Heroes Among Us Series

The “Heroes Among Us” story series will be released twice monthly, featuring local heroes and organizations that exemplify the Totally Texas, All American spirit that is the fabric of the Gainesville Community. Stories are contributed by the City of Gainesville, Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, Gainesville Economic Development Corporation, Gainesville Independent School District, and North Central Texas College. Keep an eye out for the stories and see who we celebrate next!

Release is coordinated by the City of Gainesville. 

Heroes Among Us

frank buck

Frank Buck(San Diego Yesterday Photo)

Photo courtesy of the San Diego Yesterday website (www.sandiegoyesterday.com).  "Frank Buck, from his autobiography, All in a Lifetime."

Frank “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” Buck has been referred to as Gainesville’s “native son.”  He was born March 17, 1884 in a wagon yard owned by his father.  The wagon yard was located at 825 East California St., where the First State Bank Conference Center stands today.  Frank’s family later moved to Dallas, where he grew up catching native critters by hand along the banks of the Trinity River.  Frank was not keen on most school subjects, but he did love geography.

In 1911, Frank funded his first trip to South America to collect birds with $2,500 he won playing poker. For the next 25 plus years Buck traveled to Africa, Australia, and South America but focused on Malaysia, Borneo, and other parts of Southeast Asia.  There he established a base camp where he employed and learned from native peoples, refining capture techniques without the use of chemical restraint.  Frank Buck always travelled by ship with the animals to ensure they were cared for during transport.  He refused to sell them to anyone that did not have an impeccable reputation.

At a time in history when most Americans exposure to exotic animals from far off lands was through literature, such as Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book”, and trophies from big game hunts, Frank Buck earned the moniker “Bring ‘Em Back Alive.”  He was responsible for providing animals to the Bronx Zoo, Chicago Zoo, St. Louis Zoo, Dallas Zoo, Philadelphia Zoo, San Diego Zoo, and many more, including a number of European zoos.  In doing so, he was responsible for bringing many Americans and Europeans face to face with exotic wildlife for the first time – an important early step to conservation of many species that are today critically endangered.  

Today’s zoos are responsible for preserving the genetics of endangered species at a time when drought, famine, poaching and civil unrest threaten their continued existence in the wild.  Zoos are working hard to reestablish wild populations in areas that are deemed stable.

Frank returned to his birthplace in Gainesville on a few occasions. In 1936, he came to Gainesville to tour the town and visit the schools.  Between 1942-1946, he visited and delivered a lecture to soldiers stationed at Camp Howze here in Gainesville.  In 1948, he returned to Gainesville as an Honorary Ringmaster of the Gainesville Community Circus.  It was during this visit in 1948 that he last visited his birthplace and was pictured with his good friend Joe M. Leonard, Sr.  That photo is on display today in the Frank Buck Zoo gift shop along with a number of artifacts, memorabilia and other photos donated by his daughter Barbara and other contributors.  The Frank Buck Zoo was renamed in his honor in 1970 by the Zoological Society. 

Stop by the Frank Buck Zoo to view the Frank Buck exhibit in the gift shop, then take time to tour the zoo, featuring diverse animal exhibits showcasing more than 150 animals from four continents.  The zoo will be celebrating Frank Buck’s birthday on March 12, 2019, with a discounted admission of $2 per person. 

Story contributed by Susan Kleven.  Susan has been the Director of Zoological Operations at the Frank Buck Zoo since September of 2004. She is an Alumni of the University of North Texas and received certification in Exotic Animal Training & Management from America’s Teaching Zoo at Moorpark College in Moorpark, CA.

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