Buck Nelson, of the Mountain View, Mo., area, became famous in the 1950s after he shared an account of being taken to Mars, Venus and the Moon. (Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell)

This story is published in partnership with Ozarks Alive, a cultural preservation project led by Kaitlyn McConnell.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, MO. – It was perhaps a typically hot, humid July afternoon in 1954 when the radio at Buck Nelson’s remote Ozarks farm went “crazy wild.” The farmer walked outside to see what was going on — his animals were also raising a ruckus — which ultimately led him into a life that was out of this world.

Those memories and more are forever preserved in a small booklet entitled “My Trip to Mars, the Moon and Venus.” Copies brought both attention and people to Buck’s farm for space conventions, and perhaps an FBI investigation into his experiences. Among other adventures, he shared about a giant space dog named Bo that weighed nigh on 400 pounds, and meeting a distant cousin named Bucky (who no other Earthling was allowed to meet, since he didn’t like publicity).

“I think the big takeaway is that he made a remote spot in rural Missouri part of the counterculture world for a time,” says Dr. Thomas Michael Kersen, author of “Where Misfits Fit: Counterculture and Influence in the Ozarks.”

“I’m not sure how much Buck Nelson actually believed, but he was extremely entrepreneurial and creative.”

It’s been more than 50 years since Buck’s last space convention. Yet while the stories may have faded, they have yet to disappear.

There are still folks in the Mountain View area who knew of Buck and attended his conventions. While some have long wondered at his story, others recently learned of it.

For example, there’s The Neighborhood Tribe, a shop for local goods in downtown Mountain View. Its owner recently opened an espresso bar and dubbed it Cosmic Coffee after hearing Buck’s story.

The trip to Mars, Venus and the Moon  

Buck wasn’t a native Ozarker, but the lifelong bachelor made Missouri acreage his home roundabouts World War II.

He was born in Colorado in 1895, got six grades of education, and went through a variety of careers: His list of occupations included ranch hand, railroad worker, logger, sawmiller, horse trainer, and with a special police force of unclear focus or mission.

At one point, he tried to start a boys’ home on his acreage but “stopped that venture after postal authorities investigated his fund-raising activities,” a Sunday News and Leader article noted in 1956.

His income was small, and his isolation great. By the time he arrived in the Ozarks, he lived primarily on around $50 a month, given by the government, and in a few-room shanty. He was miles from his nearest neighbor and rode Trixie the Pony into Mountain View on Saturdays for supplies.

“I have a rural route mailbox right at my door, but have no ‘special delivery,’ as I am too far from town,” he once wrote, noting nor did he have a phone. “Also, do not send telegram.”

It was on that remote and rocky Ozarks soil, in July 1954, where flying saucers were said to appear. They liked the isolation of Buck’s land, he later explained.

“As I went out the kitchen door, right overhead was a huge big disc-like object,” he wrote in the booklet about his encounter with the beyond. “High in the heavens were two more. I went back in to get my camera and photographed them three times. I waved a flashlite at these ‘things’ as a signal for them to come down and land. Instead of them coming down, they shot some kind of ray at me. It was much brighter and hotter than the sun.” 

The ray, he later said, brought him a cure: No more did his back hurt, nor did he need glasses. Which, to be clear, he had worn for years.

Six months later, the visitors were back; this time, they spoke, and asked if Buck was friendly or not. 

“It was some kind of public address system, I think,” he wrote. “They said they would like to land in back of my pasture, where there is a spring. They wanted to know if I would allow them to land unmolested, many times if necessary. They did not land this time, and talked only a few minutes. Then they bid me good-bye and said, ‘We’ll see you again.’”

That promise was kept the next month, when three “men” and a huge dog came to Buck’s house. One of the most notable was Bucky, a 19-year-old who originally hailed from Colorado. He later moved to Venus to be a translator and ambassador — but most surprisingly of all, was said to be Buck’s distant cousin.

It was during this trip that the visitors gave him the chance to visit other planets if he’d like — “if I would tell about it to the world,” he said.

And, after another encounter later that month, his chance for space travel arrived on April 24, 1955. 

“I was asked to put on a clean pair of bib overalls that the laundry had just washed, that the space friends saw hanging near, as there would be nothing in the pockets. I was told that anything that I took along would be magnetized so I could not take my watch. I left milk out for my cat, and Trixie, my cart and saddle pony, would get food out on the range. Ted my dog went on this trip with me. I could hardly wait to get down back of the place where the ship had landed.”  

Buck later recounted stops at all three places. On Mars, buildings were made of moon rocks, the inhabitants didn’t know he was from Earth until they were told, and they used solar, electric and magnetic power.

“On the Moon, homes were clustered around huge hangars used for servicing space ships, for the moon is used for a base, I was told, for interplanetary travel,” he wrote. “The Earth is the only planet in the solar system which does not travel from one planet to another.”

Last came Venus, where there were hover-cars with no wheels (and therefore, no roads). There was no police force, no jails, no government buildings and no wars. Sickness was rarely known, and people only worked around an hour each day. And, in some ways, Buck envisioned the future: 

“Though we only stayed a possible 20 minutes in each stop on Venus, Bucky managed to show me what I call a ‘book machine.’ When a book was put into it, it would read the page, play any music or show any pictures it contained. It was about the size of a television set.” 

Buck returned to Earth at midnight on April 27, and soon commenced to tell the world about his experience. However, other than the photos he took of the first sighting, he did not carry any proof home. 

“Buck neglected to bring anything back, even a rock, to prove he had been out of this world, but he left something,” noted the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in April 1958. “If, in the years to come, our scientists reach any of these planets, they will find proof of Buck’s visit. On each stop, he says, he left a little American flag with a label: ‘Flag of the U.S.A., from Planet EARTH, given to Venus (Mars, Moon) by Buck Nelson.’ That’ll show them.” 

He also typed up his memories in the aforementioned booklet form. Copies of “My Trip to Mars, the Moon and Venus” were printed at the West Plains Daily Quill and sold them to the curious for around a buck apiece.

“The Quill printed and reprinted (the) booklet by Buck,” says Frank Martin, whose family long owned the newspaper.

Foundation in possibility 

Whether via the booklet or news accounts, the public soon wanted to know more about Buck’s experience. It was part of a larger story: While UFOs have long been reported, The History Channel notes that interest went out of this world (no pun intended) after World War II and following the development of rocketry.

In 1947, interest brewed from the first well-known sighting by Kenneth Arnold, who claimed to see a group of nine high-speed objects while flying his plane in Washington state. That same year, rancher W.W. “Mac” Brazel discovered a 200-yard long wreckage near an Army airfield in Roswell, New Mexico. It was dubbed the remnants of a flying saucer.

Less than a year after his trip into space took place, Buck was taking more: To Detroit, Kansas City, and Baltimore, among other destinations. He was asked to share his story and answer questions, giving people an idea of what else might be out there. Reading news accounts of those visits, it seems organizers didn’t need proof that anything happened – the possibility was enough. 

One of the first major moments came in 1955, when Buck took a bus to Detroit to speak to the Study Group on Interplanetary Relationships. Laura Marxer, the group’s leader, cleared him to speak for the group after visiting Mountain View. 

“They found no witnesses as to his visitors and trip. Neither did a reporter,” noted the News and Leader. “But ‘in checking the grounds around Mr. Nelson’s home,’ Mrs. Marxer reported, ‘we feel that what he says happened could have happened.’”

In March 1956, he traveled to Washington D.C. and spoke at a “fashionable local church” where he shared his experiences with a packed house for more than two hours. Not all of the response, however, was good: Via a news story printed across the country, the church said “it was all an error” in having him there and “we don’t want any publicity on that.” 

By September 1956, he was receiving regular correspondence from the curious — apparently including the U.S. Government, which allegedly interviewed him that year in D.C. 

“They questioned me at underground capitol hill. Took me in a building, the first one south of the capitol, and then we went underground ‘til I didn’t know where I was,’” Buck recounted in the News and Leader. 

“The guvment was disappointed in my story — disappointed because I couldn’t tell ‘em any more than what they already knew.

“I don’t know who the folks was that questioned me. But they did not hold me. They was nice — even fed me.” 

He also testified in ways that were more conventional and closer to home, like the day he stopped by the Daily Quill newspaper office on his way to the local Rotary meeting.

“He told the Rotarians he plans to make another trip to other planets in the near future so he can give a more detailed description of life there,” the newspaper noted.

Buck in his home office. (Photo by the West Plains Daily Quill)

The curious come to Mountain View 

Three years after his visit into space, Buck launched a new idea: Like those he met from other planets, folks could come to him. In 1958, he announced that on June 28 and 29, a space convention would be held at his Mountain View farm.

“Space conventions differ from most other conventions in that there is nothing official about them and anyone who wants to can hold one. There are, we were told, six to eight conventions every year,” noted the Post-Dispatch in July 1958. 

A quick Google search reveals that at least that many still take place annually across the United States. In the Ozarks, a notable one from the current lineup is the Ozark Mountain UFO Conference, which in 2023 will celebrate its 35th event in Eureka Springs.  

Back near Mountain View, the town promptly sold out its limited motel space. That wasn’t necessarily a problem for attendees, who were also welcome to simply camp at Buck’s farm. Concessions, and free water and firewood, would be available on-site, too.

The turnout was perhaps of greater concern for local law enforcement: Howell County Sheriff Lester Davis planned to have a special deputy to handle traffic and out-of-area travelers having to navigate from Highway 60 onto county roads for the event. 

“Buck’s place is reached by a dirt road which winds about six miles through the woods after you leave Highway 60 near Mountain View,” noted an article in the Post-Dispatch after the event. “When we arrived at the scene, we found the road on both sides lined with automobiles and many more inside the barbed wire around Buck’s house.”

In the end, a few hundred people made the trek to Buck’s farm near the Texas-Howell county line, a figure which included reporters and skeptics and was far less than expected.

“One of his biggest disappointments about the convention, (Buck’s) friends said confidentially, was that few over 300 of the 10,000 persons he expected showed up for the event,” noted the Springfield Daily News. “He reportedly bought a truckload of hotdog buns for the occasion.” 

As told in the Leader and Press, the event’s “star” speaker was Maj. Wayne S. Aho, a former Army intelligence officer who later investigated aerial phenomena and “asserted that many U.S. congressional confidantes of his have sighted strange flying objects, and that ‘…we on Earth are being observed by highly advanced planets…’”

As one might expect, attendees hoped for a sighting while at the convention. While Buck could not provide a command performance by his Venusian friends, there was a moment of excitement as Mrs. David McClure and her husband left the event and spotted something in the sky.  

“Through binoculars the object looked white-orangey,” she said in news reports that appeared in papers across the country. 

The object quickly vanished, but not before the McClures pointed it out to two other cars filled with convention attendees. 

“Good thing we had witnesses along,” she said in the newspaper. “Otherwise, people might not believe us.” 

Word of the sighting zoomed across the country. In the following days, news reports in Alabama, New Mexico, Oklahoma, California, Texas, South Carolina, Louisiana, Indiana, Washington, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, Delaware, Oregon, Ohio, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Maine, Florida, Kansas, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Minnesota carried the story or a photo of Buck from the convention.

Personal memories 

One of the people to attend in those early years was SuEllen Price, who I recently visited with at her home in Howell County. There, she opened a folder of newspapers that her mother kept about Buck, one of several topics on which she saved clippings.

The family lived in Mountain View and knew the space specialist, Price told me, particularly because her father was a pharmacist.

His establishment was one of the places the farmer frequented on his pony rides into town, and its window was where colorful posters Price now has advertised his conventions. It was also where, at least for a time, a place Buck’s booklets were sold.

Regardless of what he believed or what was real, “Buck saw a niche and was able to capitalize on it,” Price says her father told her.

While she was in elementary school, those connections and background led the family to attend one of Buck’s conventions.

“I remember some guy leaning against a fence the whole time we were there, with binoculars, looking at the sky. The entire time,” she says. “And I remember a big round burned-off place in the field.”

SuEllen Price attended one of Buck Nelson’s spacecraft conventions when she was a child. (Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell)

That burned place in the field is well-remembered, it seems. As luck would have it, while I was visiting with Price, Gene Woolsey stopped by for an unrelated reason — but was quickly pulled into the conversation when I learned he, too, had visited Buck’s as a child. Similarly to Price, the burned spots were seared into his mind.

“I just remember going out there and they had these ash pits where they ‘landed’ and it burned the ground,” he says.

“Back then, everybody thought he was crazy, but there could’ve been more to it that we don’t understand. I don’t think there is, but you see what happened and you see where it would be possible.”

Another person who recalls those burned spots is the aforementioned newspaperman Martin.

“I did visit once with my father,” he says. “All I remember is some burn spots Buck claimed were made by rockets when the ship landed, and then landed and took off and landed.”

While in the sixth grade, Martin’s class also took on as a project a radio recording Buck made on local station KWPM about his experience.

“My sixth grade homeroom class listened and tried to find — and found — inconsistencies,” he says.

Other perspectives — and who was James Hill?

The conventions continued for at least a decade, as did Buck’s reports of interactions with space folk. He eventually installed a small landing strip that was said to be for spacecrafts from Mars.

In 1960, he said that he was instructed to build a radio station for all saucer clubs across the world, and that his “space brothers” would help. “They will tell us many cures and tell us how to prevent diseases,” he said — but only if $20,000 in freewill donations from earthlings could come in to fund its creation.

At the 1961 convention, Buck revealed that he didn’t actually attend the 1959 event at all. “The fellow who looked like him was really Bucky, his 26-year-old cousin who teaches English on Venus,” reported the News and Leader. “All the time the convention was going on, Buck — who is in his upper 60s — was watching it on television from Venus. Said reception was good and he enjoyed it a lot.”

By the early 1960s, a man named James Hill — who styled himself a space traveler and a member of the Interplanetary Fellowship — was regularly mentioned in connection with Buck.

There’s a question as to how embedded Hill was in Buck’s work. According to an article in The Kansas City Times, Hill was involved even before Buck’s account of being taken into outer space was publicly known. It seems the two were acquainted by 1955 when Buck wrote Hill after the first sighting about his experience, presumably given Hill’s own connections.

“James Hill of Seymour sent a clipping of the letter to a U.F.O. (unidentified flying objects) club in the East, and shortly Buck was a favored speaker at U.F.O. meetings over the country,” the article noted.

And after the first article about Buck’s trip appeared in the Springfield paper, Hill sent a letter to the editor in support.

“There is no doubt at all about the genuineness of flying saucers in my mind,” Hill wrote.

In 1963, the duo petitioned the U.S. Congress for $25,000,000 to build a space research center at Mountain View. It was turned down.

Two years later, they came back with an amended request: With only $150,000, they said, it would be possible to use techniques revealed by “space brothers” to create an endless supply of water for the United States and “to make the deserts bloom.” This apparently was also rejected.

The next year, Buck shared that the sky was suddenly filled with hundreds of flying saucers. Hill also allegedly also saw them. After the saucers departed, Buck encountered three men, around seven or eight feet tall in coveralls, who disintegrated an ailing cat in his front yard, the Post-Dispatch reported in 1966.

Things were at a whole new level, it seems.

“Buck doesn’t bother to cut timber any more or plant crops,” the newspaper continued. “‘My crops,’ he said, ‘are my books. My book, called ‘My Trip to Mars, the Moon and Venus,’ is in its seventh printing.’

“Buck gets $1.25 a copy and to eliminate the middle man he is now his own printer. Turns them out on a mimeograph machine.

“‘Looks just like up-town printing,’ he said.”

That booklet — which was dedicated to Hill, as well as Sherman and Fanny Lowery, two other enthusiastic supporters — was not the only one Buck printed and marketed. Others blended his space interactions with deeper beliefs on religious and social issues.

“Unusual and Little-Known Facts That Are In Our Bible,” is one. Its 24 pages are filled with bulleted thoughts on Biblical passages, reminders about how to contact Buck at his farm, and concludes with pages of ads for his space convention.

It also promotes another of his publications: “White Man Awaken.”

“All about the Negroes,” he wrote, promoting the booklet. “You must read this. This booklet and other literature 25 cents. Order from Buck Nelson.”

“Buck seemed to think segregation by race existed amongst the aliens he encountered,” says Kersen, the counterculture expert. “In other words, when he visited other worlds, aliens had systems of oppression exactly like our own.”

While his promotional materials said all were invited to his conventions, it’s unlikely that was actually the case.

Conferences conclude

The last year the conference was noted in newspapers was 1966. Attendance fluctuated over the years, but by that time, was down to only a few dozen people.

It was the same year Ralph Fritts, a newsman from near Kansas City attended for the first time with his wife, along with around 30 other people. Another reporter attending the event from Sikeston, Mo., estimated attendance at 150. No matter: Both figures were far fewer than the couple thousand who attended at its peak.

By that time, Buck explored other avenues to attract visitors, including a carnival and rodeo show.

“Our host, Buck Nelson, who by his own admission had done a lot of traveling in outer space, had little to say,” wrote Fritts. “This could have been a matter of good business, since books of his space adventures and other subjects were available.

“The showing of slides got underway, with Nelson at the projector and a man from Kansas as moderator. The slides appeared to be hand-drawn and only occasionally did they agree with accepted scientific data. Now and then the program was interrupted by persons testifying about their space belief. It seemed unreal — and interminable.”

Perhaps beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. The other reporter described a slideshow (maybe a different one) as the highlight of the event.

“A person who has neither seen a flying saucer nor had his cat disintegrated by a laser beam might tend to laugh at these witnesses of celestial phenomena. But this reporter felt the claims of saucer-sightings and space travel were made with honest conviction of the witnesses.

“Their basic goal is to convince earth-dwellers that peace on earth, goodwill toward men is the only means of saving this planet from destruction. And even if the means these people employ are scorned by most of us, the goal they seek is worthwhile.”

Like Buck’s trip to space, it seems the gatherings were simply gone after the ‘66 event.

Three years later, Buck’s home burned to the ground in what he believed was an act of arson. Local lore says he moved away in later years, reportedly out of state.

By the 1970s, news articles note he was deceased. A Springfield paper noted his death by 1973. The Post-Dispatch reported him dead by ‘77. Wikipedia claims 1982. 

Kersen says he believes the ‘80s is correct and California was the place. There were draws from the counterculture movement, including the Integratron, a cupola structure built in 1954 by George Van Tassel. Its creator claimed that “the structure is based on the design of Moses’ Tabernacle, the writings of Nikola Tesla and telepathic directions from extraterrestrials,” says its website.

“There is also Palomar Gardens, the UFO community George Adamski set up,” Kersen says. “Adamski was a famous major contactee who accepted Buck’s tale, thus giving the UFO community bona fides.”

Wherever he is, an unusual vibe around Buck’s former land lives yet, at least for some. Kristen Brooks, whose family had connections with the land before Buck owned it, tells of a moment when an ancestor had a unexpected experience near Buck’s land.

“She was driving through one of the low-water creeks and her car got stuck — and suddenly, it was moving and unstuck,” Kristen told me. “She was embarrassed about it, so she only told one person. After she passed away, that person told the family.

“If you stop there, it’s really neat — and the energy is really different.”

Looking from today

While the number of people who recall Buck’s conventions firsthand is dwindling — Price and Woolsey are in their 70s, and were young children when the attended — the story sees new points of circulation.

I first discovered Buck in 2021 at the Ozarks Studies Symposium, an annual convention of a different kind in West Plains. It was there where Kersen presented on the legendary figure, and also when I met Denise Vaughn and learned of a special connection with Buck.

A former reporter at the Quill, Vaughn has had a flying saucer detector over her desk since the 1980s. It was made according to instructions Buck created, but at this point may be more effective at showing history than travelers.

“The detector hasn’t quivered or spun around in the 35-plus years it has hung there, so I guess the aliens have lost interest in this part of the world,” she says.

Stories often evolve into treasure hunts: Vaughn was who connected me with Price, and it was Price who mentioned that I should check in at The Neighborhood Tribe while in Mountain View. The boutique is where the aforementioned Cosmic Coffee shop recently opened, and is named in recognition of Buck.

Inside the shop on Pine Street, and near a framed article about Buck, a recent reprint of his book, and vinyl records painted with celestial sayings, owner Emily Ledgerwood slings drinkable mud. She shares how she only recently learned of the Buck’s story and became a believer — in sharing it onward.

Cosmic Coffee in Mountain View is named in recognition of Buck Nelson. (Photo by Kaitlyn McConnell)

“For me as a business owner, a small business owner as a rural area, I feel like we should definitely spread the word to help our area,” says Ledgerwood, who notes people have brought her memorabilia to have at the store. “Because he had a huge following; people would drive here from all over. It’s so neat.”

Now, instead of buying Buck’s book for $1.25, they can get a “Buck Shot” for $1.50.

That said: The book is still available, too. In early 2022, Buck’s book was reprinted. Its description on Barnes & Noble’s website proclaims that the book is the “first time the Nelson FBI File has been made public.”

A limited liability company was also formed in 2019 as the Buck Nelson U.F.O. Ranch to “provide care and improvements to the Buck Nelson Ranch property.”

Perhaps there’s still more to learn.

Kaitlyn McConnell

Kaitlyn McConnell is the founder of Ozarks Alive, a cultural preservation project through which she has documented the region’s people, places and defining features since 2015. McConnell regularly shares her stories with readers of the Springfield Daily Citizen. Contact her at: kaitlyn@ozarksalive.com More by Kaitlyn McConnell More by Kaitlyn McConnell