Plains Folk

Sage of Buxton


Budd Reeve ran a spectacular campaign for Congress in 1894, but he didn’t get many votes. Although a Democrat, he ran as an Independent, after the Democrats and the Populists got themselves into a bind over whether to fuse their parties to try to beat the Republicans. Reeve polled only 3 percent of the vote.

People loved his campaign rallies, though. He traveled the campaign trail in a log cabin on wheels. He would gather an audience by ringing a cowbell, and then, flanked by a live American eagle on a perch, he would assail the moneyed interests and extol the virtues of silver coinage.

Which was sort of ironic, because Reeve himself was closely allied with the moneyed interests–namely James J. Hill and his Great Northern Railroad–and had founded the town of Buxton by using what we today would call insider knowledge. Reeve, a lawyer and businessman, had become acquainted with Hill in St. Paul and had been sent by Hill to Dakota Territory to look into land titles along the prospective route of Hill’s railroad, then known as the Manitoba, down the Red River Valley.

Using his insider knowledge, then, Reeve returned to Dakota in 1880 to found his town in S 25 T 148 R 51, in Traill County. He named the town for Thomas J. Buxton, a banker in Minneapolis, who also served as president of the townsite company.

Financed by Buxton, Reeve built a grain elevator, and another one in Reynolds, then connected the two of them by telephone. Reeve next built himself a fine two-story house, then a second house for servants, and prospered with the town of Buxton. Evidencing a passion for landscaping, Reeve made elaborate plantings on his property and promoted tree-planting throughout the community.

Reeve was involved in other philanthropic works. In 1895, when the governor vetoed funding for the University of North Dakota, Reeve raised private funds from his friends in the Twin Cities to help keep the university going. A few years later, when he learned that North Dakota troops shipped stateside from the war in the Philippines were stranded in San Francisco, he raised funds to bring the boys home.

Meanwhile, the town founder also became known as “the Sage of Buxton” on account of his prolific writings. It is uncertain whether the title was an expression of admiration or of irony, because in his books Reeve sounds partly like a sage and partly like a crackpot. His best-known book was entitled, The Real Thing. Others were entitled The Hand of God as Revealed by the Light of the Numbers to Bud Reeve, a Servant of the Unseen, and Jerome, or, J. J. Hill as Bible Character; Written under Impressions Received from the Works of Moses. It would be less than charitable to go into all the ideas expressed in Reeve’s self-published books, but in the last named, he held up James J. Hill as a paragon of virtue and announced the formation of a society of “home builders,” of which he would keep the roster, with membership open only to those exhibiting “a strict following of the laws of Moses.”

Reeve died in Buxton in 1933. Sage or crackpot, he was the town father of Buxton, and so in 1968, citizens there formed the Budd Reeve Memorial Association and collected funds for a Budd Reeve monument. Most of what I know about Reeve comes from my senior seminar student, Adam Pool, who researched the history of the Reeve monument. It stands above the graves of Budd and Harriet Reeve in the town cemetery, the entrance to which is flanked by four pillars placed by Budd Reeve himself. Engraved into the stone is an image of Budd Reeve and his dog.

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