Saturday, June 5, 2021

General Napoleon Bonaparte Buford


General Napoleon Bonaparte Buford.
(The Portrait Monthly. August 1863.)

Napoleon Bonaparte Buford was born at Rose Hill, his family’s plantation in Woodford County, Kentucky, on January 13, 1807. He graduated sixth in his class at West Point in July 1827 and received a commission as second lieutenant of Third United States Artillery.
He was assigned to the Topographical Engineers Corps from 1828-1830 and did the survey for the slack water navigation in Kentucky. He later surveyed the land around Rock Island and the Des Moines River rapids on the Mississippi.

He took a leave of absence from the military in the early 1830s to attend the Harvard University Law School. After graduation, he taught natural and experimental philosophy at West Point.

Like many of his fellow West Point graduates, Buford found advancement in the peacetime army next to impossible, so he resigned from the military in 1835. He worked as a civil engineer in Kentucky, then relocated to Illinois in 1843, where he worked as a banker, manufacturer, and later as president of the Rock Island and Peoria Railroad.[ii]

He built his home, called “Ivy Place,” in Rock Island somewhere around 1849-1850. The inside walls were three feet thick, and it had a three-story circular staircase. The home had thirteen rooms with a fireplace in each room.[iii]

At the start of the civil war, Napoleon operated a bank in Rock Island. He was heavily invested in the southern securities and the financial crisis that ensued swamped his business. Buford signed everything he owned over to his creditors and re-enlisted in the service, serving as a colonel in the 27th Regiment of Illinois Volunteers. Abraham Lincoln appointed him a brigadier general of volunteers in April 1862.

He fought with General Ulysses S. Grant at Belmont Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. He later distinguished himself in the fighting at Vicksburg and Corinth. “His career has not been very showy,” noted the New York Daily Herald, “but it has, nevertheless, been a brilliant one.”[iv]

Napoleon served on the court-martial of General Fitz-John Porter after the Union debacle at the Second Bull Run.

When General Grant learned Lincoln intended to promote Buford to major general in 1865, he vigorously protested his appointment. Napoleon Bonaparte Buford “would scarcely make a respectable hospital nurse if put in petticoats,” exclaimed Grant. “He is unfit for any military position. He has always been a dead weight to carry, becoming more burdensome with his increased rank.”[v]

Beginnings of the Davenport Friendly Society


The Davenport Friendly Society purchased the  Claus Groth Gilde 
hall at 1228 West Third Street  in 1912. (The Daily Times.
April 10, 1912.)
The People’s Union Mission morphed into the Davenport Friendly Society in 1911. Reverend Ned Lee stayed on as the first superintendent of the society until his term ended on July 1, 1911. Then, Harry E. Downer assumed control.

The society grappled for some time over whether they should affiliate with a specific religion or not. Finally, it was decided to “leave religious instruction to the churches” and follow the societies’ mission of “improvement—moral, industrial, and educational.” They dropped “religious” from the mission statement altogether.

The organizational meeting made it clear the society’s work was not about “poor relief.” Its three principal aims were education, sociability, and recreation.[1]

When the Friendly Society took over, the neighborhood around the old mission was changing and becoming more industrialized. As the factories and businesses crowded in, fewer families lived nearby, so it was harder to serve the society’s target market. The Friendly Society purchased the Claus Groth Gilde hall at 1228 West Third Street in April 1912 for $13,000.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Davenport Car Dealer Meets a Gruesome End


John Buck's second wife
Bertha threw a fiery jar
of gasoline at him while
he was getting ready to
eat supper. (The Daily
Times. April 2, 1910)
Davenport, Iowa auto dealer John Buck met a gruesome end. In June 1925, his wife, Bertha, threw “blazing gasoline over him as he was seated over the supper table.”[1]

The coroner’s inquest re-enacted the scene inside the home. The couple was just getting ready to sit down for dinner. Bertha Buck was at the stove finishing up supper. She mentioned some bills and asked if Buck intended to pay them. 

“What bills?”

“You know what bills.”

“Those bills on the sideboard are not addressed to me,” said Buck. “I can’t open your mail."

“She turned to the stove without a word,” Buck told his son Emil. “I heard a roaring sound. A flame leaped by my head. She had thrown burning oil at me. 

“In an instant, my neck was on fire, and I rose to rush from the room. I noticed the screen door was locked, and that was very unusual at our house.” He grabbed a chair and battered the door open, then ran outside.

Arthur W. Parker was sitting in his swing on the second floor of the Parkview Apartments. “We heard a scream,” said Parker. “Then Buck came rushing out the door with his neck aflame” and just stood there, bewildered.

Parker yelled at him to lay down in the grass and roll around. When he got to Buck, Parker tore a piece of cloth from his wife’s apron and extinguished the fire. Buck groaned and whispered, “my wife threw kerosene on me.”

Detective Peter Kuehl questioned Mrs. Buck the next day. There’d been trouble brewing between them for four years. And “it was gasoline, not kerosene. She lit it and threw it at him.”[2]

A jury found Bertha Buck guilty of manslaughter. She was sentenced to a term of not less than eight years in the woman’s reformatory at Rockwell City.[3]

[1] Davenport Democrat and Leader. June 23, 1925.

[2] Davenport Democrat and Leader. June 24, 1925.

[3] Davenport Democrat and Leader. April 3, 1928.

Fred J. Barr Put the Quad-Cities on Two Wheels

Fred J. Barr ran this advertisement
for the Flying Merkel in 1913.
(The Daily Times. February 15, 1913.)
 Fred J. Barr of the Barr Distributing Agency handled the Flying Merkel Motorcycle in Iowa. They cost between $200 to $275 in 1912, and he was financing them on the pay-as-you-go plan.[1] Barr also sold Harley-Davidson, Indian, and Henderson motorcycles. 

  • A 1913 ad priced the following models
  • 1913 Twin Excelsior $240
  • 1913 Twin Indian $240
  • 1913 Twin Flying Merkel $260
  • 1913 Henderson 4 Cylinder $325

Barr sold 500 bicycles in 1912 and 600 bicycles in 1913. Things slowed down some in 1914, and he only sold 250. Some of the brands he carried included the Flying Merkel, Racycle’s, Miami’s, Miami Bull Dog’s, and Comets. In the same three-year period, Barr reported selling 700 motorcycles.[2]

Barr received a shipment of 78 Flying Merkel Motorcycles valued at $16,000 in April 1914 and sold thru the entire lot.[3]


Barr wrote an article describing his business for Motorcycles Illustrated in 1914. He said he started his business with $2,000 and made money from the start. He always put his customers first. In 1912, “we kept our shop open from 7 o’clock in the morning until any old time in the evening.” He made sure to be there whenever it was convenient for his customers.

Finally, Barr made a point that every one of his employees, including himself, owned and rode motorcycles.  He advised dealers to “get in the game not only financially, but personally and with enthusiasm.” His dealership participated in all club runs and knew all the local trails and paths.

Fred Barr showed the Quad-Cities how to have a good time on two wheels.


Barr published this ad to entice buyers to the 1912 Auto Show.
(The Davenport Democrat. February 25, 1912.)

[1] Davenport Democrat and Leader. February 25, 1912.

[2] Davenport Democrat and Leader. September 7, 1914.

[3] Davenport Democrat and Leader. January 4, 1914.