Day 7 – Black History Month – Bass Reeves, A Man of the Law

Bass Reeves was an American law enforcement officer!

Bass Reeves was born a slave in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas. His master/enslaver was Confederate Colonel George Reeves. During the Civil War, Bass accompanied Colonel Reeves into war, which wasn’t unpopular for a healthy male slave to do.

Once Bass heard about the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Lincoln, he informed Colonel Reeves he was a free man. Colonel Reeves did not agree and the two got into a huge fist fought. Colonel Reeves was severely beaten. Bass escaped and ended up in the Oklahoma Territory.

This is where he became good friends with the Cherokee tribe. Spending time with them, Bass learned how to shoot, ride, track, as well as fluently speak five Native American languages. These skills helped him become a legendary U.S. Deputy Marshal.

Bass was the first black deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi River. He worked mostly in Arkansas and the Oklahoma Territory.

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One of the key parts of the Lone Ranger legend was how he would hand out silver bullets. Bass Reeves was also known for handing out silver coins as part of his personal trademark well before the Lone Ranger. His goal in doing this was to get in “good favor” with people wherever he was working. People recognized Bass Reeves as a no holes lawman from town to town. They viewed him and his silver coins as good luck and getting rid of a criminal causing them trouble. Bass Reeves also had a Native American who was his close companion – his deputy one could not say. This Native American was regularly with Reeves when he was working. During the time they worked together, the two of them apprehended thousands of criminals.

Many newspapers followed Bass Reeves and his side-kick as he worked. One reporter wrote that when an arrest warrant was placed in the hands of U.S. Deputy Marshal Reeves, “there was no set of circumstances that would make him stop pursuing that criminal. It only ended when the criminal was apprehended.”

During his career in law enforcement, Reeves was never wounded. He came close on two occasions. Once was when his belt buckle was shot off and the other incident his hat was shot off.

At the end of his career, a newspaper reporter in 1907 wrote that Bass Reeves had brought in over 3,000 felons alive and 20 dead. Reeves wanted to make certain that the record was correct. He stated that he had also been forced to kill 14 men, in self defense.

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