Sunday, May 10, 2015
MAY 10 = Bass Reeves is Sworn In
"Among the numerous deputy marshals that have ridden for the ....Indian Territory courts none have met with more hairbreadth escapes or have effected more hazardous arrests than Bass Reeves, of Muskogee. Bass is a stalwart negro, fifty years of age, weighs one hundred and eighty pounds, stands six feet two inches in his stockings, and fears nothing that moves and breathes. His long muscular arms have attached to them a pair of hands that would do credit to a giant and they handle a revolver with the ease and grace acquired after only years of practice. Several 'bad' men have gone to their long homes for refusing to halt when commanded by Bass....."
This is the way which in 1901, the historian D.C. Gideon described Bass Reeves, who was sworn in as a Deputy U.S. Marshal on today's date in 1875. Reeves is one of the toughest, yet least known figures in the "Old West" histories, mainly because he was black; one of the first black deputy marshals ever sworn in west of Fort Smith, Arkansas, But happily some of that long overdue recognition is coming to this remarkable and very brave man, and I will attempt here in these few paragraphs to tell you a little about him. He deserves credit in our history of the West!!
Bass Reeves - Born a Slave
Records of slave births were sketchy at best, so there is a good deal about the early years of this man's life on which we're not clear. But he was born as a slave probably in 1838 at a cotton plantation near Paris, in Lamar County, Texas. His mother was named Pearlalee, and an older sister was named Jane. Bass was an energetic youth, always working hard, but a little too restless to suit his mother, who tried to pass along the teachings of Jesus (which she had secretly learned), to her son in hope that these would calm his restless spirit. In time, young Bass became very good with the horses and other animals. He became the
Judge Parker, Bass Reeves, and the Indian Territory
This Indian Territory was so called because that is where the U.S. government forced the various Indian tribes to relocate after they were forced off of their native lands. The end of the Civil War made Bass Reeves a free man. But in it's upheaval and its end it made an evil mess of the legal situation in the Indian Territory. This was because it attracted every sort of desperado imaginable as it was a huge chunk of land with little law and order at all. As historian Glenn Shirley has said: "The Civil War wrecked the peace of the Five Tribes. Its aftermath was a maelstrom of racial hatred, and unbridled vice. Rape, robbery, and
Reeves Reputation for Getting His Man - Alive
Bass Reeves was a giant of a man, described by one as "... a very big man, told jokes, was boastful and lusty, full of life and wore a large black hat." Art T. Burton has said based on descriptions by those who knew him, "He had a deep and resonant voice that could be very authoritative when it had to be but assuring just the same." But he quickly developed a reputation as a man who whenever he served a warrant, followed the letter of the law, bringing his men in alive most of
Bass Reeves Guns Down Jim Webb
There are just too many stories about this man to tell even a small portion of them in my limited space here. But here is one which sums up the man well as any:
Bass had pursued Jim Webb for murder and had brought him in. But after a year in jail, the man got out on bail, which Webb skipped. Reeves pursued him again, tracing him to Jim Bywater's store in the Chickasaw nation. Webb saw Bass coming and crashed through the window of Bywater's store, and tuned and fired at Reeves who pursued on his horse. He shot with his first bullet grazing the horn of Reeve's saddle, the second cutting a button off of his coat, and the third
Bass Reeve's Obituary... Another Story of His Devotion to Duty
When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Bass joined the Muskogee Police Department (below, far left), but only served there for two years before his health began to fail. In 1909 he retired, and he died on January 12, 1910 of the effects of Bright's Disease, an inflammation of the kidneys. In an obituary for him published in the Muskogee Phoenix the next day came another story which was typical of the man:
"Undoubtedly the act which best typifies the man and which at least shows his devotion to duty, was the arrest of his son. A warrant for the arrest of the younger Reeves, who was charged with murder of his wife, had been issued. Marshal Bennett said that perhaps another deputy had better be sent to arrest him. The old negro was in the room at the time, and with a devotion of duty equaling that of the old Roman, Brutus, whose greatest claim on fame has been that the love for his son could not sway him from justice, he said, "Give me the writ," and went out and arrested his son, brought him into court and upon trial and conviction he was sentenced to imprisonment and is still serving his sentence."
Reeve's son later was released after serving his time, and lived an exemplary life ever after. Bass Reeves deserves to be mentioned in the front ranks of the lawmen of America's Old West. He was the equal of Bat Masterson, Wild Bill Hicock, and Wyatt Earp. And like Wyatt Earp, he was never once, in his long career wounded.
"A Certain Blindness; A Black Family's Quest for the Promise of America"
by Paul L. Brady, ALP Publishing, Atlanta, 1990
"Black Gun Silver Star - the Life and Legend of Marshal Bass Reeves"
by Art T. Burton, Univ. of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 2006
"Law West of Fort Smith" by Glenn Shirley, Henry Holt & Co., New York, 1957
"Indian Territory" by D.C. Gideon, New York, Lewis Pub. Co., 1901, found online at: