Bass Reeves

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Bass Reeves
BornJuly 1838
Died(1910-01-12)January 12, 1910 (aged 71)
OccupationDeputy U.S. Marshal, MPD Police Officer
Nellie Jennie
(m. 1864; died 1896)

Winnie Sumter
(m. 1900)

Bass Reeves (July 1838 – January 12, 1910) was an American law enforcement officer. He was the first black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi River. He worked mostly in Arkansas and the Oklahoma Territory.[a] During his long career, he was credited with arresting more than 3,000 felons. He shot and killed 14 people in self-defense.

Early life[edit]

Reeves was born into slavery in Crawford County, Arkansas, in 1838.[1][2] He was named after his grandfather, Bass Washington. Reeves and his family were enslaved by Arkansas state legislator William Steele Reeves.[1] When Bass was eight (about 1846), William Reeves moved to Grayson County, Texas, near Sherman in the Peters Colony.[1] Bass Reeves may have been kept in bondage by William Steele Reeves's son, Colonel George R. Reeves, who was a sheriff and legislator in Texas, and a one-time Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives until his death from rabies in 1882.[3]

When the American Civil War began, George Reeves, Bass’ enslaver, joined the Confederate Army, taking Bass with him. It is unclear how, and exactly when, Bass Reeves left his enslaver, but at some point during the Civil War, he gained his freedom. One account recalls how Bass Reeves and George Reeves had an altercation over a card game. Bass severely beat his enslaver, and fled to the Indian Territory where he lived among the Cherokee, Creeks and Seminoles.[2][3][4] Bass stayed in the Indian Territories and learned their languages until he was freed by the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, in 1865.[3]

As a freedman, Reeves moved to Arkansas and farmed near Van Buren. He married Nellie Jennie from Texas, with whom he had 11 children.[5][6][7][8]


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 a deputy; Reeves was the first black deputy to serve west of the Mississippi River.[2][5] Reeves was assigned as a deputy U.S. marshal for the Western District of Arkansas, which had responsibility also for the Indian Territory.[9] He served there until 1893. That year he transferred to the Eastern District of Texas in Paris, Texas, for a short while. In 1897, he was transferred again, serving at the Muskogee Federal Court in the Indian Territory.[9]

Reeves worked for 32 years as a federal peace officer in the Indian Territory, and became 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]

In addition to being a marksman with a rifle and revolver, Reeves developed superior detective skills during his long career. When he retired in 1907, Reeves claimed to have arrested over 3,000 felons.[2][5] He is said to have shot and killed 14 outlaws to defend his life.[5]

Once, he had to arrest his own son for murder.[2] One of his sons, Bennie Reeves, was charged with the murder of his wife. Deputy Marshal Reeves was disturbed and shaken by the incident, but allegedly demanded the responsibility of bringing Bennie to justice. Bennie was eventually tracked and captured, tried, and convicted. He served his time in Fort Leavenworth in Kansas before being released, and reportedly lived the rest of his life as a responsible and model citizen.[2]

When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Bass Reeves, then 68, became an officer of the Muskogee Police Department.[2] He served for two years before he became ill and retired.[5]

Later years and death[edit]

Reeves 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 was a colleague and friend. Reeves was acquitted.[10]

Reeves' health began to fail further after retiring. He died of Bright's disease (nephritis) on January 12, 1910.[5]

He was a great-uncle of Paul L. Brady, who became the first black man appointed as a federal administrative law judge in 1972.[11] His great-great-great-grandson is National Hockey League player Ryan Reaves.[12]


  • Historian Art Burton postulated the theory that Bass Reeves may have served as inspiration for the character of the Lone Ranger. Burton makes this argument based on the sheer number of people Reeves arrested without taking any serious injury, coupled with many of these arrested were incarcerated in the Detroit House of Correction, the same city where the Lone Ranger radio plays were broadcast on WXYZ.[13] This theory is disputed.[14][15]
  • In 2011, the US-62 Bridge, which spans the Arkansas River between Muskogee and Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, was renamed the Bass Reeves Memorial Bridge.[16]
  • In May 2012, a bronze statue of Reeves by Oklahoma sculptor Harold Holden was erected in Pendergraft Park in Fort Smith, Arkansas.[17]
  • In 2013, he was inducted into the Texas Trail of Fame.[18]


  • Reeves is the subject of the Season two Episode four of Gunslingers, "The real lone ranger".
  • 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.[19]
  • In "The Murder of Jesse James", an episode of the television series Timeless (season one, episode 12), Bass Reeves is portrayed by Colman Domingo.[20]
  • Reeves was a featured subject of the Drunk History episode "Oklahoma" in which he was portrayed by Jaleel White.
  • In "Everybody Knows", a season two episode of the television series Wynonna Earp, Reeves is portrayed by Adrian Holmes.
  • Bass Reeves is mentioned in the plot of "The Royal Family", a season two episode of the television series Greenleaf. Reeves' name is used as an alias by pastor Basie Skanks to support his church with gambling earnings.
  • Bass Reeves' status as one of the first black sheriffs plays a significant role as a childhood role model for the character of Will Reeves in the Watchmen television series.
  • Bass Reeves is mentioned in Season 3 Episode 2 of the television series Justified as two US Marshals are discussing their all-time favorite historical US Marshals.


  • Bass Reeves, a 2010 fictionalized account of Reeves's life and career, stars James A. House in the titular role.[21]
  • In They Die by Dawn (2013), Bass Reeves is portrayed by Harry Lennix.
  • Hell On The Border is a 2019 action film based on the early law enforcement career of Bass Reeves, starring David Gyasi. It was written and directed by Wes Miller and features Ron Perlman in a supporting role.[22]
  • A miniseries based on Burton's 2006 biography (and co-produced by Morgan Freeman) is reportedly under development by HBO.[23]
  • As of April 2018, Amazon Studios is developing a biopic of Reeves with the script and direction helmed by Chloé Zhao.[24]



  • Bass Reeves is a character in the miniature wargame Wild West Exodus.
  • Bass Reeves is a playable character in the board game Western Legends.
  • Bass Reeves served as the inspiration for Sheriff Freeman in Red Dead Redemption 2.[citation needed]
  • Bass Reeves served as the inspiration for Cornelius Basse in the miniature wargame Malifaux.

Hall of fame[edit]

In 1992, he was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.[25]


  • Reeves is featured in the semi-biographical 2019 novel, Miss Chisum, by Russ Brown. Where as a boy in Paris, Texas in the 1850s he is portrayed as being befriended by a young adult John Chisum. They meet again later in life where it is revealed that Chisum had been a role model for the young Reeves.
  • Reeves is also featured in the historical fiction novel, Follow the Angels, Follow the Doves: The Bass Reeves Trilogy, Book One, by Sidney Thompson, which follows Bass Reeves' origin as a slave in the 19th century south, before he could stake his claim as one of the most successful American lawman in history--capturing over 3,000 outlaws during his thirty-two-year career as a deputy U.S. marshal, deep in the most dangerous regions of the Old Wild West.[26]
  • Bass Reeves is the subject of a 2020 comic book titled "Bass Reeves", produced by Allegiance Arts & Entertainment, and written by Kevin Grevioux with art by David Williams.
  • Bass Reeves will appear in Un cow-boy dans le coton, an upcoming album in the Lucky Luke Belgian comic book series by Jul and Achdé.
  • Bass Reeves is the subject of the book, The Legend of Bass Reeves, by Gary Paulsen, which features both true and fictional accounts of Reeves.[27]


  1. ^ Indian Territory comprised most of what became Eastern Oklahoma on November 16, 1907, when Oklahoma became a state. Reeves's former position as a U.S. Marshal was abolished at that time, so he became an officer with the Muskogee Police Department, where he served for two years until he was forced to resign because of his declining health.


  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. 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. ^ "Bass Reeves - Black Hero Marshal". Retrieved June 9, 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Bass Reeves, the Most Feared U.S. Deputy Marshal". The Norman Transcript. May 3, 2007. Archived from the original on September 7, 2012. Retrieved August 31, 2016.
  6. ^ "United States Census, 1870". p. 10, family 75, NARA microfilm publication M593 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 545,550. Retrieved April 1, 2016. Bass Reeves, Arkansas, United States
  7. ^ "United States Census, 1880". enumeration district ED 50, sheet 582A, NARA microfilm publication T9 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 0042; FHL microfilm 1,254,042. Retrieved April 1, 2016. Bass Reeves, Van Buren, Crawford, Arkansas, United States
  8. ^ "United States Census, 1900". citing sheet 20B, family 468, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,241,853. Retrieved April 1, 2016. Bass Reeves, Muscogee (part of M K & T Railway) Muscogee, Creek Nation, Indian Territory, United States
  9. ^ a b "Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves". U.S. Marshals Museum. U.S. Marshals Museum, Inc. Archived from the original on March 2, 2014. Retrieved August 27, 2013.
  10. ^ 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 978-0-8032-1338-8.
  11. ^ "Judge Paul L. Brady Retires from Job Safety Commission" Archived February 15, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. press release: United States Occupational Safety and Health Review Committee. April 15, 1997. Retrieved August 13, 2007.
  12. ^ Gold-Smith, Josh. "Reaves putting Kane feud aside, joining him for 'much bigger cause'".
  13. ^ Morgan, Thad (August 31, 2018). "Was the Real Lone Ranger a Black Man?". History. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  14. ^ LaCapria, Kim (February 13, 2019). "Was the Original 'Lone Ranger' a Black Man?". Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  15. ^ Grams Jr., Martin. "Bass Reeves and The Lone Ranger: Debunking the Myth, Part 1". Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  16. ^ Goforth, Dylan (November 11, 1977). "Bridge to be renamed in tribute to famed lawman". Muskogee Phoenix. Retrieved August 6, 2013.
  17. ^ "Statue of U.S. marshal to travel from Oklahoma to Arkansas Wednesday", Associated Press in The Oklahoman, May 16, 2012 (pay site).
  18. ^ "Bass Reeves". Western Heritage from the Texas Trail of Fame. December 26, 2013. Retrieved April 14, 2018.
  19. ^ "How It's Made: Resin Figurines". Science Channel. Archived from the original on September 22, 2013. Retrieved June 19, 2014.
  20. ^ The Murder of Jesse James at
  21. ^ Bass Reeves at
  22. ^ Hell On The Border at
  23. ^ "Mini About Hero Lawman Bass Reeves In Works At HBO With Morgan Freeman, Lori McCreary & James Pickens Producing". May 18, 2015. Retrieved January 25, 2017.
  24. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (April 20, 2018). "Amazon Studios Lands Biopic on Bass Reeves, First Black U.S. Deputy Marshal, From 'The Rider' Helmer Chloé Zhao". Retrieved May 12, 2018.
  25. ^ "Hall of Great Westerners". National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Retrieved November 22, 2019.
  26. ^ "Book Page : Nebraska Press".
  27. ^ "The Legend of Bass Reeves". Kirkus Reviews. 2006.

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