The first time I heard the name Bass Reeves was on Bill O’Reilly’s, “Legends & Lies” television documentary. In 2017, an excellent movie came out on the famous lawman.
Bass Reeves was born to slave parents the year 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas. Bass took the surname of his slave owner William Reeves, a farmer and politician. He worked alongside his slave parents bringing them water until he was old enough to be a field hand himself.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Bass separated ties with the Reeve’s family. Some say he simply ran away after hearing too much talk about ‘freeing of slaves’. He fled to Indian Territory seeking refuge with Seminole and Creek Indians.
While living with them he honed his firearm skills to perfection, becoming highly accurate with a pistol and rifle. Later on in life he was banned from competitive turkey shoots for being too good. His marksmanship would come in handy numerous times throughout the years.
In 1863, a couple of years before the war ended, Bass procured land near Van Buren, Arkansas where he took to farming and ranching. Being a strapping six-foot two he was easily up to the task. A year later he married Nellie Jennie from Texas. The couple had 10 children; 5 girls and 5 boys. Seemingly content and happy with his farming career, Bass’s life took a drastic change in direction when he took on the dangerous job as a U.S. Deputy.
Because crime was rampant in Indian Territory with murderers and thieves hiding behind every tree, orders came from Washington D.C. for Federal Western District Court Judge Isaac C. Parker to do something.
Judge Parker authorized U.S. Marshal James F. Fagan to deputize 200 people to help disperse the mess. Because of Bass Reeve’s knowledge of the terrain, and his ability to speak several tribal languages, his application was gladly accepted.
Bass Reeves’ patrolled most of Oklahoma via horse. On several occasions his guns were the deciding factor in an arrest. Bass Reeves claimed he only drew a weapon if his life was in danger. During the 35 years that Bass served as Deputy Marshal he brought in over 3,000 criminals.
One of the high points in Reeve’s career was the arrest of notorious outlaw Bob Dozier. This dangerous criminal had eluded lawmen for several years. Bob Dozier was known as a jack-of-all-trades. Dozier was wanted for murder, horse rustling, stage holdups, bank robberies, and land swindles. It seems there was no crime Bob Dozier hadn’t committed.
Dozier escaped Bass Reeves’ arrest several times until he was tracked to the Cherokee Hills. Refusing to surrender, the cagey killer went down in a hail of bullets. Bob Dozier died on December 20, 1878. Bass Reeves was generously rewarded for his work. Often times the reward money became his.
In 1907 law enforcement in Oklahoma was taken over by the state. Bass Reeve’s career as deputy marshal came to an end. He immediately accepted a job as patrolman with the Muskogee, Oklahoma Police Department.
During his two years with the force there were reportedly no crimes on his beat. In 1909, Bass Reeves became ill from Bright’s disease. Bass died on January 12, 1910. He’s buried in Muskogee although the exact grave location is unknown.
For those wanting to know more about Mr. Reeves’ life I highly suggest watching the movie, “Bass Reeves – U.S. Marshal”. It’s an excellent film. There are also many detailed articles written about the man.
It’s believed by many western scholars that Bass Reeves was the real “Lone Ranger”. His exploits in life seem to indicate such.
It’s sad we don’t have many lawmen like Bass patrolling the streets anymore. The country would be safer if we did. Unfortunately liberal politicians, extremist activists, along with help from A.C.L.U. lawyers have eliminated this type of law enforcement.
If Bass Reeves were alive today, I believe he’d shake his head at what’s going on in this country. Criminals seemingly having more rights than law abiding citizens would have him furious.
Judges making courtroom decisions based on their political beliefs, instead of going by written law would incense the man. More than likely Bass Reeves would forego law enforcement entirely, choosing a career much less micromanaged by clueless leaders!