John Henry Buckner
Childhood and Family
In the late 1800's, his mother’s father, Calvin Hamilton, and Primus Keene purchased twenty-three acres of land. They sold small plots to freedmen and freedwomen, leading to the creation of the community Briar Hill which later became New Zion.3 Descendants of Buckner’s family still live there.
In September of 1892, Buckner married Mary Burley.4 Their son, William Henry Buckner, also worked as a groom.5 In the spring of 1922, Buckner married once again.6 Seven years later, his wife, Lillian Palmer, passed away.7
Career as the Groom of Famous Horses
Although decades of census data show Buckner employed in various equine occupations, he worked as a groom for much of his life.8 The typical job of a groom is to take care of the horses. Buckner’s career started when he was very young. He attended the first Kentucky Derby race in 1875 as a young boy. During the race, he was busy helping with Bill Bruce, a Thoroughbred owned by Samuel J. Salyers.9 Salyer’s house, built in 1866, still stands on the Kentucky Horse Park grounds.10
Buckner next worked at Colonel Milton Young’s McGrathiana Farm in Lexington.11 Young‘s prize horse, Favor, permanently crippled Buckner’s hand when he was holding the horse's jaw to be bridled. Buckner was known to be able to rattle off the names of all of the horses that he knew, but he never mentioned Favor.12
Buckner began caring for Domino and other famous horses at James R. Keene’s Castleton farm in Lexington.13 Foxhall Daingerfield was the farm manager. His daughter, Elizabeth, trained under him. After her father’s death and Keene’s death in 1913, Elizabeth took over the management of the farm.14 She retained Buckner as stud groom.
Buckner was responsible for Man o’ War from 1921 to 1930 at both Hinata and Faraway Farm.15 Within the first year, many visitors flocked to see Man o’ War. A guest book log was started by John Buckner, based on an inscription he made in an early volume.16 During Buckner’s tenure, Man o’ War sired sixty-two multi-stakes winners in flat racing and in steeplechase.17 When Daingerfield resigned as Faraway Farm manager, Buckner stayed for a while to transition the Thoroughbred’s care to his second groom, Will Harbut.18
According to the 1947 issue of the Lexington Leader, Buckner also worked for Colonel Phil T. Chinn.19
Legacy and death
Buckner’s legacy is that he is an African American that played a major role in the horse industry. He contributed his expertise to the breeding of some of the best horses in the world, such as Domino, Man o’ War, Ben Brush, Kingston, and Disguise.20 Many were stakes winners and several Hall of Fame horses, including Peter Pan and Masquette.21
In an August 30,1941 letter to the editor of the Thoroughbred Record, Elizabeth Daingerfield clearly stated that during her time as a manager of Man o’ War’s stud career, John Buckner was probably the best known and certainly the most satisfactory stud groom in Kentucky.22
John Henry Buckner died in January of 1947. In an article about his death, the Lexington Leader states that he was the first groom of Man o’ War when he first retired to stud.23
Patrick, Andrew “New Zion,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed March 31, 2021, https://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/816.
Baker, Deborah Fay.
Niles, Rena. The Courier Journal, Saturday, May 6, 1939. “Daingerfield Groom is Tradition’s Heir.”
Thoroughbred Record. A Weekly Journal.
“Man o' War with John Buckner,” The Keeneland Library, accessed April 30, 2021, https://keenelandlibrary.omeka.net/items/show/412.
Ours, Dorothy. Man o’ War: A Legend Like Lightning.
Lexington Leader. “Colored Notes.” January 8, 1947
Lexington Herald. Anniversary Edition, 1926. “Miss Elizabeth Daingerfield, Manager of Three Thoroughbred Farms, Is Southern Gentlewoman Who Loves, Knows Horses” April 15, 1926
Marriage Record Fayette County B#8, 282 September 29, 1892. John Henry Buckner and Mary Burley.
Marriage Record Fayette County B#19, 117, May 2, 1922. John Henry Buckner and Lillian Palmer.
The Blood Horse, “Man o War’s Stud Record: Excellence and If” November 15, 1947 p9 -11
Lillian Palmer Buckner, U.S., Death Records, 1852-1965, 15 Jan 1929 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.
Talbott, Tim, “Coldstream Farm,” ExploreKYHistory, accessed May 18, 2021, https://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/319.
Zebedee Boulder, U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942, U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Fred Douglas Smith, 1920 United States Federal Census, 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.
Fred Douglas Smith, U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.
William H. Buckner, U.S., Death Records, 1852-1965 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.
John Henry Buckner, U.S., Death Records, 1852-1965 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2007.
John Henry Buckner. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc.,
When citing this article in Chicago Manual of Style use this format: Last name, first name of Author. Chronicle of African Americans in the Horse Industry. n.d. “Title of Profile of Story.” International Museum of the Horse. Accessed date. URL of page cited.
- 1Niles; “U.S. Social Security Index and Claims Index, 1936 – 2007” (John Henry Buckner)
- 21920 United States Federal Census (Fred Smith)
- 4Marriage Record (September 29, 1892)
- 5U.S., Death Records, 1852-1965 (William Henry Buckner)
- 6Marriage Record (May 2, 1922)
- 7U.S., Death Records, 1852-1965 (Lillian Palmer Buckner)
- 8U.S., Death Records, 1852-1965 (John Henry Buckner)
- 9Niles (Courier Journal)
- 11Talbott (Coldstream Farm)
- 12Niles (Courier Journal)
- 13Niles (Courier Journal)
- 14Lexington Herald Anniversary Edition
- 15“Man o' War with John Buckner,” (Keeneland)
- 17The Blood Horse
- 19Lexington Leader, “Colored Notes”
- 20Niles (Courier Journal)
- 21Lexington Herald. Anniversary Edition
- 22Thoroughbred Record
- 23Lexington Leader. “Colored Notes.”