Throughout the years, many people have asked the question, if U.S. Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves, the former slave was the true inspiration behind he television series “The Lone Ranger?” Well, let’s travel down the road and back in history and time a little bit and put some of these pieces together and also in addition add some historical facts represented by others sources and factual information.
Bass Reeves was the first black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi River. He worked mostly in Arkansas and the Oklahoma Territory. During his long career, he was credited with arresting more than 3,000 felons. He shot and killed 14 outlaws in self-defense. Taken from Wikipedia
Born to slave parents in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas, Bass Reeves would become the first black U.S. Deputy Marshal west of the Mississippi River and one of the greatest frontier heroes in our nation’s history. Owned by a man named William Reeves, a farmer and politician, Bass took the surname of his owner, like other slaves of the time. His first name came from his grandfather, Basse Washington.
Working alongside his parents, Reeves started out as a water boy until he was old enough to become a field hand. In about 1846, William Reeves moved his operations, family, and slaves to Grayson County, Texas.
Bass was a tall young man, at 6’2”, with good manners and a sense of humor. George Reeves, William’s son, later made him his valet, bodyguard, and personal companion. When the Civil War broke out, Texas sided with the Confederacy and George Reeves went into battle, taking Bass with him.
FLEEING THE WAR:
It was during these years of the Civil War that Bass parted company from Reeves.
After hearing of the Emancipation Proclamation, Bass proclaimed himself to be a free man and escaped.
His flight landed him in Oklahoma Territory, where he was embraced immediately by the Cherokee. It was here that he learned to ride, track, shoot, and speak five Native American languages fluently — all skills that would serve him well. He lived with the Seminole, Cherokee, and Creek Indians, learning their customs, languages, and tracking skills. Here, he also honed his firearm skills, becoming very quick and accurate with a pistol.
“Freed” by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and no longer considered a fugitive, Reeves left Indian Territory and bought land near Van Buren, Arkansas, where he became a successful farmer and rancher. A year later, he married Nellie Jennie from Texas, and immediately began to have a family. Raising 11 children on their homestead — five girls and five boys, named: Robert, Lula, Sally, Benjamin, Newland, Harriet, Homer, Edgar, George, Alice, Bass Jr. The family lived happily on the farm. During this time, oral history states that Reeves sometimes served as a scout and guide for U.S. Deputy Marshals going into Indian Territory on business for the Van Buren Federal Court, which had jurisdiction over Indian Territory.
SPIFFY DRESSER AND MASTER OF DISGUISE:
At a time when the average man was about 5’6”, Reeves was a towering 6″2. He was broad at the shoulders, narrow at the hips, and said to possess superhuman strength. The first black lawman west of the Mississippi, Reeves cut a striking figure on his large gray (almost white) horse, while wearing his trademark black hat and twin .45 Colt Peacemakers cross-draw style. He was usually a spiffy dresser, with his boots polished to a gleaming shine. He was known for his politeness and courteous manner. However, when the purpose served him, he was a master of disguises and often utilized aliases. Sometimes appearing as a cowboy, farmer, gunslinger, or outlaw, himself, he always wore two Colt pistols, butt forward for a fast draw. Ambidextrous, he rarely missed his mark.
HIS CALLING CARD:
He was known to give out silver dollars as a calling card.
The tales of his captures are legendary – filled with intrigue, imagination, and courage. On one such occasion, Reeves was pursuing two outlaws in the Red River Valley near the Texas border. Gathering a posse, Reeves and the other men set up camp some 28 miles from where the two were thought to be hiding at their mother’s home. After studying the terrain and planning, he soon disguised himself as a tramp, hiding the tools of his trade – handcuffs, pistol, and badge, under his clothes. Setting out on foot, he arrived at the house wearing an old pair of shoes, dirty clothes, carrying a cane, and wearing a floppy hat complete with three bullet holes. Upon arriving at the home, he told a tale to the woman who answered the door, that his feet were aching after having been pursued by a posse who had put the three bullet holes in his hat. After asking for a bite to eat, she invited him in and while he was eating, she began to tell him of her two young outlaw sons, suggesting that the three of them should join forces. Feigning weariness, she consented to let him stay a while longer.
As the sun was setting, Reeves heard a sharp whistle coming from beyond the house. Shortly afterward, the woman went outside and responded with an answering whistle. Before long, two riders rode up to the house, talking at length with her outside. The three of them then came inside and she introduced her sons to Reeves. After discussing their various crimes, the trio agreed that it would be a good idea to join up.
Bunking down in the same room, Reeves watched the pair carefully as they drifted off to sleep and when they were snoring deeply, handcuffed the pair without waking them. When early morning approached, he kicked the boys awake and marched them out the door. Followed for the first three miles by their mother, who cursed Reeves the entire time, he marched the pair the full 28 miles to the camp where the posse men waited. Within days, the outlaws were delivered to the authorities and Bass collected a $5,000 reward.
HIGH POINTS OF REEVES CAREER:
One of the high points of Reeves’ career was apprehending a notorious outlaw named Bob Dozier. Dozier was known as a jack-of-all-trades and an all hands-on type of guy when it came to committing crimes, as they covered a wide range from cattle and horse rustling, to holding up banks, stores, and stagecoaches; to murder and land swindles. The type of guy one would never want to take home to meet their parents. Because Dozier was unpredictable, he was also hard to catch and though many lawmen had tried to apprehend him, none were successful until it came to Reeves. Dozier eluded Reeves for several months until the lawman tracked him down in the Cherokee Nation. After refusing to surrender, Reeves killed Dozier in an accompanying gunfight on December 20, 1878.
CHARGED WITH MURDER:
In 1887, Reeves was charged with murdering a posse cook. Like the many outlaws he had arrested, he was tried before Judge Isaac Parker. He was represented by United States Attorney W.H.H. Clayton, who was a colleague and friend. In the end, Reeves was acquitted.
TRACKING AND ARRESTING HIS OWN SON BENNIE:
One of the hardest things in life for an officer of the law would be to have to track down and arrest one of your own children. As we know, when an officer takes an oath to uphold the law, that oath should be taken seriously and with Bass Reeves, it was an oath he would not break, not even for one of his own children. 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.
THE FINAL YEARS:
When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Bass Reeves, then 68, became an officer of the Muskogee Police Department. He served for two years before he became ill and retired. After retiring, Reeves health began to decline further, and he died of Bright’s disease (nephritis) in 1910.
He was a great-uncle of Paul L. Brady, who became the first black man appointed as a federal administrative law judge in 1972. Excerpt taken from Wikipedia.
STATUE UNVEILED IN REEVES HONOR:
In May, 2012, a bronze statue of U.S. Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves was unveiled and stands in Pendergraft Park in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
QUOTE: “Maybe the law ain’t perfect, but it’s the only one we got, and without it we got nuthin” – Bass Reeves