Sunday, March 28, 2010

Worth 1,000 Words: Cowboy Superstar BUCK JONES rides the KC range

This unpublished photo of Buck Jones astride his steed Silver was taken during a visit to Kansas City, Mo. during the 1930s. Not much is known about the exact date and circumstances, but Buck was probably part of a parade. Judging by the long gone R. S. Elliott Arms Co. sign down the street on left, the location should be 15th and Grand Ave. It is interesting to see the streetcar tracks and overhead power lines. [from Steve Crum’s showbiz memorabilia collection]

By Steve Crum

BUCK JONES (Dec. 12, 1891-Nov. 30, 1942), like Ohioan Roy Rogers, was a major cowboy movie star not bred in the West. Buck was born Charles Frederick Gebhart in Vincennes, Indiana. Much like the western knights he portrayed later, Buck’s heroics began when he was 16 years old. After joining the army and fighting in the Moro Rebellion in the Philippines, 1907-09, the teenager was mustered out of the service after being wounded. He re-enlisted a year later, desiring to be an airplane pilot, but was disqualified since he was not an officer. In 1913, his military career ended.

Then Buck Jones the cowboy emerged. He was working as a ranch hand in Bliss, Oklahoma when he met his future wife, “Dell,” who was an expert rider. Together, they joined a Wild West show and briefly toured. To make more money, Buck signed on at Universal Studios as a bit player and stuntman. Before long, his charisma, looks and horsemanship brought him his first starring role, in the 1920 silent, The Last Straw. Buck was soon among the top movie cowboys in popularity and money making, joining the ranks of Hoot Gibson, Tom Mix and Ken Maynard. 

In 1928, he felt independent enough to start his own movie studio, which did not last. Signing with Columbia Pictures in the early 1930s, Buck began his career in cowboy movies with sound. By the early 1940s, he had 160 cowboy flicks under his fancy belt. By this time, there was the successful “Buck Jones Model” air rifle sold by Daisy. Unlike the Red Ryder model, it was distinguished by having a sundial in the stock.

Buck’s career tragically ended following 1942’s infamous Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston. Legend has it that Buck initially escaped and then went back in to rescue patrons. Historians now say he was merely one of those trapped behind doors that would not open among highly flammable surroundings. Buck and 241 others died.
Listen to the Buck Jones song, and view images, here:

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