Friday, June 13, 2014

Abe Buford, Kentuckian

Other than horses and basketball, Kentucky is best known for its bourbon whiskey. Whiskey has been distilled in Kentucky longer than Kentucky has been Kentucky. Much like the horse industry, the bourbon industry claims that the land makes all the difference in a great product. Central Kentucky's fertile soil grows great corn and the limestone springs provide a type of water distillers consider perfect for bourbon production.

I, of course, had heard of Abraham Buford when I came across the above advertisement in an 1867 edition of the Lexington Observer and Reporter, but I never realized he dabbled in the distillery business. A quick peek into his life detailed a tragic story.

Abraham Buford was born in Woodford County, Kentucky, in 1820. He was named for a Revolutionary War great uncle, so it only made since he would end up having a military career. After studying at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, Abe attended West Point, graduating in 1841. After participating in the Mexican-American War he stayed in the west for a time before resigning his commission in 1854.

During the Civil War he belatedly joined the Confederacy in the fall of 1862, when the Southerners invaded his native state. He led Confederate cavalry as a brigadier general until the end of the war when he returned to Woodford County and his horse farm, called Bosque Bonita. The Bufords, like so many Kentucky families, were divided by the war. Cousins John and Napoleon Bonaparte Buford made considerable names for themselves in the Union army. 

Buford's career in thoroughbreds pre-dated the Civil War when he was part of a four-party purchase of the famous race horse "Lexington." "Lexington" was later sold exclusively to neighboring horse breeder Richard A. Alexander at Woodburn Farm. The horse brought the highest price ever up to that time, $15,000. 

The 1870s proved to be devastating to Buford. That decade witnessed the loss Bosque Bonita Farm to creditors, the death of his son, Willliam, and the death of his wife, Amanda. Buford's brother, Thomas, a Kentucky judge, killed another judge in 1879, and was committed to an insane asylum. When Thomas escaped from confinement and made his way to Indiana, where he was exempt from extradition, Abraham when to visit Thomas's son Benjamin in Danville, Indiana, for consolation. While there, on June 9, 1884, a depressed Abe Buford took his own life. His body was returned to Kentucky and interred in the Lexington Cemetery.      

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