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U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves - Celebrating #BlackHistoryMonth

Bass Reeves



US Marshal and Bounty Hunter in the Indian Territory of the 1870s/1880s (before it became the state Oklahoma)

He was born in 1838 into a slave family working for the Reeves family. During his youth, he was given special privilege to care for the Reeves' artillery and guns, which suggests he might possibly be the owner's illegitimate son. Working with guns, he became an excellent marksman.

At age 23, he was taken with his master to fight in the Civil War. At some point he fled into Indian Territory (the future Oklahoma) and lived among the different Indian tribes there, learning their customs and language. Outlaws and ex-rebels thrived in this area making it very lawless.

At Fort Smith, Judge Isaac Parker ("Hanging Judge") hired 200 marshals, including Reeves. Bass and Isaac had similar personalities, work ethics, and got along very well.

Bass often went undercover because criminals/white men could not believe a black man was a U.S. Marshal. He became talented at bounty hunting.

In 1884, Bass was arrested for accidentally shooting his hired cook while cleaning his gun (back in 1882). The testimony of one of his companion's wives vindicated him from hanging. Amazingly, he went right back to work afterwards.

In 1902, Bass's son, Benjamin, killed his unfaithful wife. No other marshal wanted to arrest and bring the young man in, so they gave the order to Bass, who convinced his son to come willingly. Judge Parker gave him life in prison instead of demanding his execution, which proved a blessing to the Reeves family, as the young man proved he was redeemed and eventually was pardoned. He became a barber in Muskogee.

Oklahoma becomes a state. Jim Crow laws go into affect stripping Bass of his U.S. Marshal badge. He came a police officer and patrolled in black areas.

In 1910, Bass died at age 72 and was buried in Muskogee. There's a 25 foot statue dedicated to him at Fort Smith.

Picture Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bass_Reeves

Research from video, "Bounty Hunters of the Old West", 2006.

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