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Bass Reeves

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Bass Reeves
BornJuly 1838
DiedJanuary 12, 1910(1910-01-12) (aged 71)
Occupation(s)Farmer, rancher, railroad agent, tracker, scout, interpreter, deputy United States Marshal, policeman.
Years active35 years as a law enforcement officer.
Known for4,000 arrests
Height6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) at age 30
Jennie Haynes
(m. 1864; died 1896)
Winnie Sumter
(m. 1900)
Police career
CountryUnited States Government
BranchDeputy U.S. Marshal
Service years1875–1910
Other workMPD Police Officer

Bass Reeves (July 1838 – January 12, 1910) was a runaway slave, gunfighter, farmer, scout, tracker, railroad agent and deputy U.S. Marshal. He spoke and understood the five civilized tribal languages including Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole and Creek. Bass was one of the first African-American Deputy U.S. Marshals west of the Mississippi River, mostly working in the deadly Indian Territory. The region was saturated with horse thieves, cattle rustlers, gunslingers, bandits, bootleggers, swindlers, and murderers. Reeves made more than 3,000 to 4,000 arrests in his lifetime, killing twenty men in the line of duty.[1][2]

Reeves was born into slavery in Crawford County, Arkansas. His family were slaves belonging to Arkansas state legislator William Steele Reeves. During the American Civil War, his owners fought for the Confederacy. At some point, Reeves escaped and fled to Indian Territory, where he learned American Indian languages and customs, as well as tracking and survival skills. He eventually became a farmer and rancher. By 1875, Reeves was hired as a deputy U.S. Marshal along with other individuals. He was 37 years old. Reeves was well acquainted with the Indian Territory and served there for over 32 years as a peace officer, covering over 75,000 square miles in what is now Oklahoma. He was a victim of several tragedies during his lifetime. He accidentally shot his cook, William Leach, which led to the court case United States vs. Bass Reeves, for which he was acquitted. His first wife Jennie died in 1896, and in 1902 he had to arrest his son Benjamin "Bennie" Reeves, who was charged with murdering his wife, Castella Brown. Bennie was convicted and found guilty by a jury on January 22, 1903, in Muskogee. The presiding judge was C. W. Raymond. Bennie was sentenced to the U.S. prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for his natural life.[3] Bennie was released after eleven years in prison, and lived out the rest of his life as a model citizen.[4][5][a]

Reeves encountered some of the most ruthless outlaws of his day. His weapons of choice were the Winchester models 1873 and 1892. They were guns that conveniently fit dual-purpose handgun/rifle cartridges. He also briefly used the 1873 Colt Single Action .45 caliber Peacemaker.[6] He tracked and killed notorious outlaw Jim Webb. Webb murdered over eleven people.[7] Another notorious desperado Reeves encountered was murderer and horse thief Wiley Bear. Reeves rounded him up along with his gang, which included John Simmons and Sam Lasly. Reeves was in a gunfight with the Creek desperado Frank Buck, whom he shot and killed.[3] Reeves was immortalized in popular media, including TV shows, films, novels, poems, and books. He was also inducted into the Texas Trail of Fame.[8] A bronze statue of Reeves was erected in Pendergraft Park in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and the Bass Reeves Memorial Bridge in Oklahoma was named after the legendary lawman.[9]

Early life[edit]

Reeves was born into slavery in Crawford County, Arkansas, in 1838.[10][11] He was named after his grandfather, Bass Washington. Reeves and his family were enslaved by Arkansas state legislator William Steele Reeves.[10] When Bass was eight, in about 1846, William Reeves moved to Grayson County, Texas, near Sherman in the Peters Colony.[10] It appears plausible that Reeves was retained as a servant by William Steele Reeves's son, Colonel George R. Reeves, a Texan sheriff, legislator, and one-time Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.[12]

When the American Civil War began, George Reeves joined the Confederate States Army, taking Bass with him. According to the Reeves family, at some time between 1861 and 1862 he attacked George Reeves following an argument during a poker card game. He escaped to Indian Territory which is now Kansas and Oklahoma. Once there, he became acquainted with the Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole, learning their customs, languages, and tracking skills.[4][5][13] The Emancipation Proclamation gave Reeves his freedom. As a freedman, Reeves returned to Arkansas and farmed near Van Buren.[8][14][15][16][17]


Reeves and his family farmed until 1875, when Isaac C. 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 Territory and could speak several Native languages.[14] He recruited him as a deputy. Reeves, age 37, was the first Black deputy to serve west of the Mississippi River.[11][14] Reeves was assigned as a deputy U.S. marshal for the Western District of Arkansas, which had responsibility also for the Native reservation Territory.[18] 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 Native Territory.[18]

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 fugitives of the time. He was never wounded, despite having his hat and belt shot off on separate occasions.[11]

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 had on his record thousands of arrests of felons, some accounts claiming over 3,000.[11][14] According to his obituary, he killed 14 outlaws to defend his life.[14] Reeves even had to arrest his son for murder.[11] Benjamin "Bennie" Reeves was charged with the murder of his wife. Despite the perpetrator being his son, Reeves insisted on the responsibility of bringing Bennie to justice. Accounts of the incident report that Bennie was captured by his father, or turned himself in. He was ultimately tried and convicted, serving 11 years at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas before his sentence was commuted. He reportedly lived the rest of his life as a model citizen.[11]

When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Reeves, then 68, became an officer of the Muskogee Police Department.[11] He served for two years before he became ill and retired.[14]

Later years and death[edit]

Reeves (left) with a group of Marshals in 1907

Reeves was once charged with murdering a posse cook. At his trial before Judge Parker, Reeves claimed to have shot the man by mistake while cleaning his gun. He was represented by former United States Attorney W. H. H. Clayton, who was a colleague and friend. Reeves was eventually believed and acquitted, possibly based on his exceptional record.[19]

Reeves' health began to fail further after retiring. He died of Bright's disease (nephritis) on January 12, 1910.[14]

Family and descendants[edit]

Reeves was married twice and had eleven children. In 1864 he married Nellie Jennie (d. 1896) and after her death Winnie Sumter (1900–1910). His children were named Newland, Benjamin, George, Lula, Robert, Sally, Edgar, Bass Jr., Harriet, Homer and Alice.[14][15][16][17]

He was a great-uncle of Paul L. Brady, who became the first Black man appointed as a federal administrative law judge in 1972.[20]

His great-great-grandson is former National Football League and Canadian Football League player Willard Reaves. His great-great-great-grandsons are National Hockey League player Ryan Reaves and CFL player Jordan Reaves.[21] Ryan Reaves's grandfather changed the family name from Reeves to Reaves.[22][23] This claim has not been verified by historians and/or genealogists.


A statue dedicated to Bass Reeves in Fort Smith, Arkansas


  • Bass is one possible inspiration for the Lone Ranger, the travelling hero of western radio, TV and films; historian Art T. Burton says "Bass Reeves is the closest person to resemble the Lone Ranger" citing similarities including Reeves working with Native American partners and handed out souvenir silver dollars.[27]
  • Reeves is the subject of season 1, episode 6 titled "Bass Reeves: Trailblazing Lawman" (2021) in the Roku series Wild West Chronicles
  • Reeves is the subject of season 2, episode 4 titled "The Real Lone Ranger" in Gunslingers[28]
  • 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[29]
  • In "The Murder of Jesse James", an episode of the television series Timeless (season one, episode 12), Reeves is portrayed by Colman Domingo.[30]
  • Reeves was a featured subject of the Drunk History episode "Oklahoma" in which he was portrayed by Jaleel White.[31]
  • In "Everybody Knows", a season two episode of the television series Wynonna Earp, Reeves is portrayed by Adrian Holmes.[32]
  • 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.[33]
  • Reeves' status as one of the first black Deputy U.S. Marshals plays a significant role as a childhood role model for the character of Will Reeves in the Watchmen television series. Reeves is portrayed by Jamal Akakpo in three episodes featuring a fictional 1920s silent film based on Reeves' exploits titled "Trust in the Law".[34]
  • Reeves is mentioned in season 3, episode 2 of the television series Justified as two U.S. Marshals are discussing their all-time favorite historical U.S. Marshals.[35]
  • Reeves features in the "Stressed Western" episode of Legends of Tomorrow, portrayed by David Ramsey. Ramsey is noted for having played Green Arrow's ally and confidant John Diggle in the Arrowverse since its inception. In context, Reeves is portrayed as Diggle's ancestor where Sara Lance called him "Dig" at one point even though he thought they were digging the gunfight activities. The Legends encounter him at Fist City, Oklahoma at the time when they were pursuing the Haverack, a rage-attracted alien worm that has been excreting gold. After the Haverack was slain by Astra Logue, Reeves brought Fist City back in order.
  • Reeves features as a character played by Gary Beadle in the 2021 TV series Around the World in 80 Days.[36]
  • A miniseries based on Art T. Burton's 2006 biography (and co-produced by Morgan Freeman) was reported to be under development by HBO in 2015.[37] The concept was later acquired by Amazon Studios in 2019 and ordered to series in 2022 under the title Twin Territories.[38]
  • In season 34, episode 14 of The Simpsons, "Carl Carlson Rides Again," the character Lenny states that the TV show "The Lone Ranger" is based on Reeves.[39]
  • A limited series based on the life of Reeves entitled Lawmen: Bass Reeves from creator Taylor Sheridan and starring David Oyelowo began airing on Paramount+ on November 5, 2023.[40][41]




  • Reeves is a character in the miniature wargame Wild West Exodus.[49]
  • Reeves is a playable character in the board game Western Legends.[50]
  • In the card game Cartaventura Oklahoma, one plays the fictional escape of Bass Reeves with five possible outcomes.[51] The game also includes an insert with a summary of Bass Reeves' story.
  • Bass Reeves appears as a quest NPC in the video game Nightingale.[52]

Comic books[edit]

Hall of fame[edit]


  • Brady, Paul L. (2005). The Black Badge: Deputy United States Marshal Bass Reeves from Slave to Heroic Lawman. Los Angeles, Calif.: Milligan Books. ISBN 0-9759654-5-X. OCLC 62315198.
  • Burton, Arthur T. (2006). Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-0541-4. OCLC 68481191. Republished in 2022: ISBN 9781496234469
  • Paulsen, Gary (2008). The Legend of Bass Reeves: Being the True and Fictional Account of the Most Valiant Marshal in the West. New York: Laurel-Leaf Books. ISBN 978-0-307-51379-3. OCLC 803982719.[57]
  • Brown, Russ (2019). Miss Chisum: A colorful 19th century Texan romance. Amazon International: Russ E. A. Brown. ISBN 979-8438814542. OCLC 1381888902.[58]


  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 deputy 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. ^ Art T. Burton (April 10, 2015). "Bass Reeves". Fort Smith, Arkansas: National Park Service. Archived from the original on September 12, 2023. Retrieved February 2, 2024.
  2. ^ Burton 2006, pp. 21–22.
  3. ^ a b Thompson 2023, p. 34.
  4. ^ a b "The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture". okhistory.org. Archived from the original on January 23, 2024. Retrieved February 2, 2024.
  5. ^ a b "Encyclopedia Britannica". britannica.com. Archived from the original on January 17, 2024. Retrieved February 2, 2024.
  6. ^ Jim Wilson (February 12, 2015). "Frontier Lawman: Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves". americanrifleman.org/. Archived from the original on January 31, 2023. Retrieved February 2, 2024.
  7. ^ Nelson, Vaunda Micheaux (2013). Bad News for Outlaws The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal. : Minneapolis, MN: Lerner Publishing Group. pp. intro. ISBN 9781467737593.
  8. ^ a b "Texas Trail of Fame". texastrailoffame.org. Archived from the original on November 18, 2023. Retrieved February 2, 2024.
  9. ^ Art T. Burton (November 17, 2023). "Encyclopedia of Arkansas". encyclopediaofarkansas.net. Archived from the original on December 22, 2023. Retrieved February 2, 2024.
  10. ^ a b c Burton 2006, pp. 19–20.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Burton, Art T. (May–June 1999). "The Legacy of Bass Reeves: Deputy United States Marshal". The Crisis. 106 (3): 38–42. ISSN 0011-1422.
  12. ^ Burton 2006, pp. 21–23.
  13. ^ "Legends of America". legendsofamerica.com. Retrieved January 24, 2024.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h "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.
  15. ^ a b "United States Census, 1870". FamilySearch.org. 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
  16. ^ a b "United States Census, 1880". FamilySearch.org. 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
  17. ^ a b "United States Census, 1900". FamilySearch.org. 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, Natives Territory, United States
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Burton 2006, pp. 139–148.
  20. ^ "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.
  21. ^ Gold-Smith, Josh (June 14, 2020). "Reaves putting Kane feud aside, joining him for 'much bigger cause'". theScore.com.
  22. ^ Wright, Branson (December 7, 2021). "Rangers winger Ryan Reaves discovers the history behind the family name".
  23. ^ Clark, Ryan S. (November 16, 2023). "Ryan Reaves talks about TV show based on a his great-great-great-grandfather". ESPN. Retrieved November 17, 2023.
  24. ^ Goforth, Dylan (November 11, 1977). "Bridge to be renamed in tribute to famed lawman". Muskogee Phoenix. Retrieved August 6, 2013.
  25. ^ "Statue of U.S. marshal to travel from Oklahoma to Arkansas Wednesday", Associated Press in The Oklahoman, May 16, 2012 (pay site).
  26. ^ "Bass Reeves". Western Heritage from the Texas Trail of Fame. www.texastrailoffame.org. December 26, 2013. Retrieved April 14, 2018.
  27. ^ Hunt, Maria C. (May 19, 2024). "'A history that's been suppressed': the Black cowboy story is 200 years old". The Guardian. The Guardian. Retrieved June 12, 2024.
  28. ^ IMDb Gunslingers, "Bass Reeves - The Real Lone Ranger"
  29. ^ "How It's Made: Resin Figurines". science.discovery.com. Science Channel. Archived from the original on September 22, 2013. Retrieved June 19, 2014.
  30. ^ The Murder of Jesse James at IMDb.
  31. ^ IMDb Drunk History, Oklahoma.
  32. ^ IMDb Wyonna Earp, Everybody Knows.
  33. ^ IMDb Greenleaf, The Royal Family.
  34. ^ "Watchmen on IMDb". IMDb.
  35. ^ IMDb Justified, Cut Tiles
  36. ^ "In a New Series, 'Around the World in 80 Days' Gets More Worldly". The New York Times.
  37. ^ "Mini About Hero Lawman Bass Reeves In Works At HBO With Morgan Freeman, Lori McCreary & James Pickens Producing". Deadline.com. May 18, 2015. Retrieved January 25, 2017.
  38. ^ Grobar, Matt (June 29, 2022). "Bass Reeves Series 'Twin Territories' From Morgan Freeman's Revelations & 'Hand Of God' Creator Ben Watkins In Works At Amazon". Deadline.com. Retrieved June 29, 2022.
  39. ^ IMDb [1]
  40. ^ "1883: The Bass Reeves Story". IMDb.
  41. ^ Mangan, Lucy (November 5, 2023). "Lawmen: Bass Reeves review – this utterly distinctive western is a rare treat". The Guardian. Retrieved November 5, 2023.
  42. ^ "'The Harder They Fall' Director Jeymes Samuel on New Netflix Western". Variety. October 13, 2021. Retrieved November 9, 2021.
  43. ^ Hell On The Border at IMDb
  44. ^ 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". Deadline. Retrieved May 12, 2018.
  45. ^ "U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves featured in new Netflix film". 5newsonline.com. July 6, 2021. Retrieved October 26, 2021.
  46. ^ O'Neal, Sean (July 3, 2021). "'The Harder They Fall' Is About to Bring New Excitement to the Old-school Western". Texas Monthly. Retrieved October 26, 2021.
  47. ^ "Isaiah Washington To Mark Feature Directorial Debut With 'Corsicana' Western". Deadline. September 25, 2020. Retrieved July 23, 2022.
  48. ^ "2019 National Black Theater Festival Brochure" (PDF). North Carolina Black Repertory Company. June 11, 2019. pp. 5, 9. Retrieved March 16, 2022.
  49. ^ "Faction Lawmen - All Unit Cards" (PDF). Wild West Exodus. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 16, 2022. Retrieved April 14, 2022.
  50. ^ "Western Legends". Board Game Geek. Retrieved April 14, 2022.
  51. ^ "Cartaventura Oklahoma". BoardGameGeek. Retrieved April 14, 2022.
  52. ^ Johnson, Gemma (February 16, 2024). "How Nightingale Approached Adding Historical Figures and Fictional Characters". Game Rant. Retrieved February 28, 2024.
  53. ^ "Editions Delcourt, Marshal Bass". Editions Delcourt. Retrieved March 9, 2023.
  54. ^ "Atomic Robo and the Knights of the Golden Circle, Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener". Retrieved May 1, 2023.
  55. ^ "Hall of Great Westerners". National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Retrieved November 22, 2019.
  56. ^ "Hall of Fame Inductees". National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum. Retrieved June 3, 2023.
  57. ^ "The Legend of Bass Reeves". Kirkus Reviews. August 8, 2006. Retrieved October 14, 2022.
  58. ^ Brown, Russ, Miss Chisum, Amazon and Kindle.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]