The reputation of “Buster” has a fun history in itself, indisputably so. Buster isn’t just a name you bequeath to your dog or horse, or even to your rabbit; nor is it slang given to compliment nouns such as belly buster, filibuster, bronco buster, gang buster, crime buster, trust buster, block buster, and so on; nor it is a nickname attributed to a fellow for either being clumsy or anonymous. Buster is an Americanism. It is good and as stereotyped as apple pie. If Buster were to have its own proverb, it would be nothing more than, “Hey, Buster, watch where you’re going, you nimrod!” Rooting as far back as the 1820’s and ‘30’s, “Buster” had sprouted from its unknown origin and dispersed its seeds transversely pass the Mississippi River, by the way of the railroad, and blooming well into the 20th Century in Hollywood. Something akin to the legend of Johnny Appleseed, but without the nobility.
The evolution of what once considered an insult by referring a man as a “buster,” an incompetent lad who broke things, or simply put, “busted” things, to raising the standard of calling an average Joe, “Buster,” can be seen through the stories of newspapers at the end of the Victorian era through the Great Depression. The height of the Buster nickname lasted for over half a century preceding World War II through the Baby Boomer generation. With it, there was Buster Brown, Buster Bear, Buster Bunny, Buster John from the short stories “Plantation Pageants,” a slew of athletes with first names are "Buster," and most notoriously, Buster Keaton, the silent film star. Despite that the nickname never had officially died out, in fact it carried on well into the 21st Century; however the popularity of the name did dwindle under the frostbite of faddish trends. In the gaming world today it has a different meaning, often referring to weapons, perhaps because these weapons would “bust” things up, under the enterprises such as Mega Man, Final Fantasy VII, and Hot Wheels Battle Five.
Now, what does this have to do the Buster family? Was it their surname which influenced the American culture? I hardly think not. But they were not absent from the scene, either. The Busters were, like all things American, pioneers. They began as farmers and slave owners. While being a part of the benefits and consequences of Manifest Destiny, they headed out to Texas, California, and Colorado before the consolidation of the Pacific Railroad, and shortly after the gold rushes. They fought in all American wars, and yes, did have brothers and cousins combat on opposing sides of the Civil War. Although once divided, unification prevailed under the Reconstruction of the South, for those who had stayed in the South. They became entrepreneurs, politicians, bureaucrats, sheriffs, ranchers, teachers, writers, and actors. They were murdered and committed murder. They gambled, embezzled, and served their communities to the best of their abilities. With a timeline expanding three centuries, they undeniably had made an impression, whether positively or negatively, or even conjointly, depending on the angle when we look through the prism.
The Buster surname is a unique one. Not because these burly Brits arrived to America amidst a historical whirlwind to “bust” through prejudices and the frontier. No, but there is some truth behind that notion. Instead their surname appeared to have evolved. First settling in the Piedmont region of the Commonwealth of Virginia, their odyssey may have begun as the Bustards. Two sources suggested that the Bustard conceivably have been inspired by birds: one that of a crane which is known as the buster bird; the other that of a buzzard which in Latin, avis tarda, translates to “clumsy bird.” Both sources had credited to physical appearances, either to a handsome man or a bearded man resembling a buzzard. The Bustard Coat of Arms does display attractive, crane-like birds which appear strong and dominating; and yes, on the sides of the birds’ heads, the feathers do favor prickly beards like a buzzard. And while that one source contributed the first document of Bustard to a Joane in 1610 England, the second one contributed to an Anglo-Saxon origin during the Middle Ages. In either case, it seems the Bustard name had originated from England, rather than Ireland, and yet this particular clan of people had roots in Ulster, Ireland. It’s unclear whether the Ulster Bustard’s were fully Irish, or were mix with English and Scottish blood, (Northern Ireland was both a political and religious hotspot for the English and Scottish Protestants to confiscate land from the Irish Catholics,) but they surely did mix heritages and races in America throughout the generations. Quite possibly by the second generation, after the Revolutionary War as the early 19th Century embarked on new ideology and government, the Bustards dropped the “ard” and simplified it with an “er,” thereby recreating a new identity: the Busters.
One of my theories, personally, why Bustard may have changed could be to the idea that it looks a lot like “Bastard.” In that instance it may have been be used as blasphemous arsenal from their foes, I’m almost certain. And perhaps the pronunciation made it difficult for some to enunciate correctly, depending on their dialect. Is it Bus-tard or Bus-turd? Or more like Bust-erd which sounds more similar to Buster. Although according to an 18th century will from a first generational Buster, William, despite the record having been written with both “Busterd” and “Bustard” by the notary, William, on the other hand, had actually signed his name as “Buster,” interestingly enough. So if the surname was truly “Buster,” because there is evidence which proves a migration of Busters who came from England and had settled in Ireland, then how does one split the hairs between Buster and Bustard? Buster does share a similar trait to that of Bustard regarding a man’s physical appearance to that of a buzzard, according the Buster Coat of Arms. Despite participating in this parallel history, which could actually have been grown from the same root, the pronunciation still causes confusion. It could have been influenced by the strong Northern Irish dialect which people misunderstood Buster with a “d” at the end. It’s hard to say, making the battle between Bustard and Buster a curiosity. With a few records which indicate the English version bearing the “ard” attachment, including William’s passage on board to the British colonies, it’s difficult to argue one way or another how the surname was originally spelled. One would think the argument could be settled by looking through the Irish records. That would help if it hadn’t been for a fire in 1922 which destroyed most 18th and 19th centuries public records.
So that brings us back to the anomaly of the name. Since the last name is so unique, odds are being related to most remaining Busters in the United States are extremely favorable. (The exception being from the burdened souls who were enslaved and, by the complex nature of the laws, had thus inherited the surname as a default. I also wouldn’t doubt a few who were forcibly born out of the vice. Also are those who had emigrated from other countries, such as Czechoslovakia, Germany, Russia, etc. and their names were altered either for conveniences or misinterpretations through the immigration process.) Therefore there are roughly over a hundred thousand descendants from the first Buster generation, William, (myself included, obviously,) with an estimation of 3,380 who continue to carry-on the Buster name as of today, including Dr. John Buster, who was the first to transplant human embryos in 1984, and Kendall Buster, who is a world acclaimed sculptor.
The people you’ll read about were direct descendants from William. You will see distinguishable patterns of heroism, arrogance, cleverness, benevolence, violence, and a fierce stubbornness that defined the pioneering spirit. But considering the last three hundred years tended to be dominated by men, often neglecting the female roles in American society, regrettably most of the narratives will center on the male descendants, with a narrow splinter on the women. I wish there could be more, and I can only work with what is available.