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Bass Reeves was born into bondage in 1838, in Arkansas. He was owned by William S. Reeves. Since it was against the law for a slave to learn how to read or write, young Bass never learned either. He remained illiterate for his entire life. In 1846, William moved to Texas. Bass had no choice but to move to Texas as well.
While living in Texas, the Civil War erupted. Reeves was forced to serve the Confederacy alongside William Reeves’ son, George. While fighting, Reeves escaped to Indian Territory (modern day Oklahoma). Indian Territory was ruled by five tribes: Cherokee, Seminole, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw. He learned the customs and languages of the Creek and Seminole tribes.
After the 13th Amendment was passed in 1865, Reeves was a free man and no longer a fugitive. He moved back to Arkansas and began his family. He had a total of 11 children. In 1875, Reeves was recruited by U.S. Marshal James Fagan as a lawman. His duty was to bring order to the chaotic West. He became the first Black deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi.
Master of Disguise
As a marshal, Reeves often disguised himself in order to find the outlaw(s) he was looking for. In attempting to capture a pair of outlaws who were brothers, Reeves walked 30 miles disguised as a vagrant. The outlaws’ mother offered him a place to sleep for the night. By the next morning, he had arrested both outlaws in their sleep.
When Reeves’ son was found guilty of killing his wife, Reeves arrested him. His son was later issued a life sentence. Although it pained Reeves, it was his duty to uphold the law. After serving 32 years as a marshal, 3,000 arrests, 14 kills, and zero gunshot wounds, Reeves was removed from his position once Oklahoma gained its statehood in 1907. State laws banned Black people from serving as U.S. marshals.
The Real Lone Ranger
Bass Reeves died January 18, 1910, from Bright’s disease. He was in his early 70s. There is no concrete evidence to support his claim, but biographer Art T. Burton theorized that Reeves may have been the inspiration for the famous fictional lawman, the Lone Ranger. Reeves’ contribution to history is a legacy that will not be forgotten.
**The views and actions of the DDH historical figures that are featured may not reflect the views and beliefs of Ramiro The Writer. Thank you.**