Our Times

Brian Spangle

In 1910, a young man named Roscoe Buley graduated from Vincennes High School. His photo in the class yearbook shows him looking serious, dressed in a tie and jacket, with the high, stiff, uncomfortable-looking collar that was typical of the day.

Buley would go on to have an illustrious career as a historian, under the name R. Carlyle Buley, and in 1951 achieved the pinnacle of success in his profession, winning the Pulitzer Prize for History for his two-volume work “The Old Northwest Pioneer Period, 1815-1840.”

Virtually every library in the Midwest, including our own Knox County Public Library, still has this important book as part of their holdings.

Roscoe Carlyle Buley was a native Hoosier, born in Georgetown, in Floyd County on July 8, 1893 to David and Nora Keithley Buley.

The Buley family lived in Vincennes for just a dozen years. They moved here in about 1902 and left the city in 1914. Buley’s father was a physician, with an office at 1126 N. Second St. He would also serve for a time as Knox County Coroner. Roscoe Buley’s uncle, Andrew, was Superintendent of the Knox County Poor Asylum.

The younger Buley was industrious even at an early age, earning money by getting up at 3 a.m. to deliver the Vincennes Sun.

Following Buley’s graduation, he attended Indiana University, where, in 1914, he got his bachelor's degree in history. He was then a teacher at Delphi High School, got his master’s degree in history from IU in 1916, and was in charge of the Muncie High School History Department from 1916-18. During the First World War, he served in the U. S. Army Signal Corps.

Back home, he married Esther Giles at Delphi on June 21, 1919, then held the job of assistant principal at the high school in Springfield, Illinois, where he also taught history. He went on to get his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin. In 1921, while working on his doctorate, he suffered a tragedy when his wife drowned in a Wisconsin lake.

He obtained his degree in 1925, joined the IU faculty, and married his second wife, Evelyn Barnett, in 1926. Named a full professor in 1944, he developed a reputation as one of the most popular teachers on campus.

In 1945, he coauthored the book “The Midwest Pioneer: His Ills, Cures, & Doctors.”

Buley remained at IU until his retirement in 1964, then held the title of professor emeritus until his death.

Buley spent over 20 years researching and writing his Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece. He began the work with his then colleague, noted Indiana historian Logan Esarey. Esarey had been principal at Vincennes High School when Buley attended and taught history and economics there.

Upon Esarey’s death in 1942, Buley continued the research on his own, relying heavily on pioneer newspapers as source material.

He would receive many other honors and awards over the course of his career.

Buley came to Vincennes on Feb. 18, 1953 to speak before the Fortnightly Club. He was introduced by local historian and then president of the Indiana Historical Society, Florence Watts. Buley’s address was titled, “Our Midwest Heritage and the American Way of Life.” In his remarks, he credited the time he lived in Vincennes as contributing to his interest in history.

R. Carlyle Buley’s productive life came to an end on April 25, 1968. Suffering from cancer, he died at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis at the age of 74. His remains were cremated and interred in Beech Grove Cemetery in Muncie. Evelyn died in 1989.

In 2007, Buley was posthumously named a distinguished alumnus by the Lincoln High School Academic Society.

Brian Spangle can be reached at brianrspangle60@outlook.com.

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