February 2020

Introducing William "Buckner" Zinn

Several stories about our cousin Buckner Zinn

By Bobbi Spiker-Conley

The “Ancient Tortoise” from the January edition of the Gazette is just one of several stories we’ve uncovered about Buckner Zinn. Here are some of the reasons why he’s always remembered as a very unique and interesting fellow. 

Photo from Collection of Willa Dean (Bonnell) SpikerWilliam “Buckner” Zinn was born July 9, 1842 in (what was then) Lewis county, Virginia, the eldest of John “Wesley” and Elizabeth (Hoskins) Zinn’s six children.

He served three years during the Civil War in Company E of the Sixth WV Infantry, alongside several friends and relatives that included two of his brothers, Henry Clay and Edward D. C. Zinn.

One of their commanding officers was Lieutenant Colonel Larkin Pierpoint, father-in-law of Thomas Gray Zinn, who also served in this company. (See the  Civil War Pension Index below for list.)


Buckner and Annie (Ward) Zinn - From the Collection of Willa Dean (Bonnell) SpikerHe married Miss Anna Marie Ward on July 27, 1865.   Over the next 20 years, they had seven children.

The “Buckner House” was built on two tracts of land located along the Middle Fork of the Hughes River, about one mile south of the Spiker farm house. 

Mike Spiker says, “My dad [Bradford Spiker] purchased this land, and our family still owns it. The house was a very nice two-story with upper and lower small porches. The 1950 flood heavily damaged it and, over time, it collapsed. The farm had a very large cow/horse barn close to the house and a couple of smaller hay barns on the hill and meadow. It also had a cellar house. In the room above it, Buckner had a broom-making machine which he used to make and sell handmade brooms.

Clipping from 
The Parkersburg News, Sunday, April 19, 1981.
Submitted by Nancy Allman“The house had the first electricity in the area. Buckner purchased and installed a water flow generator. He ran a pipe up the hill behind the house and then let water from a spring flow downhill into the generator which, in turn, created electricity which ran into at least one room in the house where he had installed light bulbs. This is before electric was brought into the area in the 1940s.”

In an April 1981 article from The Parkersburg NewsBurns Harlan wrote, “To power his electrical system, Buckner used a No. 16 hydro-electric shunt-wound dynamo, with probably the first one purchased costing less than $15. Literature from the [Ohio Electric Works at] Cleveland company explained it as being an inverted horseshoe type, cast-steel magnet frame of highest permeability, armature made of the purest and softest sheet iron, toothed in order to lessen the air-gap resistance.

“The system was started as early as 1909…[Proof is] a letter dated Dec. 11 of that year from The Sterling Manufacturing Co. of Warren, Ohio, in an answer to a letter of Nov. 7 [from Zinn] ordering a 14-volt, 14 candlepower Tantalum bulb to replace one which had burned out.”

Buckner Zinn was a “jack of all trades” and — according to stories passed down through the generations — was considered a “master” of all of them. He was a broom maker, wood carver, inventor, electrician, dentist, cartographer/surveyor, taxidermist, apiarist, and (some say) a neurologist. 

Larry Bartlett (2x great-nephew of Buckner’s wife, Anna Ward) shared this story — My Father’s Memories of Buckner Zinn. ”Dad [Loran Bartlett] remembered him as a frisky old gentleman who was bearded like a prophet. Buckner was a self-taught dentist and inventor, and he was the first farmer in Ritchie County to have electric lights. He built a water-powered generator on the Hughes River, and offered electrical shocks as a treatment for arthritis. He was also a skilled woodcarver, and he created intricate toys that were powered by a water wheel. 

“Two of Buckner Zinn’s sons went west to Wyoming in the early 1900’s. One of the boys was an oilman, [Ancil Theodore Zinn] and the other worked as a big game hunter and guide [Dennis O Zinn]…I’ve heard that, after Buckner Zinn’s death, his homemade dental tools were donated to the West Virginia University’s dental school. Eventually, those old tools disappeared, possibly pilfered by souvenir-seeking dental students.”

Mike Spiker confirmed the dentist/dental tool story. “I found an old set of equipment which Dad later researched and discovered were dentist tools. This equipment was donated to the WVU School of Dentistry and was on display there for several years.  I do not know where they are now.”

As to Buckner’s dental “patients,” we know of two — Iris (Maxson) Flesher and Geneva (Spiker) Haught. Apparently, Aunt Jean told Mark Spiker that Buckner had pulled one of her baby teeth.

“As I recall,” Mike continued,” Buckner also did map drawings of the local land ownership of the farms and the oil and gas. These were used for drilling the early oil and gas wells. At least two wells were drilled on his farm in the late 1880’s and are now dormant and plugged.”

Clipping from 
The Parkersburg News, Sunday, April 19, 1981.
Submitted by Nancy Allman.

One of the more unusual items found at the Buckner House was the Davis & Kidder’s Patent Magneto-Electric Machine for Nervous Diseases. Patented in the 1850’s, the medical device purported to relieve, or even cure, all sorts of nervous diseases (including headache, toothache, tic douloureux, rheumatism, sciatica, neuralgia, etc.) by electrically shocking the area of the body needing treatment.     

“The operator would turn the crank, while the ‘patient’ held two metal handles,” Mike explained. “The faster the cranking, the sharper the electricity that ran through the handles. Dad, Uncle Lynn and Uncle Bob each took a turn at holding the handles. I also - enjoyed - the experience.”    

Mark Spiker shared this photo of Buckner’s Magneto-Electric Machine.

(By the way, the glass-top table was crafted using a wheel from the Spiker Buggy. The daffodils are from Grandma Gay’s garden on the hillside at the Spiker farm.)

Prior to his death in 1924, Buckner and Anna faced the loss of three of their children – Charley and Etta to unknown causes, and Ila to tuberculosis. The most unexpected and stunning tragedy was when Luetta died.

According to the Springfield Daily Republic and the Pittsburgh Press, Miss Etta Zinn was to marry Mr. Levi Hall on Friday, March 30, 1888. “All the preparations had been made, including the ordering of the wedding feast.”

On the previous Monday night, the 26th, Etta was taken violently ill and died in a few hours. Her fiance did not arrive home until just before the wedding ceremony was scheduled to begin. It was then – mere hours before her funeral – that he learned of the illness and sudden death of his betrothed.

Luetta was buried on the day and hour for which the wedding was set, dressed in the beautiful wedding robes that had been made for her marriage.

Obituary from *The West Union Herald *(*birth date typo) - Courtesy of Gwen Bartlett Zimmerman

William Buckner Zinn died at his home in Ritchie County, West Virginia, on August 29, 1924 when he was 82 years old. Funeral services were conducted at the South Fork Baptist church on September 1, by his pastor, Rev. Waggoner, assisted by former pastor, Rev. Ofa Bennett (husband of Coe Zinn.) Interment was made in the South Fork cemetery near the church. Six of his comrades in arms acted as honorary pall bearers.

Death Certificate

Memorial at South Fork Cemetery

If you have additional information, newspaper articles or photos of Buckner Zinn, we’d love to see them. Perhaps we can add them here for everyone to enjoy.

A special Thank You goes out to everyone that contributed to this article.

Civil War Pension Index

West Virginia Infantry - Regiment 6 - Company E

~ Barker, Jacob C   Pvt. Gaines, James E   1st Lt. Neidert, Nicholas   Pvt. Summers, John M
Pvt. Beaty, John A   Pvt. Goff, Alexander C   Pvt. Nutter, Andrew J   2nd Lt. Summers, Joseph A
Pvt. Bee, Azariah   Pvt. Goff, Elijah C   ~ Nutter, Floyd   Pvt. Tharp, Phineas R
Pvt. Bird, Davis   Pvt. Goff, Henry   Pvt. Nutter, Thomas E   Pvt. Thomas, John A
Pvt. Bolyard, Christian   Corpl Goff, Justice   Pvt. Nutter, Willis Floyd   Pvt. Trainer, Edgar
Pvt. Braden, Silas C   Pvt. Goff, Martin V.B.   Mus. Osbourn, Joshua S   Pvt. Trainer, William
Pvt. Braham, Thomas   Pvt. Goff, William H.T.   ~ Osbourn, John W   Pvt. Treagle, Samuel
Pvt. Braham, William   Pvt. Greathouse, Albert M   Pvt. Overfield, William J   Pvt. Wade, George M
Pvt. Broadwater, Marcus M   Pvt. Greathouse, Silas   Pvt. Parks, William H   Pvt. Waldo, Bartlett
Pvt. Brown, Edward M   Pvt. Harsh, Andrew   Capt. Peirpoint, Larkin   ~ Waldo, Foster W
Pvt. Brown, Zebedee   Pvt. Hess, George W   Pvt. Pool, Thomas   Pvt. Waldo, Francis M
Sergt. Bush, Daniel S   ~ Holbert, John A   Corpl Pounty, Elmore   Pvt. Waldo, Hickman
~ Butcher, Valentine   Pvt. Ireland, George M   Pvt. Powell, Benjamin C   Pvt. Ward, Jasper
Pvt. Case, Elisha C   Pvt. Jaco, Benjamin F   Pvt. Powell, Daniel   Corpl Wass, Harrison
~ Case, Thomas B   Pvt. Jones, Aaron S   Pvt. Powell, Isaac C   Pvt. Watson, Osho G
~ Clayton, David L   Pvt. Kelley, John O   Pvt. Riddle, Davidson C   Pvt. Webb, George
Pvt. Coalgate, John C   Sergt. Kendall, Amos   Pvt. Riddle, Isarael L   2nd Lt. Westfall, James B
Pvt. Collins, Alexander   Pvt. Kinseley, George H   Pvt. Riddle, Lowman   Pvt. Whetzel, Joseph
Pvt. Collins, Shedrick C   Pvt. Knight, Samuel   Pvt. Roberts, David   Sergt. White, James W
Pvt. Cox, Daniel W   ~ Law, John W   Pvt. Robinson, James W   Pvt. Whitehair, David L
Pvt. Cox, Philip L   Pvt. Loughry, Nathan A.W.   Corpl Robinson, Joseph W   Pvt. Whitehare, John P
~ Cunningham, Perry J   Pvt. Malone, James V   Pvt. Robinson, Joshua G   Pvt. Williams, Andrew J
~ Daugherty, George W   Pvt. Marshall, William   Pvt. Rollins, Benjamin F   Pvt. Williams, Hiram
Pvt. Davis, Ulysses   Pvt. Mason, Eli   Pvt. Rollins, Edward   Pvt. Wilson, Archibald B
Pvt. Dotson, Arious E   Sergt. Mason, Riley   Pvt. Sanders, Thomas W   Pvt. Wilson, Arthur
Sergt. Dotson, Charles   Pvt. McClain, Eugenius W   Pvt. Sandy, William H.H.   Pvt. Wilson, George
Pvt. Dotson, Clinton   Pvt. McConnaughy, John   Pvt. Seders, Jeremiah   Pvt. Wilson, Joshua
Corpl Dotson, Garrison   Pvt. McDonald, Alexander   Pvt. Selcott, James H   Pvt. Wineberg, Henry C
Corpl Dotson, James G   Pvt. McDonald, John W   ~ Shinn, William J   Pvt. Woofter, George A
Pvt. Dotson, John W   Pvt. McDonald, Tilman H   ~ Silcott, Emanuel B   Pvt. Woofter, Thomas J
Pvt. Dotson, Leeman   Pvt. McDonald, Wesley   Pvt. Silcott, Lewis T   Pvt. Wotring, John N
1st Lt. Dotson, Lloyd   ~ McDonald, William R   Pvt. Smith, Christian   Pvt. Wyatt, Jasper
~ Dougherty, Joseph H   Pvt. McGill, John W   Pvt. Smith, Gilbert   Corpl Young, David H
~ Duckworth, Wellington A   Pvt. McGraw, John   Pvt. Smith, Levi   Pvt. Zinn, Edward D.C.
Pvt. Dumire, John W   Pvt. McNemar, William B   Pvt. Snodgrass, Elijah C   Pvt. Zinn, Granville P
~ Eddy, James P   Pvt. Miller, William   Pvt. Stevens, Elijah   Pvt. Zinn, Henry C
Pvt. Edwards, John B   ~ Mitchell, Josiah   Pvt. Stevens, Lindsey M   Pvt. Zinn, John W
Pvt. Elsey, Jacob C   Pvt. Mitchell, Robert   Pvt. Stuart, Robert W   Pvt. Zinn, Marion B
Pvt. Exline, Abraham   Pvt. Moore, John   Pvt. Summers, Elijah W   Pvt. Zinn, Thomas G
~ Rinegan, John N   Pvt. Morris, Nimrod   Pvt. Summers, Israel T   Pvt. Zinn, William B