Saturday, January 7, 2012

Bass Reeves, U S Marshal


I was researching the novel True Grit by Charles Portis for a book club presentation, when I started reading articles about real U S Marshals who served when Judge Parker and the Western District of Arkansas had jurisdiction over Indian Territory in the 1870s and 1880s. In one of my google searches, the name Bass Reeves caught my eye.

Bass Reeves could have been a prototype for Rooster Cogburn. At 6'2" and 180 pounds, he could shoot a pistol with either hand. He populated the Fort Smith federal jail with the desperate criminals he captured, including the notorious Seminole Greenleaf, who was on the lam for eighteen years. Once tried for shooting his trail cook, Bass Reeves was acquitted and went on to bust up a horse stealing ring, capturing 19 horse thieves at one time. During his 32 years as a federal peace officer, he arrested more than 3000 felons and shot and killed fourteen outlaws in defending his life while making arrests.

Bass Reeves was one of the first African-Americans (perhaps the first) to receive a commission as a Deputy U S Marshal west of the Mississippi River. He was born a slave in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas. Moving to Grayson County, Texas in 1846 with his owners, the William Steel Reeves family, Bass Reeves ultimately because a fugitive slave, taking refuge amongst the Creeks and Seminoles in Indian Territory. After the civil war he returned to Crawford County with a wife and several children where he farmed and served as a scout and guide for U S Marshals going into Indian Territory. In 1875, he was hired by the Parker court in Fort Smith as a commissioned deputy U S Marshal.

Read more about Bass Reeves at:

The Encyclopedia of Arkansas

Bass Reeves - Wikipedia

Or if you wish, watch a movie made about his life:

Bass Reeves at IMdb

1 comment:

  1. I am kin to the Reeves ,Reaves, Reives of High Falls NC not sure of the spelling because I have found different ones in the records. My grandfather was a Reeves

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