Strap’s house which they found closed and deserted. They continued on until they came to the place of battle which showed evidences of the terrific conflict, and which from that time has remained barren and bleak.

Strap’s Return
Strap Buckner came back three months later and lived quietly in his cabin, apart from all men. One night, at the end of three months, Bob Turket and Bill Smotherall and ninety Indian braves saw a blue flame across the valley in the direction of Strap’s cabin. Out of the blue flame there arose a gray horse carrying on his back a gigantic man waving an iron pestle over the cowering form of a red monkey. In the morning the two traders and eleven hundred Indian warriors marched across the river to Strap’s land. There they found the ashes of his cabin. In solemn circle they wept over the sad ending of Strap Buckner, and the Medicine Man sounded his big bongooree. For long after, the ghost of Strap Buckner haunted the region. The cowboys are said to have adopted Strap Buckner, the hero with the ghost, as their patron saint. But civilization has done away with all such fancies.

With the passing of Aylett C. Buckner there went one of the most picturesque characters in all frontier history. He was bold and daring to the point of utter recklessness, fearing neither man, beast, God, or devil; he was honest and scrupulous in his dealings; but he had a temper that made history and legend for himself and for the colony. It was this temper, together with his fearlessness, thatin no small part, caused his transfer from history to legend.

It must be kept in mind that Captain Buckner died a bachelor in 1832, that is, very early in the existence of the colony. Had he lived to grow old with his Colonial comrades, or had he left a family to give contemporary reality to the Buckner name and affairs, he might not have become so wild a legend. As it is, his passing into folk-lore is the most natural thing in the world.

Not as Other Men.
In the first place, during his eleven years in the colony, he was not as other men. The vehemence of his personality kept him continually before the public. Therefore, he could not be forgotten, even after the lapse of years. But, in the second place, there are added reasons for his transfer to legend. From time immemorial it has been the custom of men to assemble on street corner, in postoffice, or in the general store of Podunk, to settle the affairs of the universe. Especially do such assemblies love reminiscences.


As the years passed in the Austin Colony, the frontier retreated in submission; living less difficult; and the aging pioneer, finding present conditions somewhat tame, turned their minds back to the yesterdays of the colony. Around the fireside and in the market square they recited the events of the thrilling days back in the twenties and thirties. They jogged each other’s memories, they disputed and corrected each other, they argued over dates and personages, they told tales, and in that pastime attempted to guide each other. As is usual in such cases, the stories lost nothing and gained much in the telling.

And, as among the figures of those yesterdays none was more outstanding in pioneer spirit and deeds than the long dead Aylett C. Buckner, his name often on the tongues of the story-tellers. Especially did the story-tellers exaggerate his mercurial and tempestuous disposition and his fearlessness until he became a “genius” for knocking men down and with a fondness for challenging man, beast, and devil. The stories grew and grew until the original Aylett C. Buckner was recognizable merely as a starting point for a series of marvelous exaggerations about a legendary Strap Buckner. 

(OCLC WorldCat library record)
Title: Here’s audacity!
American legendary heroes,
Author(s): Shay, Frank, 1888-1954. 
Publication: New York, The Macaulay company,
Year: 1930
Description: 5 p. l., 7-256 p. front., plates 22 cm.
Language: English
Contents: Old Stormalong, the deep-water sailorman.--Kwasind, Hercules of the American Indians.--The white steed, the phantom of the prairies.--Casey Jones, the railroad engineer.--Kemp Morgan, the Texas oil driller.--Strap Buckner, the man who fought the devil.--Pecos Bill, the cowboy.--Paul Bunyan, mightiest of loggers.--Tony Beaver, of Eel River, West Virginia.--John Henry, the steel driving man.

(OCLC WorldCat library record)
Title: Man, bird, and beast.
Author(s): Dobie, J. Frank 1888-1964, (James Frank), ed.
Publication: Austin, Tex., Texas Folk-lore Society,
Year: 1930
Description: 185 p. illus. 23 cm.
Language: English
Series: Publications of the Texas Folk-lore Society, Vol. VIII;
Contents: Ranch remedios / Frost Woodhull—Northwestern Oklahoma folk cures / Walter R. Smith—Tales and songs of the Texas-Mexicans / Jovita González—Legends of Wichita County / Betty Smedley—Jointsnake and hoop snake / Gibbons Poteet—Strap Buckner of the Texas frontier / Florence Elberta Barns—Jesse Holmes, the “fool-killer” / Ernest E. Leisy—Finding Folk-lorists / Rebecca W. Smith—Recent research in balladry and folk songs / L.W. Payne, Jr.

(OCLC WorldCat library record)
Title: A Brief list of material relating to Strap Buckner.
Corp Author(s): Archive of Folk Song (U.S.)
Publication: Washington, D.C. : Library of Congress, Music Division, Archive of Folk Song,
Year: 1971
Description: [1] p. ; 28 cm.
Language: English
SUBJECT(S)
Named Person: Buckner, Strap—Bibliography. 
Note(s): Caption title./ “3/25/71.”
Class Descriptors: GovDoc: LC 1.12/2:B 85; GPO Item No: 785-A

(OCLC WorldCat library record)
Title: Legendary Texians /
Author(s): Davis, Joe Tom, 1942-
Publication: Austin, Tex. : Eakin Press,
Edition: 1st ed.
Year: 1982-
Description: v. <1-2, 4> : ill. ; 23 cm.
Language: English
Contents: v. 1. Jane Long: the First Lady of the Republic—Deaf Smith: scout, spy, and folk hero—David G. Burnet: the forgotten first president of Texas—William Barret Travis: the life and death of a hero—Bigfoot Wallace: ranger, frontiersman, and Indian fighter—John O. Meusebach: the Moses of German Texas—Charles Goodnight: the greatest of Texas cowmen—Shanghai Pierce: the wheeler-dealer cattle baron—v. 2. Brit Bailey and Strap Buckner: legendary characters of early Texas—Josiah Wilbarger: the man who survived his scalping—Pamelia Mann: she did it her way—Gail Borden: a Texas success story—The saga of Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker—L.H. McNelly: the ranger who kept on coming—John Wesley Hardin: a gunfighter and his times—Roy Bean: barroom judge and con man—v. 3. Michael Muldoon: that other father of Texas—The De Leon family: riches, race, rapine, and rags—The Groces and the Whartons: two generations of Texas leaders—Emily Morgan: the yellow rose of Texas—William Goyens: a true-blue Black Texian—Robert Potter: the “baddest” man in the Republic—Rufus C. Burleson and Baylor University: fifty years of toil and triumph—v. 4. “Three-legged Willie” Williamson: a legend in his own time—Jack Hays: he fought the good fight—Richard King: founder of a ranching empire—Sul Ross: warrior, public servant, and educator.

(OCLC WorldCat library record)
Title: The legend of Strap Buckner :
a Texas tale /
Author(s): Wooldridge, Connie Nordhielm.
Glass, Andrew,; 1949- ; (Illustrator)
Publication: New York : Holiday House,
Edition: 1st ed.
Year: 2001
Description: 1 v. (unpaged) : col. ill. ; 31 cm.
Language: English
Standard No: ISBN: 0823415368; 9780823415366 LCCN: 00-58082
Abstract: When pride gets the better of Strap Buckner, a man known throughout Texas for his prodigious strength, he rashly challenges the devil to a contest.
SUBJECT(S)
Descriptor: Folklore—Texas. 
Named Person: Buckner, Aylett C., 1787-1832—Legends. 

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Friday, September 28, 2007 • Permalink