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Columns | "A Balloon In Cactus"

Strap Buckner:
The Tallest of Tall Texas Tales

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
On library shelves, hidden among stories about Texas Legends of whom there are countless numbers, the least written about yet the biggest is that of Aylett C. "Strap" Buckner. When I say "biggest," I'm not talking about the most famous like Jim Bowie, Sam Houston or Davy Crockett. I'm talking about sheer size.

Strap Buckner, a not-so-gentle giant, stood six-and-a-half feet tall. Reports vary as to his weight, but if you add them up and divide by the number of reports, he weighed no fewer than 250 pounds.

Although Sam Houston's 67-foot statue in Huntsville is even taller than Strap Buckner, Bowie, Houston, and Crockett would've had to look up to come face to face with old Strap.

I know this for a fact because I was rummaging in the attic during a recent rainstorm and came across my great, great, great granddaddy's dusty, ragged journal. He was one of the only friends Strap Buckner had, or so he claims. In a spidery, slanty, scrunchy hand, he took pains to write down everything he knew and witnessed having to do with Strap. He called this entry, "What I Know About My Friend, Strap Buckner." I don't think he'd mind if I let you read it:
It wasn't easy to like Strap Buckner, even though he was a nice fella, a big fella with a whole lotta reddish color hair and a red beard to match. The reason it wasn't easy to like him, the same reason he got the name "Strap" was because when he met a man, he'd give him a teeth-rattling slap on the back so durn hard, he'd knock him clear across the room. A fella'd get bruised up or knocked down just by bein' in the same room. Didn't even require no introduction. Jus' had to be standin' there. He only done it to me one time but that was because, he tol' me later, he didn' want me to feel left out. Took me two days to get over it and that's how I met Lilly the nurse who I later married up with, but that's another story.

Old Strap was playful and he didn't mean no harm. Looked to me like he didn' know his own strength, but he mighta been foolin' me into thinkin' that way and just liked knockin' men down.

One thing about Strap though, when he went huntin', he didn't take no other weapon than his bare fists. Them wild cats and big bears durn near got theyselfs extinct after meetin' up with old Strap.

Folks tell the story about a huge black bull called Triste Noche that was terrorizin' settlers. What Strap done was get a red blanket and go after that bull like he was in a Mexican arena. Or so they say. I ain't seen that myself. Knocked that bull right down on his arse with one punch. He didn' use his pestle neither, just his fist. But like I said, I ain't seen it myself.

Not long after the bull story got around, old Strap, he changed it to a story about fightin' the devil 'counta them cloven hooves. I didn't see that neither and to my mind, Strap started his own legend because he prolly run outta men to knock down and didn't have much else to do.

His real name was Aylett C. Buckner, and he was real big and ornery. He come to Fayette County after Virginia. They called him a soldier of fortune, a dueler, a rebel, and a real Texas folk hero. I suspect old Strap started the hero story himself.

His people come to Virginia from England in 1794, and Strap come to Texas in 1812 when he was 18 years of age with the Gutierrez-Magee expedition. He come back to Texas in 1816 with Francis Xavier Mina, a Spanish revolutionist because Mexico didn't like bein' under no Spanish rule. Can't hardly blame 'em.

Again in 1819, Strap come back to Texas with a Dr. James Long of Mississippi, who tried two times to claim Texas for the U.S. No man, not even me, knows for sure where Strap was when he warnt in Texas, but folks say it might'a been Natchez. He never mentioned nuthin' to me about his whereabouts when he warnt in Texas.

Between 1821 and 1822, here he come agin, this time with Peter Powell and Oliver Buckner, to settle on the west bank of the Colorado River in Fayette County. Maybe one day they'll call it Buckner's Creek and hang a sign there for Strap, but prolly not in my lifetime.

He become one of Stephen F. Austin's "Old Three Hundred settlers" and he done it the hard way. Aside from givin' Mr. Austin a black eye which was prolly a accident when he clapped him on the back in friendship and knocked him into a wall, he took title to 4428 acres of grazin' land and 354.acres of cropland in Matagorda County by squattin' on some land Mr. Austin got from his daddy in a land grant from the government of New Spain. Strap started squattin' before Mr. Austin got there hisself to claim it all legal like, and Strap thought it should be his'n as he was there first.

Strap and Mr. Austin, a pretty durned big fella hisself, had violent battles because Mr. Austin, that's what we always called him, "Mr. Austin," wouldn't give Strap the same land he'd been squattin' on. I sure gotta respect Mr. Austin for takin' on old Strap, his bein' bigger 'n' all. Maybe that's why Mr. Austin set the sheriff on Strap but Strap just knocked him down like ev'body else.

If you wanna be truthful, Strap was prolly either number 299 or 301 of the"Old 300 Settlers." He seen that land as his'n and fought for his rights. Always admired that about old Strap.

Even though Karankawa injuns nicknamed him "Red Son of Blue Thunder" and offered marriage to their Princess Tulipita, Strap never did marry no one and he didn' have no children. He did have four servants and a slave though, so he treated hisself real well. I never seen him knock down nobody in his household so he musta been pretty nice as a boss.

Around when Strap was 29, him and Mr. Austin ended up friends after all. Can't hardly stay mad at a man who can read 'n' write like Strap could. I know he could read 'n' write because I can too, and I seen a letter he wrote back when he was fightin' with Mr. Austin. Them was some pretty big words he used too.

It was when old Strap threatened to take his claim over Mr. Austin's head to the all-powerful Mexican government in San Antonio. He sat down at that desk made outta a big log sawed flat on top, and wrote a letter to the "Father of Texas" which tol' his argument.

"I was one of the first men to build a cabin, the first man who had a plow stuck in the field. I have kept a house ever since I have been settled in your colony. I have never asked the first cent for a man eating under my roof and have fed as many and I believe more people than any man in this colony, yourself not excepted, and have not received the first cent. I have lost as much and I believe more property by Indian depredations than any man on this river or perhaps in the colony with very few exceptions."

When his letter did not get the results he wanted, Strap got real mad and defied Mr. Austin's authority right to his face, and ever'body else's face too. He made hisself such a nuisance that Mr. Austin ordered him to answer charges of "orderly and seditious conduct against the authorities of the Government." Nothin' ever happened with this and like I said, Mr. Austin and Strap finally become friends after all.

To prove his friendship, Mr. Austin ended up givin' Strap command of an attack on some injuns at Live Oak Bayou in 1831. Last time I seen him was in 1832, when he rode off leadin' a company of volunteers from Fayette and Matagorda to the Battle of Velasco. There, in the month o' June, he was kilt with six other Texans in this, the first battle of the Texas Revolution.

Yessir, he was kilt deader'n a doornail. I always thought it musta been a cannonball landed plumb on his big red head and knocked Strap down for the count. No man coulda done him in without he had a cannon.
I can only hope great, great, great granddaddy's wish came true since he wrote about his friend, and Strap Buckner got a plaque in Fayette County. And I hope the dedication says "Strap Buckner: He lived hard, fought for the rights of Texas, and knocked men down with a friendly clap on the back. Dead in battle at the age of 38."

© Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
August 16, 2006 column

Giant Statue of Sam Houston:
7600 Hwy 75 South, Huntsville, TX
South of Huntsville on I-45, but there's no place to stop. Take exit 109. Take Hwy 40 east to Hwy 75, then north to the statue. Hours: M-Sa 10-5, Su 11 am -5 pm. Phone: 936-291-9726

Aylett C. "Strap" Buckner, by Annette Ruckert: http://www.rootsweb.com/~txfayett/footprints1.htm#Buckner
Nathaniel Alston Taylor's 1877 travelogue, The Coming Empire; Or, Two Thousand Miles in Texas on Horseback
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). Allen G. Hatley [Aylett "Strap" Buckner] He Should Not Be Forgotten

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