I Dreamt I Was in Heaven: The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang adds some fictional details to a quest led by a half-black, half- Native American killer in his crusade to terrorize Caucasians living in the territory.
Author Leonce Gaiter said he had wanted to write a novel about the Rufus Buck Gang since he first came across a clipping 20 years ago about their crimes.
The writer said it took him this long to truly be old enough to appropriately write about the subject matter with accuracy and grace.
“I’ve called it a story of violence and innocence, butchery and grace, and those are opposites and they all exist and they must all be tied together seamlessly,” Gaiter said.
Most of the characters in the novel are historically accurate and were alive in what is now Oklahoma in the summer of 1895, when the book is set.
Most of the violence in the novel is based on reports of torture inflicted by the gang. I Dreamt I Was in Heaven is not for the squeamish; it contains vivid scenes of brutality.
“I did tone those down, to the greatest degree I thought I could and truly make you feel the terror that they invoked within others in the territory,” Gaiter said.
The book’s title refers to a poem Buck wrote for his mother while serving time in jail, in which he recalls a dream he had where he was in heaven and saw an angel there.
The juxtaposition of good and evil is a prevalent theme throughout the work, which explores how the line between the two is often blurred.
“One of the themes I’ve often gone back to is the potential horror of complete innocence,” Gaiter said.
The 18-year-old Rufus is portrayed as evil, but he believes killing Caucasians is his mission for God.
The young man was convinced the gang’s two-week crime spree would prompt a Native American revolt that would drive out the white intruders.
Instead, the robberies, rapes and killings committed by Buck and his band of four teenagers — all of whom were African-American or Native American, or both — terrorized everyone living in Indian Territory.
In the book, Rufus happens upon a beautiful, young, blonde-haired, blue-eyed white girl who resembles the angel of his dreams.
The girl, Theodosia Swain, is the picture of innocence until she starts to enjoy the fear and terror the gang strikes in people.
The 13-year-old girl grows increasingly adistic, showing that evil can lurk in anyone.
Good and evil shift one last time at the novel’s end, in a deeply disconcerting twist demonstrating that even those who mean well can turn sinister in their pursuit of justice.
“What kind of innocence does it take to tilt at this particular windmill?” Gaiter asked.
“And what kind of viciousness does it take to do this in the way he did it?”