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Interesting US History
A Website Devoted to Interesting Events in U.S. History





April 13, 2009

Bass Reeves

Bass Reeves was born in 1838 in Paris, Texas. In the early 1860’s he went north and settled in Indian Territory and lived with the Seminole and Creek Indians. He became so skilled with a rifle that he was not allowed to compete in turkey shoots. In 1863 he moved to Arkansas, started a farm and married Nellie Jennie also originally from Texas. Bass and Nellie had ten children.

In 1875, U.S. Marshal James F. Fagan was instructed to hire 200 deputy U.S. Marshals. Fagan had heard that Bass Reeves was familiar with Indiana territory and could speak several Indiana languages so Reeves was hired. Reeves became one of the areas most valued deputies and arrested many dangerous criminals. He even had to arrest his own son for murder. Although he was never shot, he narrowly escaped death many times. By the time he was 68, he had moved to Oklahoma (before it had joined the Union), and became a member of the Muskogee, Oklahoma police department.

He finally retired in 1907 having arrested over 3,000 felons, killing fourteen in the process while defending his own life. He is considered by many as one of the most notable frontier heroes in United States history but his story did not end there. Reeves died in 1910 of Bright’s disease but his nephew Paul Brady continued the legacy by becoming a Federal Administrative Law Judge. In fact Paul Brady was the first African-American appointed to that position.

Yes, Bass Reeves was an African-American and former slave. His last name was taken from his master George Reeves. When he left Texas in the early 1860’s it was after a fight with his master which prompted him to escape to Indian Territory. He didn’t move to Arkansas until he was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

Mark Bowman

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  “Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves (Race and Ethnicity in the American West)”