James Buchanan "Buck" Monroe
Melissa A Vandiver
James Buchanan "Buck" Monroe b 28 Oct 1858 Ohio
Co KY d 14 Jan 1928 Ohio Co KY; s/o
John "Jess" Buchanan Monroe and Lydia Charlotte
Stevens. James Buchanan "Buck" Monroe m. 2 Aug 1892 Ohio Co KY by W.
M. Pharis to Melissa A Vandiver b 12 Jul 1871 Ohio Co KY d 31 Oct 1921 Ohio Co KY;
d/o Joseph M "Dutch" Vandiver
and Minerva Jane Pharris.
James Buchanan "Buck" Monroe was a farmer, saw mill operator and noted
step-dancer. His wife, Melissa, played fiddle, accordion and harmonica,
a respected local singer of old-time ballads. Among his eight children,
and Birch played fiddle, and son Charlie and daughter Bertha played
of Buck's children were influenced by their uncle, Pendleton Vandiver,
"Uncle Pen" about whom Buck's son, Bill Monroe would write an important
song years later. Bill Monroe once told an interviewer, "he'd bring his
fiddle and he'd stay a night or so, and after supper, why, we'd get up
around him and listen to him fiddle - maybe an hour, hour and a half. My
father (Buck) would
call bedtime then. Children of James Buchanan "Buck" Monroe and Melissa A
Buck, Bertha, Melissa (Vandiver), Two of Bill Monroe's Nieces and Bill Monroe Age 9 Years
L-R: Jerry Waller, Unknown, Birch Monroe and Charles Monroe 1963
James Buchanan "Buck" Monroe Headstone - Rosine Cemetery, Rosine, Ohio
Melissa A Vandiver Monroe Headstone - Rosine Cemetery, Rosine, Ohio County,
I. Harry C Monroe b 8 Sept 1890 Ohio Co KY d 20 Aug
1954; buried Rosine Cemetery, Rosine, Ohio Co KY; m. about 1915 to
Nola M Goff. Harry played
Alfred Speed V Monroe b 30 Nov 1894 Ohio Co
KY d Jan 1967 Jefferson Co KY; played the fiddle; served in WWI; m. Jeanie Ethel Clark b 1895 Ohio Co KY d 1982;
d/o James W Clark and Maria Florance York.
III. John Jasper Monroe b 17 May 1896 Ohio Co KY
d 1 Feb 1962 Ohio Co KY; buried Bethel Cemetery, Ohio Co KY; m. 27 Mar 1932 Ohio
Co KY to Clara M Wilson b 18 Aug 1899 Ohio Co KY d 24 Jan 1980
Ohio Co KY; buried Bethel Cemetery, Ohio Co KY; d/o Fletcher T Wilson and Irena
IV. Maude Bell Monroe b 17 Nov 1898 Ohio Co KY d
26 Dec 1961 Ohio Co KY; buried Bethel Cemetery, Rosine, Ohio Co KY; never
V. Birch Monroe b 16 May 1901 Ohio Co KY d 5 May
1982 IN; buried Rosine Cemetery, Rosine, Ohio Co KY; played the fiddle, banjo,
cello and guitar.
VI. Charles Pendleton "Charger" Monroe b 4 Jul 1903 Ohio Co
KY d 27 Sept 1975 NC of leukemia; buried Rosine Cemetery, Rosine, Ohio Co KY; played the guitar; m. 16 Mar 1936
Ohio Co KY to Elizabeth Berry Miller b 5 Aug 1910 d 1 Jan 1967; buried Bethel
Cemetery, Ohio Co KY.
VII. Bertha Monroe b 17 Jul 1906 Ohio Co KY d 1
Apr 1997 Ohio Co KY; buried 2 Apr 1997 Rosine Cemetery, Rosine, Ohio Co KY;
played guitar and sang; m. Bernard Kurth (aka Kuita). (2 sons).
William Smith "Bill" Monroe b 13 Sept 1911 Rosine,
Ohio Co, KY d 9 Sept 1996 Springfield TN; m. 18 Oct 1935 Lake Co IN (divorced)
to Caroline Minnie Brown. Bill
Monroe, famous "Father of Bluegrass" singer, musician and songwriter.
William Smith "Bill" Monroe m. 24 Apr 1985 to
The Monroe brothers credit their mother Malissa Vandiver as being the origin for
their musical talent. Family sources say that J.B. was a good square dancer,
serious, stern, and hardworking; Melissa was a musician, easygoing, lighthearted
and jovial. Malissa played accordion and fiddle. One time a local dance was to
be held but the regular fiddler didn't show. The dance organizer borrowed a
horse and rode to the Monroe farm and asked J.B., "We thought we was going to
have a dance.. but the fiddler didn't show. I wonder if we could borrow Malissa."
J.B. agreed, and Malissa got her fiddle. "You never heard such fiddling. Just
sawed to death. Stood upright - wouldn't sit down - just stood up, and she was a
tall woman, and she stood up... and just put the music right in your feet," said
Can't You Hear Me Callin'
The Life of Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass
By RICHARD D. SMITH
A wagon road led south from the railroad depot in Rosine,
Kentucky. It ran through a hollow, then turned west through the woods of Ohio
County. It climbed and topped an elongated geological feature known locally as
Jerusalem Ridge, proceeding parallel to the railway tracks below. Then it
descended by curves into the little community of Horton and continued on to the
larger town of Beaver Dam.
The road bore traffic and commerce. Along it were carried corn and tobacco from
the region's gently sloping fields, coal from its rolling hills, and — in
particular — hardwood timber from its old-growth forests. And this road carried
pain to a little boy living on a large farm on the ridge, midway between Rosine
The child, the youngest of the eight children of James Buchanan Monroe and
Malissa Vandiver Monroe, was born with a left eye that turned inward. The
medical term for the condition is esotropia. In this time and place, the brutal
slang expression was "hug-eyed."
His overall vision was very poor. In compensation, his auditory sense developed
keenly. He learned to recognize from miles away the hoofbeats of horses and
mules and the roll of wooden wheels. Experience taught that passersby were
coming who would laugh and joke about this cross-eyed boy if they saw him. So he
would run and hide in the barn until they passed.
As the youngest of a large family, he was often left alone by his busy parents
and impatient siblings. He grew thoughtful, his feelings sensitive, his emotions
powerful but unexpressed, yearning for human contact but too proud to admit
He once looked back on his childhood and said:
For many years, I had nobody to play with or nobody to work under. You just had
to kindly grow up. Just like a little dog outside, tryin' to make his own way,
trying to make out the best way he can.
Thus began the life of William Smith Monroe.
By the time Bill Monroe had become a living legend and his style of American
country-folk music was termed "bluegrass," in honor of his band the Blue Grass
Boys, all this was known. And other stories became well established.
Bill, it was said, was a direct descendant of President James Monroe; he grew up
in the mountains; he rose from hardscrabble poverty in a backward, backwoods
culture; bluegrass music sprang from ancient Scots-Irish culture transplanted to
the Appalachians, where it blossomed as a traditional folk art.
Compelling as these other tales were, none were true. Bill Monroe was a
plainspoken and typically honest man. These misconceptions did not arise from
him, yet he did little to correct them. As it turns out, the truth is even more
compelling than the myths now interwoven through the history of this
Some sources on Scottish clan names state that "Monroe" means "Man of Roe," a
river in Northern Ireland near which many Scots settled; hence the claims of
Scots-Irish ancestry for Bill. But Clan Monroe has its roots firmly in the
Scottish Highlands, specifically in Easter Ross, north of Moray Firth and the
Great Glen. The name, first recorded around the twelfth century, may be from the
Norman-influenced "Mon Rosse" ("hillmen of Ross"). It is almost always spelled
"Munro" in Scotland, and it was pronounced exactly that way by Bill's family,
right into the twentieth century — MUN-ro, with emphasis on the first syllable.
The Monroes had a warrior heritage. President Monroe's first ancestor in America
is believed to have been a Royalist Highlander who fought Cromwell's Puritans in
1648; Sir Robert Munro was the first colonel of the famed Black Watch, leading
them in 1745 against Bonnie Prince Charlie's rebellion. John Monroe, patriarch
of the Ohio County Monroes, was a soldier of the Virginia Line during the
Revolutionary War and one of many veterans rewarded for his service with land
grants in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
John Monroe was born November 10, 1749, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, where
James Monroe also resided. (It is quite possible that they were distant cousins,
making Bill Monroe at least a collateral descendant of the fifth American
president.) John moved to Kentucky in January 1801, bringing his family with
him. By April 1832, he had made a permanent home in Ohio County, where he died
His descendants settled down to prosperous lives as landowners. John had three
children, including a son, Andrew B. Monroe. The 1850 Ohio County census found
Andrew to be a fifty-five-year-old, Virginia-born farmer with property valued at
$2,700. Andrew and his wife Alysie had eight children. Their eldest son, John
J., had eight children by his first wife, Lydia Charlotte Stevens. John and
Lydia's eldest, James Buchanan, born October 28, 1857, was known as "J.B." or
No wonder J.B.'s son Bill Monroe would grow up feeling deeply connected to the
past, revering things that, as he put it, "go a way on back in time." Bill's
father would have remembered the Civil War, and his great-great-grandfather
actually fought in the American Revolution.
Ohio County lies in western Kentucky, far from the Appalachian Mountains with
which bluegrass music is now associated. It is even quite distinct from the
famed "bluegrass" region of central Kentucky, which helped give the music its
name. Nevertheless, the Monroes could hardly have found a better place to call
home. The region was lovely, fertile and rich in the natural resources needed by
a vigorously expanding America. As far back as 1840, the first edition of Lewis
Collins's History of Kentucky noted that Ohio County produced "excellent crops
of corn, tobacco, potatoes, clover and other grasses," adding that "timber is
heavy and of a superior quality . . . and the coal is inexhaustible."
And soon a town conceived as a major metropolis was founded just down the wagon
road from the Monroe farms.
Shrewdly calculating the region's potential, Henry D. McHenry, a banker,
businessman, and Kentucky state legislator, used his influence in 1870 to get
the Elizabethtown & Paducah Railroad (later the Illinois Central) to establish
an east-west main line through a settlement known as Pigeon Roost. McHenry and
some business partners then bought up land in the area and formally incorporated
a town there in 1873. McHenry named it "Rosine" after the pen name of his wife,
poet Jenny Taylor McHenry.
Rosine was laid out on a grid pattern, with streets sixty feet in width to allow
for the heavy commercial traffic the investors expected. Front Street, the
town's main commercial district, ran along the north side of the railroad tracks
facing the passenger depot and freight yard. From here, the train carried
passengers and goods east to Louisville, where connections were made to the rest
of America, or west to Beaver Dam. With the railway to bring in people and
transport out timber, coal, and crops, McHenry believed, Rosine would be the
next Pittsburgh or Chicago.
Although Rosine never became a city, for nearly half a century it was a boom
town. There were nine stores along Front Street, plus a barbershop and doctors'
offices. There was a flour and gristmill, a creamery, and warehouses for drying
tobacco and sumac, a shingle mill and a barrel stave mill. Rosine's downtown
even had paved streets, made with local sandstone and maintained by inmates from
the jail. It had hotels, bars, and poolrooms. (McHenry knew full well that a wet
town in an otherwise dry region would have considerable advantages.) The Earp
family of western lore had roots in Ohio County, and just as Wyatt, Virgil, and
Morgan worked as both lawmen and purveyors of base pleasures, so did their
Rosine cousins: Walter C. Earp was sworn in as a town judge in 1907 and Russell
Earp owned a local pool hall.
And like most American communities of the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries, Rosine loved its baseball. Just west of town was a baseball park,
home to the Rosine Red Legs.
In fact, Rosine played a vital role in the national pastime: Until well into the
1970s, the hardwoods used by the Hillerich & Bradsby Company for their
world-famous "Louisville Slugger" bats came from here. Many a major league home
run has been hit off Rosine wood.
Such was bustling Rosine in the days when the Monroes would come to town on
Saturday afternoons to trade or on Sunday mornings to attend the Methodist
church (later celebrated by Bill in song as "The Little Community Church"). It
was hardly the backwoods community of folk and old-time music mythology.
And the Monroes were anything but backward hillbillies. They were proud,
hardworking, honest, and law-abiding. They were a bit aloof, shy actually.
(Neighbors recall that they would often stand off by themselves after church.)
They were considered quite wealthy by local standards, and they were highly
educated for the times.
A profile of J.B.'s brother John H. Monroe in an 1885 history of Kentucky
recorded that at age twenty-one, Jack had "traveled for pleasure for one year,
visiting many important and interesting points in the South and West. . . . Mr.
Monroe has had fair advantages in education, and his mind is well stored with
the learning of books, as well as with that of practical life." Where a
fifth-grade education was considered quite sufficient, Bill's father J.B. had
finished the eighth grade. He read The Shorthorn in America, the publication of
the American Shorthorn Breeders' Association. He was skilled in basic
arithmetic. He recorded every penny of income and expenditure in a series of
notebooks and ledgers.
Ambitious young men, J.B. and Jack soon made a career move from the timber and
stave-cutting business they had been running: In 1883, with brother Andrew and
two backers, they formed the firm of J. B. Monroe & Co. and opened a general
store in Horton, selling clothing, shoes, canned goods, and household items.
The enterprise failed quickly. The Monroes became overextended and were sued by
suppliers because of overdue accounts. They tried valiantly to keep up payments
but were forced to liquidate their holdings and sell other assets to satisfy
their debts. It would not be the last time that a Monroe would venture into a
major business commitment and, despite bright expectations, watch it inexorably
become a money hole. This sad aspect of family history was destined to repeat
J.B. returned to the soil. At first he was a tenant farmer, but soon he
prospered enough to purchase land on a long wooded hill almost halfway between
Rosine and Horton. In a time when most hills and hollows were given place names,
Buck's farm was situated on Pigeon Ridge. But adjacent to Pigeon Ridge was a
larger geological feature, and the Monroes preferred to identify their home with
that more nobly named comb — Jerusalem Ridge.
J.B. began assembling property there as early as September 30, 1903, when he
purchased 320 acres from brother Jack and his wife, who remained neighboring
landholders. Over the next decade, he acquired adjoining land until his central
holdings were about 655 acres.
Buck's farm was not especially cash-generating, but it was busy, successful, and
above all diversified. Timber, coal, tobacco, corn, and molasses were sold, hay
was grown, livestock pastured.
Buck's land contained large coal reserves, and he had a little mine complete
with tracks and handcar. His surviving ledgers record brisk sales to companies,
individuals, the Rosine school, and the nearby Horse Branch church (rendered as
"kirk," the old Scottish term, in J.B.'s account books).
But for Buck Monroe and many other landowners, the important cash crop was
timber, much of it valuable old-growth hardwood from their heavily forested
lands. J.B. sold trees for "telefon" poles and "tall timber," long, straight
wood commanding high prices. He sold tons of cross ties to the railroad. The
Kentucky Wagon Manufacturing Company of Louisville was also a customer.
Even if the twentieth century had begun, the Monroes were living in a
J.B. soon took a bride. And it was through her that music came into the Monroe
The object of his affections was Malissa A. Vandiver of neighboring Butler
County. Born July 12, 1870, she was the youngest of ten children of Joseph M.
Vandiver, a farmer born in Tennessee, and his wife, Manerva J. Farris, born in
Malissa's parents had foreign roots, and these roots were close to the surface.
Vandivers from the Netherlands had settled in New York, New Jersey, and Delaware
in the 1600s, then migrated west. Joseph's nickname, in fact, was "Dutch."
Malissa's maternal grandmother was of recent Irish descent and spoke in a
Malissa's family initially settled in Banock near the Ohio County border
(although by the time of her marriage they had moved to Horton). Manerva passed
away in 1897. Joseph died in 1905, nine days after being hit by a train near
White Run, five miles east of Rosine. His estate sued the Illinois Central
Railroad for $2,000. It settled out of court for $100.
Most of the Vandivers were musically gifted, playing instruments and singing.
Malissa's next oldest sibling was her brother Pendleton M. Vandiver, a.k.a. Pen.
Born in 1869, Pen was a sometime farmworker, sometime trader, and oft-time
fiddler whose infectious rhythm shuffle with the bow caused him to be in great
demand at local square dances. And "Uncle Pen" was destined to become the great
early musical influence on one of his nephews.
How J.B. and Malissa met is now forgotten, but it was probably at a dance, the
major social nexus for young people in those days. Malissa loved to do the
Kentucky backstep, J.B. could buck-and-wing dance, and both certainly danced
"quadrilles" (square dances).
The Monroes were by now an old family in that part of Kentucky, relatively
prosperous and well educated. The Vandivers were recent arrivals, farmworkers,
not landowners. Some, including Malissa and Pen, were illiterate. The elder
Monroes disapproved at first of Buck's marriage, feeling that a Vandiver was
socially beneath him.
Buck was undeterred. He was entranced. Malissa was tall and attractive, with
blue eyes, red hair, and freckles. She grew white roses and wore them in her
hair from the first buds of spring to the last flowers of fall. She was
high-spirited. She loved to dance and loved to horserace against friends.
And she sang old ballads in a high, clear voice, and played fiddle, accordion,
and harmonica, and probably other instruments as well during her free moments.
Like all farm women, these free moments were precious few: Malissa raised
chickens and turkeys for the home table and sold the eggs and meat in town. She
canned the summer's produce. She cooked for the household and for hired hands,
who, in keeping with the custom of the day, were given their midday meals where
they worked. She did unending chores.
When Buck and Malissa were courting, the journey between Ohio and Butler
counties took so long by bridge or ferry across the Green River that Buck
couldn't wait. He would simply swim straight across the flow to visit his
J.B. and Malissa were married on August 2, 1892. He was thirty-four, she was
twenty-two. It would be the first and last marriage for both.
A large family followed: Harry C. (born in 1893); Speed V., his surname from the
Vandiver family (1894); John J., named after his grandfather (1896); Maude Bell
(1898); Birch, named after one of Buck's brothers (1901); Charles Pendleton, his
middle name of course honoring Malissa's brother (1903); and Bertha, who later
married a German railroad engineer named Bernard Kurth (1908).
The Vandivers were as gregarious as the Monroes were reserved, and a mix of
these contrasting personality traits were inherited by the children. Although
the daughters were somewhat diminutive, the sons were robust young men, some
tall or wiry like the Dutch Vandivers, some big and solid like the Scottish
Monroes. The youngsters were taught to stand up straight and not slouch. "Get
them shoulders back" was a frequent parental admonition in the Monroe household.
The boys were remarkable for their strong, balanced postures, even when standing
in casual conversation.
J.B. became a significant local employer, paying good wages, as much as a dollar
a day, with as many as ten people working for him full or part time. One
longtime employee was Hubert Stringfield. Hubert had a hobby that was later of
special interest to one of Buck's children — he played the mandolin.
By the autumn of 1911, J.B. Monroe had a home farm of more than 360 acres plus
four additional lots in the town of Rosine. He owned three horses, five mules,
various head of cattle, a breeding bull, hogs, and two prize foxhounds, plus
various plows, wagons and mowers. He estimated the value of his land and
movables at $2661.00.
Soon Buck Monroe would have another addition to his homestead. Earlier that
year, Malissa had again found herself pregnant.
This last child was surely an accident, unplanned at a time when there was not
much in the way of family planning. Malissa was forty-one years old, J.B. nearly
fifty-four; their previous child, Bertha, had been born three years earlier, and
Charlie five years before her. Who would have expected Malissa to conceive an
Perhaps the family's attitude to this final arrival was unintentionally
expressed by Buck, who quipped after its birth, "Malissa, I wouldn't take a
thousand dollars for all of the children, but I wouldn't give a dime for another
A neighbor came to visit Malissa late in her pregnancy on a miserably hot and
humid day. Her ankles were swollen and she was sitting outside her house,
vigorously picking away on an instrument, trying to distract herself. The child
within her, very soon to be born, must have felt the vibrations.
September 13, 1911, was an uncharacteristically quiet day at the Monroe farm.
J.B. sold 31 pounds of coal for $1.44, and he paid brothers Riley and Mose Hunt
$1 each for a full day's work hauling railroad cross ties. ("Haled ties," Buck
wrote in one of his ever-present ledger books.)
Perhaps little had gotten done because J.B. was otherwise occupied. On this day,
his and Malissa's eighth child was born, a boy. He was named in honor of two of
J.B.'s brothers: William Smith