Bass Reeves (1838-1910) was born a slave and died a western hero. A man named George Reeves owned Bass, whose surname he took on, and became George’s body servant and personal companion when the Civil War broke out. During this time Bass left George, it is unclear exactly how it happened, some say they got into a physical fight, and others simply say he saw a way out. Regardless, Bass fled to Indian Territory where he stayed with the Seminole and Creek Indians and became a very skilled gunman.
Once the Emancipation Proclamation was passed in 1863, Reeves was no longer a fugitive slave so he returned to civilization, married, raised a family of ten children and worked as a farmer. However, Reeves was left unsatisfied by his wholesome work, so he decided to accept an impressive job offer to become one of the first black U.S. deputies. U.S. Marshal James Fagen appointed Reeves because he had an extensive knowledge of Indian Territory, where most criminals were hiding at the time, as well as a remarkable ability to shoot a gun. Reeves quickly earned a reputation as one of the most courageous and successful deputies around.
Tales of Reeves’ captures abounded, but one such tale was the most impressive of all. Reeves found out where two outlaws were hiding, at their mother’s house, and decided to go undercover as a “tramp” to capture them once and for all. Dressed in rags, Reeves showed up at the home, and was greeted and welcomed by the boys’ mother. Soon the outlaws returned home and began regaling him with stories of their crimes. Reeves, posing as a criminal himself, agreed the trio should team up in the morning to wreak more havoc. While the men were sleeping, however, Reeves cuffed both of them, and as soon as the sun rose, woke them up to arrest them! Reeves marched the men 28 miles back to the station, with their mother trailing behind, and yelling at him for the first 3 miles.
Although tales of his arrests are exciting, there was no more interesting story than the time Bass had to arrest his own son for murder of his wife. Reeves demanded responsibility to capture his son himself, and after two weeks in pursuit, Reeves came back with son in tow. In 1907 Reeves took a job as a patrolman in Muskogee where he lived the rest of his days, before he eventually died of Bright’s disease in 1910.
Reeves earned his place in history by using his wit, courage, and skill to capture nearly 3,000 fugitives. This westerner was considered a hero because of his honesty and work ethic, and can be used as inspiration for Modern Cowboys in this time to remain true to their intuition and moral values.
You can watch a trailer about a film based on Reeve’s life called, “Bass Reeves” here: