Bass Reeves

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Bass Reeves
Bass Reeves
Born July 1838
Crawford County, Arkansas, U.S.
Died January 12, 1910(1910-01-12) (aged 71)
Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA
Occupation Deputy U.S. Marshal
Spouse(s) Nellie Jennie (m. 1864–96)
Winnie Sumter (m. 1900–10)

Bass Reeves (July 1838 – 12 January 1910), one of the first African American Deputy U.S. Marshals west of the Mississippi River, arrested over 3,000 felons and shot and killed fourteen outlaws in self-defense.


Bass Reeves
Bass Reeves

Early life[edit]

Reeves was born into slavery in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas.[1][2] Reeves was named after his grandfather, Basse Washington. Bass Reeves and his family were slaves of Arkansas state legislator William Steele Reeves.[1] When Bass Reeves was eight (about 1846), William Reeves moved to Grayson County, Texas, near Sherman in the Peters Colony.[1] Bass Reeves may have served Colonel George R. Reeves, the son of William Reeves, the owner of Bass Reeves when he was a slave. George Reeves was also a legislator, in Texas, and at the time of his death in 1882 from rabies, George Reeves was the Speaker of the House in the Texas legislature.[3] During the American Civil War, Bass parted company with George Reeves. "Some say because Bass beat up George after a dispute in a card game.[2][3] "[4] Bass Reeves fled north into the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) and lived with the Cherokee, Seminole, and Creek Indians until he was freed by the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865.[3]

Later Reeves moved to Arkansas and farmed near Van Buren.[5] He married Nellie Jennie from Texas, with whom he had ten children, five boys and five girls.[5]


Reeves and his family farmed until 1875, when Isaac Parker was appointed federal judge for the Indian Territory. Parker appointed James F. Fagan as U.S. Marshal, directing him to hire 200 deputy U.S. Marshals. Fagan had heard about Reeves, who knew the Indian Territory and could speak several Indian languages.[5] He recruited him as one of his deputies and Reeves was the first African-American deputy west of the Mississippi River.[2][5] Reeves was initially assigned as a Deputy U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Arkansas, which also had responsibility for the Indian Territory.[6] Reeves served in that district until 1893, when he transferred to the Eastern District of Texas in Paris, Texas. In 1897 he was transferred to the Muskogee Federal Court.[6]

Reeves worked for thirty-two years as a Federal peace officer in the Indian Territory. He was one of Judge Parker's most valued deputies. Reeves brought in some of the most dangerous criminals of the time, but was never wounded, despite having his hat and belt shot off on separate occasions.[2] Once he had to arrest his own son for murder.[2]

In addition to being a marksman with a rifle and pistol, Reeves, during his long career, developed superior detective skills. When he retired in 1907, Reeves claimed to have arrested over 3,000 felons.[2][5] He is said to have shot and killed fourteen outlaws to defend his own life.[5]

One of his sons was charged with the murder of his wife. Marshal Reeves was disturbed and shaken by the incident but demanded to accept the responsibility of bringing his son to justice. His son was eventually tracked and captured, tried and convicted. He served his time in Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas before being released and living the rest of his life as a responsible and model citizen.[2]

When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Reeves, then 68, became an officer of the Muskogee, Oklahoma police department.[2] He served for two years before he became ill and had to retire.[5]

He was himself once charged with murdering a posse cook. At his trial before Judge Parker, Reeves was represented by former United States Attorney W. H. H. Clayton, who had been his colleague and friend. Reeves was acquitted.[7]


Reeves' health began to fail, and he died of Bright's disease (nephritis) in 1910.[5] He was an uncle of Paul L. Brady, the first African-American appointed a Federal Administrative Law Judge (in 1972).[8]


In 2007, the U.S. Route 62 bridge crossing the Arkansas River between Muskogee and Fort Gibson, Oklahoma was named the Bass Reeves Memorial Bridge in his honor. [9] On May 16, 2012, a bronze statue of Reeves by sculptor Harold Holden, of Enid, Oklahoma, was cast at a foundry in Norman, Oklahoma. It was then moved to its permanent location at Pendergraft Park in Fort Smith, Arkansas.[10]

In popular culture[edit]

It has been suggested that Reeves was the inspiration for the fictional character The Lone Ranger.[11] He has figured in numerous forms of popular culture.


Bass Reeves, a fictionalized film of his life and career, was released by Ponderous Productions of San Antonio in 2010.[12][13]

Morgan Freeman has expressed interest in playing Reeves in a motion picture about his life.[14]


Reeves' story has been presented to kids. Vaunda Micheaux Nelson's book, Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal, won the 2010 Coretta Scott King Award for best author.

Illustrator and historian Joel Christian Gill published a comic novel in 2014 called Tales of the Talented Tenth, Volume 1, which featured the story of Bass Reeves.[15]

Authors Ken Farmer and Buck Stienke have penned four novels based on and inspired by the exploits of Bass Reeves, The Nations, Haunted Falls (winner of the Laramie Award for best action western, 2013), Hell Hole, and Across the Red.

Author Elizabeth Bear depicted Bass Reeves in her 2015 wild-west/Steampunk novel Karen Memory.


Reeves figures prominently in an episode of How It's Made, in which a Bass Reeves limited edition collectors' figurine is shown in various stages of the production process.[16]

Bass Reeves is mentioned in passing in episode 2 of season 3 of Justified, along with other US Marshals of distinction Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp.


  1. ^ a b c Burton, Art T. (2008). Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves. Lincoln, Nebraska: U of Nebraska Press. pp. 19–20. ISBN 9780803205413. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Burton, Art T. (May–June 1999). "The Legacy of Bass Reeves: Deputy United States Marshal". The Crisis (Baltimore, Maryland: The Crisis Publishing Co.) 106 (3): 38–42. ISSN 0011-1422. 
  3. ^ a b c Burton, Art T. (2008). Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves. Lincoln, Nebraska: U of Nebraska Press. pp. 21–23. ISBN 9780803205413. 
  4. ^ OLD WEST LEGENDS Bass Reeves - Black Hero Marshal
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h "Bass Reeves, the Most Feared U.S. Deputy Marshal". The Norman Transcript. Archived from the original on 26 August 2012. Retrieved 27 August 2013. 
  6. ^ a b "Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves". U.S. Marshals Museum. U.S. Marshals Museum, Inc. Retrieved 27 August 2013. 
  7. ^ Burton, Arthur; Art T. Burton (2006). Black gun, silver star: the life and legend of frontier marshal Bass Reeves. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. pp. 139–148. ISBN 0-8032-1338-7. 
  8. ^ "Judge Paul L. Brady Retires from Job Safety Commission". press release: United States Occupational Safety and Health Review Committee. April 15, 1997. Retrieved: August 13, 2007.
  9. ^ Goforth, Dylan (November 11, 1977). "Bridge to be renamed in tribute to famed lawman". Muskogee Phoenix. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 
  10. ^ "Statue of U.S. marshal to travel from Oklahoma to Arkansas Wednesday", Associated Press in The Oklahoman, May 16, 2012 (pay site).
  11. ^ Manzoor, Sarfraz (22 March 2013). "America's forgotten black cowboys". Retrieved 22 March 2013. 
  12. ^ Bass Reeves at the Internet Movie Database
  13. ^ Bass Reeves at Ponderous Productions
  14. ^ "Morgan Freeman explores science, faith". CNN. 
  15. ^ NPR Staff (14 February 2015). "'Strange Fruit' Shares Uncelebrated, Quintessentially American Stories". NPR News (National Public Radio: Code Switch). Retrieved 15 February 2015. 
  16. ^ How It's Made. "How It's Made Mini-Episodes: Resin Figurines : Video : Science Channel". Retrieved 2014-06-19. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Paulsen, Gary (2006). The legend of Bass Reeves: being the true and fictional account of the most valiant marshal in the West. New York: Wendy Lamb Books. ISBN 0-385-74661-X. 

External links[edit]