Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Bass Reeves, The Slave, The Law, The Legend

Bass Reeves, a man that not only beat the odds for a black man born into slavery, but a man whose dedication to duty made him a legend in his own time.

By Unknown author - http://www.legendsofamerica.com/photos-oldwest/BassReeves-275.jpgThe Western History Collections at the University of Oklahoma Library have a copy of this image in their holdings., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1134185

Born into slavery in 1838, Bass became the property of Arkansas State Legislator, Robert Steele Reeves. At the young age of eight, Bass moved with his master to Texas where he would spend his growing up years. Bass then served George Reeves, the son of Robert. With the Civil War less than a month into the fighting, George organized a company within the 11th Regiment of the Texas Calvary. There are some sources that say Captain and eventually Colonel George Reeves brought Bass along with him to the war efforts. 

Whether he did or not we do know that Bass ran away, living as fugitive slave in the territory of the Creek and Seminole Indians where he learned the lay of the land and became acquainted with them and the Cherokees. Like all legends, unsubstantiated stories followed and Bass was no exception. One story goes that Reeves beat his owner during an altercation over a card game before disappearing and hiding in the Indian Territory. It is believed he fought for the Union Army with the Indian Home Guard Regiments.

When the war ended and Reeves became a free man, he returned to Arkansas and became a farmer in Van Buren. He married Nellie Jennie and had  eleven children, six boys and five girls. 

In 1875, Federal Judge Isaac Parker appointed U.S. Marshal James Fagan to hire 200 U.S. deputy marshals. Having heard of Reeves knowledge of the Indian Territory and his ability to speak several Indian languages, he recruited him as a deputy making Bass Reeves the first black U.S. deputy to serve west of the Mississippi River.  

The deputy marshals 
  •                            CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1006335
  • Now known as parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri 
  • (Platte Purchase), Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, 
  • and Wyoming

were commissioned to bring in the thieves, murderers, and fugitives that overran the 75,000 square miles of wild territory. Bass took his job seriously and brought in over 3000 criminals with warrants. He shot and killed 14 men during his service as a deputy. Reeves was known to disguise himself to find his man. One story tells how Bass Reeves walked 30 miles disguised as a beggar on the run from the law.  Arriving at the home of the brothers he sought, their mother invited the disguised Bass in and urged him to spend the night, which he did. Before sunrise he had the brothers in handcuffs and walked them back to his camp. 

Bass was never shot although his hat was shot off as well as his belt (not sure how that works!). Dubbed as one of the most successful deputies, Reeves never gave up on the men he sought. After several years of tracking Bob Dozier and finally finding him, Bass tried to bring the man in but he refused to surrender. Bass killed the murderer as well as known cattle and horse rustler. On another occasion a five year search finally ended in tracking down outlaw Tom Story. Tom also refused to surrender and died in a gunfight with Reeves.

Reeves, who was not only known to be good at what he did, he was also known for his integrity. The man could not be bought or bribed. He brought in his church minister for selling illegal alchohol. But I think the arrest that showed the man's true worth as a lawman was the arrest of Bennie Reeves, his son. Benjamin had been charged with the murder of his wife. It is said that Bass heard overheard the judge asking if someone else should be assigned to the case and Bass replied, "just give me the warrant." He brought his son in who was tried and found guilty.

In 1907 Oklahoma became a state and the 6'2", 68 year old Bass Reeves became an officer of the Muskogee Police Department. After serving for two years, Bass became ill and retired. In 1910, Bass Reeves died of Bright's Disease. 

Debbie Lynne Costello is the author of Sword of Forgiveness, Amazon's #1 seller for Historical Christian Romance. She has enjoyed writing stories since she was eight years old. She raised her family and then embarked on her own career of writing the stories that had been begging to be told. She and her husband have four children and live in upstate South Carolina with their 5 horses, 3 dogs, cat and miniature donkey.

After the death of her cruel father, Brithwin is determined never again to live under the harsh rule of any man. Independent and resourceful, she longs to be left alone to manage her father’s estate. But she soon discovers a woman has few choices when the king decrees she is to marry Royce, the Lord of Rosencraig. As if the unwelcome marriage isn’t enough, her new husband accuses her of murdering his family, and she is faced with a challenge of either proving her innocence or facing possible execution.
     Royce of Hawkwood returns home after setting down a rebellion to find his family brutally murdered. When all fingers point to his betrothed and attempts are made on his life, Royce must wade through murky waters to uncover the truth. Yet Brithwin’s wise and kind nature begin to break down the walls of his heart, and he soon finds himself in a race to discover who is behind the evil plot before Brithwin is the next victim.


  1. Wow! What a life story! Thanks, Debbie Lynne!

    1. Thanks for coming by, Connie. We've been in Maine seeing our son so I missed responding.

  2. Fascinating post! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Linda. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I love running across fun information while researching.

  3. Wonderful post, Debbie. Here are a couple more interesting tidbits about Bass Reeves. He was known for being a man with strong Christian faith which is why he worked with such integrity. He would even preach the gospel to his prisoners will bringing them in. Once he had several criminals chained together sitting on rocks while he preached about the sins of their ways and its spiritual as well as legal consequences. They claim he converted a few.

    Bass accidentally shot and killed a man while cleaning his gun, if I recall correctly. I forget all the details but he was charged and it almost cost him his freedom and his career.

    The most interesting thing is that Bass Reeves is said to be the real Lone Ranger. There are several things about Reeves and his career that closely coincide with the fictitious character, including that he often rode with an Indian companion. Supposedly Bass is who the character was modeled after but they wouldn't portray him as an African American for obvious reasons.

  4. Hey Marlene, I had read that the Lone Ranger was 'inspired by Bass'. However, when I researched it there was as much to say he wasn't as he was. Either way he certainly was a man to be admired. In all my reading I had not read anything about him accidently shooting a man nor about Christian faith. I'd love it if you could tell me where you found those things. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Hi Debbie, I will dig up my info sources from years ago when I was researching Bass Reeves. Meanwhile, check out this video. Near the end, it talks about Bass being on trial for murder after accidentally killing his cook. Bass also hit a criminal on the head with a gun butt and unintentionally killed him but that was another incident. https://youtu.be/mirZQ64xf1A

  6. Hi again, Debbie. Here are a couple of articles referring to Bass' strong Christian Faith. One of them tells of him always evangelizing to his captured criminals.