Posts Tagged ‘Bass Reeves’

The legend of black lawman Bass Reeves

July 27, 2021

Bronze statue of Bass Reeves in Fort Smith, Arkansas

Here’s something interesting I came across the other day.

WHO IS BASS REEVES? July 1838 – January 12, 1910

By Dave Amis

Born a slave in 1830s Texas, Bass was owned by Colonel Reeves, who taught him to shoot, ride, and hunt, but would not let him learn to read.  Bass grew to be a strong, physically impressive, and determined man who ran away at the age of 20 to be free.

Pursued by slave hunters, he narrowly escaped into the Indian Territory where Creek Indian Warriors accepted him into their tribe.  Bass learned to speak Creek, Cherokee and Seminole.  It is believed that Bass fought in the Indian Territory during the Civil War with the Union Indian brigades. ​

The Indian Territory, at this time, was a cesspool of violence.  In 1875 President Ulysses S. Grant named Congressman Isaac Parker, Federal Judge at Fort Smith, with the mandate to “save Oklahoma.”  The “Hanging Judge,” as he was soon to be known, brought in 200 deputy marshals to calm the growing chaos throughout the West.

The Indian Territory, later to include the Oklahoma Territory, in 1890, was the most dangerous area for federal peace officers in the Old West.  More than 120 lost their lives before Oklahoma became a state in 1907. ​

Bass Reeves

One of the first of the deputies hired by Judge Parker’s court was former slave from Texas, Bass Reeves.

Bass was known as an expert with pistol and rifle, stood about 6 feet 2 inches, weighed 180 pounds, and was said to have superhuman strength.

Being a former slave, Bass was illiterate.  He would memorize his warrants and writs.  In the thirty–two years of serving the people of the Oklahoma Territory, it is said he never arrested the wrong person due to the fact he couldn’t read.

Bass had a reputation throughout the territory for his ability to catch outlaws that other deputies couldn’t. 

He was known to work in disguise in order to get information and affect the arrest of fugitives he wanted to capture.

Bass is said to have arrested more than 3,000 people and killed 14 outlaws, all without sustaining a single gun wound.

Bass escaped numerous assassination attempts on his life.  He was the most feared deputy U.S. marshal to work the Indian Territory.

At the age of 67, Bass Reeves retired from federal service at Oklahoma statehood in 1907.  As an African-American, Bass was unable to continue in his position as deputy marshal under the new state laws.

He was hired as a city policeman in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where he served for about two years until his death in 1910, at age 71, from Bright’s disease.

LINK

Was the Lone Ranger Black?  The Resurrection of Bass Reeves by Christian Wallace for the Texas Monthly.  This is the most reliable, most comprehensive and most readable article on Bass Reeves that I found on the Internet.  Many details of Reeves’ life are disputed, but there is no doubt that he was a remarkable individual who should be remembered.