From Journalist to Criminal: The Story of Herbert George Buss

Herbert George Buss’s mugshot, Montana, Prison Records, 1861-1968

When researching those who have corresponded with Jane Addams, you  come across a variety of unique individuals. As a research assistant who has been researching and writing biographies for a number of semesters, I’ve seen my fair share of interesting people — and I thought I’d share some of their stories with you!

Among all the people I’ve researched so far, one of my favorites is Herbert George Buss, a journalist who was sent to prison for extortion in 1919. Before being charged with extortion, Buss was a humble cattle rancher who quickly climbed the ladder of the journalism industry. During the Wilson Administration, Buss worked as a congressional reporter. Soon after he became a publicist for the United States Daily. By 1912 he was writing for The Menace, a weekly anti-Catholic newspaper published in Aurora, MO. Buss’s article, “The Torture Tunnel – The Underground Way – From God’s Altar to Hell’s Sweatshops,” a screed against forced labor at a Catholic sweatshop in Cincinnati, was sent to Jane Addams by William Ketchum, who implored Addams to take action.

By 1919, Buss was making the news, not just writing it due to his involvement in “a story of alleged lust, temptation, love, jealousy, hatred, poverty, attempted seduction and threatened murder,” according to the Montana Standard.

Buss had married Virginia Randolph in 1903, and they lived a happy life for a while with their two children. But in 1915/6 (the newspapers offer differing years), Virginia claimed that a local merchant, John E. Reid, began making advances towards her. He sent her presents and letters, professing his love for her and asking her to leave her husband, even offering her $

Buss’s article, “The Torture Tunnel – The Underground Way – From God’s Altar to Hell’s Sweatshops” in The Menace

10,000 and “the best little ranch in the valley” to do so. Virginia claimed her mother destroyed most of these letters, and only one survived. Virginia asked Reid why he was pursuing her when he himself was married, and he confessed that he had affairs with multiple women in the town. In June of that year, Virginia visited Reid’s store to look at some china. Reid took Virginia to the basement, where he grabbed her and kissed her until she almost called for help. Virginia never told Buss about the incident or the letters – until later when they were fighting over Buss’s drinking.

Once Buss found out about the incident, he met with Reid and threatened to bring the matter to court and sue. Reid offered Buss $10,000 to keep things quiet, which he accepted. But it did not stop there. Reid and his wife claimed that Buss threatened to accuse Reid of sexual assault and even threatened Reid’s life, claiming “there’ll be a new grave in Melrose by Christmas.” By April 1919, the issue was brought to court. Buss was accused of extortion and threats on Reid’s life. The trial was widely covered in the press, and in a twist of irony, the once successful journalist became the subject of one of the biggest stories in the state.

Headline from the Montana Standard, April 11, 1919.

By the time of the trial, Buss and his wife had divorced, and Virginia was married to another Melrose rancher named Roy Bird. Buss was found guilty of extortion, and sentenced to serve six to twelve months in prison. After his release, Buss married again, to Ida M. Carbone. After that, we cannot figure out what happened to Buss. His death date is unknown, and in 1952 his son put a notice in the Chicago Tribune asking for information on his whereabouts. That was the last time Buss’s name appeared in a newspaper.

Though Buss’s name only appeared once in the JAPP collection, by digging a little deeper one can find a huge story. As a journalist, Buss surely would have agreed! And this is just one interesting story I’ve found during my research; keep an eye out for the next unique tale from the JAPP!

Sara Catherine is writing a series of blog posts about interesting characters that she comes across while working as a co-operative education student for the Project this semester. Her work involves identifying and describing the over 5,000 unique individuals mentioned in Addams’ correspondence.


“Buss Takes Club Men Down Trail Ranch to Capitol,” Courier (Waterloo, Ia.) October 1, 1929, p. 4.

Herbert George Buss, U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942.

H . George Buss, Montana, County Marriages, 1865-1950.

Virginia A. Buss, Montana, County Marriages, 1865-1950.

“Melrose Case to End Today,” The Montana Standard, April 11, 1919, p. 6.

“His Former Wife Tells Her Story,” The Anaconda Standard, April 11, 1919, p. 3.

“Find Buss Guilty Extortion Charge,” The Anaconda Standard, April 12, 1919, p. 3.

Jennie A Randolph, Missouri Marriage Records, 1805-2002.

Herbert George Buss, Montana, Prison Records, 1861-1968.

“Personal,” Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1952, p. 17.

A Storyteller for the Past

When I first heard the Jane Addams Papers Project had come to Ramapo, I was beginning my sophomore year. I had just been thinking about research opportunities for history majors, so it seemed almost like fate when I saw posters around campus advertising for the JAPP interest meeting. Next thing I knew, I was part of the JAPP team as a research assistant and still am part of it as I begin my senior year.

Sara Catherine Lichon is a senior history major and international studies minor, working at the JAPP as a research assistant.

I’ve always had a passion for research and the past, so I knew when I enrolled at Ramapo that I wanted to be a history major. As I advanced in my academic career, I added a minor in international studies, developing an interest in how the past has led to current events. For both my history and international studies classes, I’ve researched international current events and the history behind them, and as a member of Ramapo’s Honors Program, I’ve attended numerous regional and national conferences to present my research. This past June, I published a paper titled “Identity Crisis: How the Outcome of the Cold War affects our Understanding of the Crisis in Ukraine” in the undergraduate research journal The Augsburg Honors Review. Currently, I am working on my Honors senior thesis, focusing on Scotland’s reaction to Brexit and how the historic relationship between Scotland and the United Kingdom contributed to this reaction. To gain a better understanding of Scotland’s culture and history, I studied abroad in Edinburgh over the summer, taking a Scottish History course and exploring the country from the cities in the Lowlands to the small towns in the Highlands. I even climbed Ben Vrackie, a mountain 2,759 feet above sea level, and visited Loch Ness during my travels!

Mary Miles Minter, an actress who was a suspect in the unsolved murder of her lover in 1922.

As a lover of research, when I heard about the JAPP, I was immediately drawn to it. I began at the project by transcribing documents but soon realized that I preferred to research the people who made appearances in Jane Addams’s life – and I’ve been researching them ever since! I love uncovering the stories of their lives, and I especially love the challenge of digging for information on people who weren’t well-known. It’s very exciting when I can find information, and I feel like a detective! Sometimes I come across people with fascinating lives; recently I just wrote the bio for actress Mary Miles Minter, who was a suspect in the unsolved murder of her lover in 1922. I have even found myself writing the bios of people I’ve come across before, such as Victor Moore, an actor who starred in one of my favorite movies, It Happened on 5th Avenue. The stories of those who came before us are something that I can never get enough of, and at the JAPP I’m able to gather and share the stories of so many people, writing them into a narrative that will be accessible for years to come.

Outside of history and international studies, I have a passion for music, theater, and the arts. I sing, play ukulele, and am a member and business manager of Orchidstra, a barbershop quartet. I am also a Global Roadrunner, a member of Ramapo’s French Club, and in Phi Alpha Theta (history honors society), Sigma Iota Rho (international studies honors society), and Alpha Lambda Delta (first-year honors society). In addition, I enjoy photography, hiking, and spending time in the great outdoors.  I spent two summers interning at the Washington Township (Morris County) Municipal Building, and after graduation, I plan to pursue a career in government.  But while still at Ramapo, I continue to research and write the stories of various historic people, and I am loving my role on the JAPP team.

New Year’s and the Old Settlers’ Party

When I think of the holidays, I think of family and friends gathering around the fire and sharing stories and laughter with one another. Christmas time is a time for reminiscing, rejoicing, and rekindling relationships, something that Jane Addams knew very well: for her first New Year’s at Hull-House, Addams threw an “Old Settlers’ Party,” which soon became a beloved Hull-House holiday tradition. At this party, former Hull-House and neighborhood residents would return to Hull-House on New Years’ Day to share their stories, connect with old friends, and inspire current residents to create ambitious goals.

“Winter at Hull-House,” a watercolor painting by Chicago artist Jack Simmerling. One can imagine that this was what Hull-House looked like during the holidays.

“Winter at Hull-House,” a watercolor painting by Chicago artist Jack Simmerling. One can imagine that this was what Hull-House looked like during the holidays.

Many of the “old settlers,” as they were called, had climbed very high on the social ladder compared to where they started, and part of the goal of the Old Settlers’ Party was for current neighborhood residents to hear the old settlers’ stories of advancement and desire to follow in their footsteps. Many impressive old settlers attended these parties; for example, in 1902, the tenth Old Settlers’ Party had a long list of successful guests. One such guest was E. O. Gale, who had just published his book Reminiscences of Early Chicago and shared his experience of arriving in Chicago in 1835; another was Fernando Jones, who told stories of his schooldays where he was constantly reprimanded by his schoolmaster, who later became President of the United States; and yet another was “ex-chief Swenie,” who served as Chicago’s Fire Department Chief for fifty-one years, and who gave a well-received speech.

catastropheAccording to Jane Addams in Twenty Years at Hull-House, the first old settlers to attend the first few Old Settlers’ Parties did not favor “foreigners,” blaming immigrants “for a depreciation of property and a general lowering of the tone of the neighborhood.” However, these views would slowly disappear as the night of celebration went on; Addams recalled one guest realizing that the immigrants were “buffeting the waves of a new development,” and that old settlers had also once felt this way, they themselves having been new settlers once. This New Year’s celebration at Hull-House was a way of bringing people together and bridging differences, and celebrating the old and the new, all while saying goodbye to the old year and welcoming the new one. The Old Settlers’ Party, much like any New Year’s party, would always end with everyone singing “Auld Lang Syne.”

One of my favorite things about the holiday season is how it brings everyone together in a spirit of celebration, and the Old Settlers’ Party was no exception to this. Jane Addams and Hull-House were truly able to celebrate the old and the new through this annual party, which, in my opinion, is the perfect way to welcome the New Year. From the Jane Addams Papers Project, we wish you a happy and healthy New Year!


For more details on the Old Settlers’ Party, see “First Days At Hull-House,” Chapter 5 in Twenty Years at Hull-House with Autobiographical Notes (New York: MacMillan, 1910): pp. 89-112; “Old Settlers’ Party,” Hull-House Bulletin, volume 5, no. 2, 1902, p. 15; Social Welfare Pioneers, 1986, p. 12.