David was one of the last of eight or more children, mostly consisting of sons, of Daniel and Mary Buel. At least four of those sons served in either the Mexican or the Civil War. Daniel died some time before 1840, but Mary was about seventy-six years of age when she died in Lexington Township, Michigan on August First, 1862. She appears to have run a boarding house or hotel in Lexington after her husband’s death.
David was born in Delaware County, New York on October First, 1825. The family left New York not long after his birth; and there are many reasons to believe that they may have lived in Ohio for a time before eventually settling in St. Clair County, Michigan. For example, Grover Buel, one of David’s older brothers, is known to have married Emily Hopkins in Ravenna, Portage County, Ohio in 1843. Portage adjoins Trumbull County, the one in which David Buel’s future wife lived before moving to California to marry David. Emily Hopkins had been born in Nelson, Ohio on October 3, 1818; and David’s wife, Diana “Nina” Lucy Terrill, had been born in Astabula County, Ohio. The association with Ohio even extends to Buel’s business interests. Although Buel’s future business partner, Isaac C. Bateman, is known to have been born in Pennsylvania, Isaac’s brother William was born in Ohio.
Although little has yet come to light concerning Buel’s formative years, the few letters and other writings of his that have been discovered suggest that he was better educated and more literate than were most of his contemporaries. There is reason to believe that at least some of Buel’s relatives were in the lumbering business.
In 1846, when he was twenty-one years old, Buel entered the military. He gave his occupation at that time as a “mariner.” In view of the propinquity of Michigan to the Great Lakes that designation suggests that Buel may have worked on one or more Great Lakes vessels prior to his enlistment. Buel’s decision to enlist for military service could have been prompted by President Tyler’s call on May 18, 1846 for the states to furnish troops to serve in the war with Mexico.
On the Second of November of 1847 Michigan answered that call, and Buel enlisted once again, this time at Port Huron, Michigan as a sergeant in Company “B” of the First Michigan Infantry Regiment, a company of volunteers that was commanded by David’s brother, Captain Grover N. Buel. In April of 1842 Grover Buel, who was also from Port Huron, had been named a brigadier general in the Eighth Michigan Brigade. He continued under that rank until the president asked for volunteers for the Mexican War. At that time he raised the “B” Company of the First Michigan Infantry Volunteers and was named their leader under the federal rank of captain. Benjamin Franklin Luce, who had married David Buel’s younger sister Sarah in May of 1847, was a second lieutenant in the same regiment. David was twenty-two years old at the time, and his brother Grover was thirty-three.