Cool guy, Buck the Baker

Water sparkles ABG 2011 blogsized

Google is amazing. Or, really, what’s out there on the web is amazing.

Recently, a friend suggested taking a look at Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides. So, I requested same of the county library. The wheels of transference brought it to my branch, and wah-lah, I paged through it a bit this morning.

A weird fact jumped out at me: James Earl Ray worked in the bakery in prison, in the Missouri State Pen.

Way back in the mists of time, I worked in Burwell NE, in the very interesting Sandhills (called the “the largest and most intricate wetland ecosystem in the United States” in WikiPee), and one of our local friends was Buck the Baker. You see, one of the stories Buck told, and I never had a reason to doubt the truth of his stories…he said he baked for Uncle Sam during WWII, and one of the guys who worked under him was…James Earl Ray.

What, I wondered, happened to Buck the Baker? He had heart problems when we knew him, and he was well into his sixties, so I figured I knew what I’d discover, but the bigger mystery that had to be solved first was: what was Buck’s “real” name? Several years ago when JCB and I were out wandering, we went through Burwell, and I think I identified the storefront that had been his bakery. It is neither a bakery or restaurant now, as it was then.


My very first search attempt turned up this Virtual Nebraska page authored by Emma Bristol (thanks Ms. Bristol!), which reveals that Buck’s name was Orval D. Newbury. And there’s a picture!

How heartwarming to find a picture of Buck at Fort Hartsuff, where he loved to bake and participate in reenactments! (That’s him on the left. Here’s a snow-falling-on-cedars moment when we stopped by there.) Buck once served our whole crew “elk* stew”—he said it in quotation marks and wouldn’t answer questions about it) at a special evening event hosted by the manager (I can’t remember his name), his wife (they also had an octagon house down in Ord—I think this one), and their lovely children. How special!

The fall we were there Buck made me the largest b-day cake I’ve ever had, a giant sheet cake. We even sent pieces home with passersby!

Just to close the circle, Google also reveals that Buck went to the great teepee in the sky in the early 1980’s (records I found differ), not long after our fieldwork ended. And, in concert with his interest in history, Buck also left an interview with the Veterans History Project.

* I’m pretty sure the “elk” went moo.

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