Bass Reeves

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Bass Reeves
Bass Reeves
Born July 1838
Crawford County, Arkansas, United States
Died January 12, 1910(1910-01-12) (aged 71)
Muskogee, Oklahoma, United States

Deputy U.S. Marshal

MPD Police Officer
Spouse(s) Nellie Jennie (m. 1864–96)
Winnie Sumter (m. 1900–10)
Children Robert, Lula, Sally, Benjamin, Newland, Harriet, Homer, Edgar, Georgia, Alice, Bass Jr.[1][2][3]

Bass Reeves (July 1838 – 12 January 1910) was one of the first black Deputy U.S. Marshals west of the Mississippi River, working mostly in Arkansas and the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). During his long career, he claimed to have arrested over 3,000 felons and shot and killed fourteen outlaws in self-defense.

Early life[edit]

Bass Reeves
Bass Reeves

Reeves was born into slavery in Crawford County, Arkansas in 1838.[4][5] He was named after his grandfather, Basse Washington. Bass Reeves and his family were slaves of Arkansas state legislator William Steele Reeves.[4] When Bass was eight (about 1846), William Reeves moved to Grayson County, Texas, near Sherman in the Peters Colony.[4] Bass Reeves may have served William Steele Reeves' son, Colonel George R. Reeves, who was a sheriff and legislator in Texas and one-time Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives until his death from rabies in 1882.[6] During the American Civil War, Bass parted company with George Reeves, perhaps "because Bass beat up George after a dispute in a card game."[5][6][7] Bass fled north into the Indian Territory and lived with the Cherokee, Seminole, and Creek Indians until he was freed by the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, in 1865.[6]

Later, Reeves moved to Arkansas and farmed near Van Buren. He married Nellie Jennie from Texas, with whom he had eleven children.[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.[8] He recruited him as one of his deputies, making Reeves the first black deputy west of the Mississippi River.[5][8] Reeves was initially assigned as a Deputy U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Arkansas, which also had responsibility for the Indian Territory.[9] He served there until 1893, when he transferred to the Eastern District of Texas in Paris, Texas for a short while, then in 1897 to the Muskogee Federal Court in the Indian Territory.[9]

Reeves worked for thirty-two 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.[5] Once he had to arrest his own son for murder.[5]

In addition to being a marksman with a rifle and pistol, Reeves developed superior detective skills during his long career. When he retired in 1907, Reeves claimed to have arrested over 3,000 felons.[5][8] He is said to have shot and killed fourteen outlaws to defend his own life.[8]

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 living the rest of his life as a responsible and model citizen.[5]

When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Bass Reeves, then 68, became an officer of the Muskogee, Oklahoma police department.[5] He served for two years before he became ill and had to retire.[8]

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, and he died of Bright's disease (nephritis) in 1910.[8] He was a great-uncle of Paul L. Brady, the first black man appointed a Federal Administrative Law Judge (in 1972).[11]


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. [12] On 16 May 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.[13]

In popular culture[edit]


Bass Reeves (2010) is a fictionalized film of his life and career. Outlaw Belle Starr also depicted.

It is believed by some that Bass Reeves was the inspiration for The Lone Ranger radio and television series, even though he was never a Texas Ranger and spent little time in Texas.[14]

Morgan Freeman has expressed interest in playing Reeves in a motion picture about his life.[15]


The only scholarly research book on the life of Bass Reeves was written by historian Art T. Burton, the book is titled Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves, which was published in 2006. The book is currently available also as an audio book. 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.

Bass Reeves is also featured among other historical figures from world and U.S. history in Ben Thompsons book Badass, as well as the website Badass of the week.

Illustrator and historian Joel Christian Gill published a graphic novel in 2014 called Tales of the Talented Tenth, Volume 1, which featured the story of Bass Reeves.[16]

Authors Ken Farmer and Buck Stienke have penned five 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, Across the Red, and "Bass and the Lady" [].

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

Reeves 'guest-stars' in the ninth volume of the Atomic Robo comic book series, "Atomic Robo and the Knights of the Golden Circle." The story, which takes place in 1884, features Robo, Reeves, and Doc Holliday teaming up to fight a mad scientist.[17]


  • 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.[18]
  • The story of Bass Reeves, portrayed by Jaleel White, is told on an episode of Drunk History by Mark Gagliardi.[19]
  • "Bass Reeves: The Real Lone Ranger" is the title and subject of "Legends and Lies: The Real West" Season 1, Episode 9 (2015).[20]
  • "Bass Reeves - The Real Lone Ranger" is also the title and subject of "Gunslingers" Season 2, Episode 4 (2015). Reeves is portrayed by Joseph Callender.[21]

It has been suggested that Reeves was an inspiration for the fictional character The Lone Ranger.[22] The origin of this may have been a 2008 biography in which the author stated "that Bass Reeves is the closest real person to resemble the fictional Lone Ranger." However, Reeves was never a Texas Ranger, and records of the creation of The Lone Ranger show no evidence of this.[23]

Reeves is mentioned as one of the great Deputy US Marshals in Season 3, Episode 2 of the FX Network's "Justified", titled "Cut Ties". While Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Mullen, played by actor Nick Searcy and another Marshal, Bill Nichols, played by Michael Harding are talking about legendary US Marshals Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Bass Reeves, Mullin says of Reeves, "Oh, one of my all-time favorites. And good luck trying to find a movie about him. Somebody needs to tell Denzel that story," referring to actor Denzel Washington, an actor known for playing quiet and capable African-American heroes on the big screen.


  1. ^ "United States Census, 1870," database with images, FamilySearch ( : Retrieved 1 April 2016), Bas Reeves, Arkansas, United States; citing p. 10, family 75, NARA microfilm publication M593 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 545,550.
  2. ^ "United States Census, 1880," database with images, FamilySearch ( : Retrieved 1 April 2016), Bass Reeves, Van Buren, Crawford, Arkansas, United States; citing 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.
  3. ^ "United States Census, 1900," database with images, FamilySearch ( : Retrieved 1 April 2016), Bass Reeves, Muscogee (part of M K & T Railway) Muscogee, Creek Nation, Indian Territory, United States; citing sheet 20B, family 468, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 1,241,853.
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ "Bass Reeves - Black Hero Marshal". Retrieved 9 June 2016. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g "Bass Reeves, the Most Feared U.S. Deputy Marshal". The Norman Transcript. 3 May 2007. Archived from the original on 7 September 2012. Retrieved 31 August 2016. 
  9. ^ a b "Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves". U.S. Marshals Museum. U.S. Marshals Museum, Inc. Archived from the original on 2 March 2014. Retrieved 27 August 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 0-8032-1338-7. 
  11. ^ "Judge Paul L. Brady Retires from Job Safety Commission". press release: United States Occupational Safety and Health Review Committee. 15 April 1997. Retrieved 13 August 2007.
  12. ^ Goforth, Dylan (11 November 1977). "Bridge to be renamed in tribute to famed lawman". Muskogee Phoenix. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 
  13. ^ "Statue of U.S. marshal to travel from Oklahoma to Arkansas Wednesday", Associated Press in The Oklahoman, 16 May 2012 (pay site).
  14. ^ "The REAL 'Lone Ranger' Was An African American Lawman Who Lived With Native American Indians". 25 October 2013. Retrieved 9 June 2016. 
  15. ^ "Morgan Freeman explores science, faith". CNN. Archived from the original on 20 March 2012. 
  16. ^ NPR Staff (14 February 2015). "'Strange Fruit' Shares Uncelebrated, Quintessentially American Stories". NPR News. National Public Radio: Code Switch. Retrieved 15 February 2015. 
  17. ^ "Atomic Robo - v9ch1 Cover". Retrieved 9 June 2016. 
  18. ^ How It's Made. "How It's Made Mini-Episodes: Resin Figurines : Video : Science Channel". Archived from the original on 22 September 2013. Retrieved 19 June 2014. 
  19. ^ "'Drunk History' episode featuring Oklahoma and shot in Tulsa airs Tuesday". Retrieved 9 June 2016. 
  20. ^ "Bass Reeves: The Real Lone Ranger". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 18 October 2015. 
  21. ^ "Bass Reeves - The Real Lone Ranger". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 18 October 2015. 
  22. ^ Manzoor, Sarfraz (22 March 2013). "America's forgotten black cowboys". Retrieved 22 March 2013. 
  23. ^ "Myth Debunked: Bass Reeves was NOT the Lone Ranger". Martin Grams Blog. 2 April 2015. Retrieved 18 October 2015. 

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]