#17 in a series
Etienne de Pelissier Bujac, Carlsbad, NM
By Paul A. Roales
In 2009 I bought a collection of Spanish-American War documents and photos that had come from the estate of Roy B. A. Thomas of Webb City, MO. He had been attached to the 33rd Infantry during the Philippine Insurection and was active in the UNITED SPANISH WAR VETERANS organization. The United Spanish War Veterans existed until 1992, when the last member died one month before his 107th birthday.
Among the documents I found was the letter from Etienne de Pelissier Bujac posted below on the right. It is his reply to having been elected Commander at the United Spanish War Veterans Association at their convention in San Antonio, TX in 1932. A quick check on the WWW indicated that Bujac was a man who served his country in the Spanish American War; the Philippine Insurection; the Boxer Rebellion; the Mexican trouble with Panco Villa; and World War I. So I decided to research his story.
Etienne de Pelissier Bujac was born near Catonville, Maryland, on 22 December 1867. He was the son of James J. Bujac, of Bordeaux, France, and Ellen Kelso Bujac, a native of Ireland. His grandfather, Alfred Bujac, was a French marquis and represented France as consul to the United States. Colonel Bujac was a descendant of Prince William of Orange, "William the Silent," who was assassinated at Delt, Holland. He was also a descendant of Napoleon's famous marshal, de Turenne, one of the bravest of the brave, whose ashes rest beside Napoleon's in Paris, placed there by Napoleon's own request. He spent his boyhood and youth in Baltimore on his father's country estate. At the age of 12 he went to work in a store in his home town. Then he studied at an agricultural college and in 1896 took a law degree from Cumberland University at Lebanon, Tennessee. He practiced law there for a time and in 1898 moved to Houston, Texas, where he entered the Spanish-American war as Captain of Company H, 1st U. S. Volunteer infantry. He went to Cuba and served under General Fitzhugh Lee.
After a brief return to civilian life he re-enlisted in 1899 as a sergeant major in the 33rd Infantry Regiment serving in the Philippines, where (as a 2nd Lt.) he was recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honor by Captain Hulen and Colonel Hare of the 33rd. Infantry for leading a charge from the American trenches against a Philippine position.
During the Boxer Rebellion, Bujac took part in the U.S. evacuation of the sick and wounded from China to the safety of the Philippines.
Bujac received his honorable discharge from the 33rd Infantry on 12 May, 1902 and returned to the U.S. where he established himself in the recently organized town of Carlsbad, New Mexico. There he practice general law. Through this practice he established a regional reputation as a colorful defense attorney and a powerful orator.
Shortly after his arrival in Carlsbad Bujac married Julia Armandine Graves Penton and the couple’s only child, Etienne de Pelissier Bujac II, was born there on April 20, 1904. Tragically, Julia Armandine Bujac died several weeks after giving birth to her son.
A year after his wife’s death, Bujac met Jane Robinson in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and married her shortly thereafter. The couple returned to Carlsbad. The household expanded to include a daughter, Adele de Turenne Bujac.
In line with his military status, Captain Bujac assisted in the formation of several units of the New Mexico National Guard. By May, 1908, he helped form at Carlsbad, Company B of the first New Mexico Infantry Regiment. He was commissioned as a Reserve Captain and appointed commander of that company. On February 1, 1909, he received a second commission as Reserve Major of the First New Mexico Infantry Regiment, and he was placed in command of its Second Battalion. The picture above left shows him in 1912 in full regalia.
Soon after Pancho Villa’s raid on Columbus, New Mexico, in March, 1916, Company B of Carlsbad was called into active service at the border. Bujac, however, was not called up. He fought his placement on the unassigned list, insisting that it was a retaliation for his attack on the national administration in a speech the previous year.
It would be 16 months before he finally succeeded, using Washington connections, in getting this exclusion from active service reversed. He ultimately was promoted to Colonel and commanded the 144th Machine Gun Battalion, which he had also helped to form. On February 14, 1918, before Bujac’s battalion left the United States to serve in France during World War I, he was honorably discharged, as the result of an injury received during training exercises.
Bujac’s colorful legal career continued for several more years. While Bujac was best known for his criminal law practice, he also practiced corporate law and was for almost 20 years the local attorney for the Santa Fe Railroad. And yet, Bujac continued to bolster his reputation as a defender of the common man. This role culminated in the 1920s in Bujac securing a one-item concession for Jim White, an important initial explorer of Carlsbad Caverns, at the National Monument despite strong opposition from the National Park Service. Through the use of personal contacts in Washington, Bujac established an income stream for White from the sale at the caverns of "Jim White’s Own Story" – an exaggerated ghostwritten account of the Carlsbad cowboy’s cave-related exploits.
By 1930, the Colonel’s health had failed (he mentiones he has been ill in the letter above). Despondent that he would be a burden to others, Bujac took his own life on the lawn of his house on April 12, 1932. The newspaper, as was the practice of that time for someone of his prominence, reported it as an accidental gunshot.
Bujac’s son by his first wife, Etienne, Jr., held a series of short-term jobs prior to his father’s death. He traveled, to Hollywood where he was introduced to film producer David O. Selznick who suggested a screen test. Etienne began intensive acting lessons and adopted the screen name of Bruce Cabot. In 1937, Etienne, Jr. starred as the hero in “King Kong,” the year’s biggest film. It was an auspicious start to an acting career that spanned 40 years and some 300 films. The Colonel’s second child, Adele de Turenne Bujac, lived most of her life in Carlsbad. His home "Armadine" was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Note: Most of the above material came from "Armadine," in the National Register of Historic Places, December 2002 and from The Roswell Daily Record, June 14 1932 Page 1.
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