Today we're going back in history to learn about one of the most famous U.S. marshals. Bass Reeves was born to slave parents and grew up to become the first black U.S. Deputy Marshal west of the Mississippi River.
During the Civil War, he took refuge among Indian tribes, learning the different languages, customs, and tracking skills, and honing his firearms skills. The knowledge he gained became crucial in his duty of hunting outlaws on the Oklahoma range.
Interesting to note is that Reeves could not read or write, but he always caught the right criminal. Before he headed out each time, he would have someone read him the warrants, and he memorized the contents.
An imposing figure on his large white stallion, he earned a reputation as one of the most courageous and successful outlaw hunters. He became well-known as well dressed, polite, and courteous, but he was also a master of disguises.
Reeves would go undercover to get close to the outlaws he hunted. Farmer, businessman, cowboy, tramp, whatever it took, he adopted a disguise for it. He became known for bringing in 10-16 outlaws when most marshals managed to bring in 4 or 5.
"Maybe the law ain't perfect, but it's the only one we got, and without it we got nuthin" ~ Bass Reeves.
The tales of his exploits in capturing the toughest criminals are filled with intrigue, imagination, and courage. Even though he hunted and brought to justice tough outlaws that other lawmen could not, the toughest warrant in his career was that of bringing his own son in.
Reeves returned with two prisoners to Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 1902 to receive the bad news that his son, Bennie, had been charged with murdering his wife in a jealous rage. The other deputies weren't willing to take the job, and a shaken Reeves demanded to take the responsibility. Two weeks later, he returned with his son.
Bass Reeves earned his place in history for being one of the most effective lawmen in the Indian Territory. He brought in more than 3,000 outlaws.
He killed 14 men during his service, saying that he "never shot a man when it was not necessary for him to do so in the discharge of his duty to save his own life."
Reeves’s skill with the two Colt pistols he always wore with butts forward for a fast draw was legendary. He rarely missed.
He was also reported as being able to handle a .44 Winchester rifle so well that he could kill a man from a quarter-mile away.
Legend has it that he was the real inspiration for the Lone Ranger stories, but that is in dispute. However, for many, he was the real Lone Ranger.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is the Lone Ranger character based on Bass Reeves?
There's some debate over whether or not the Lone Ranger is based on Bass Reeves, but there are certainly some similarities. Both were tall, dark-skinned, and powerfully built. Reeves was also an expert marksman and a skilled horseman. He worked as a U.S. marshal in Oklahoma and Texas for more than three decades and was known for his toughness and determination.
He captured more than 3,000 outlaws during his career and was never wounded in the line of duty. So there's no doubt that he was an impressive man - just like the Lone Ranger.
What gun did Bass Reeves use?
Reeves was known to be an excellent shot with any kind of gun, but he usually carried a Colt .45 revolver. He was also known to carry a Winchester lever gun rifle, which came in handy on more than one occasion. On one occasion, he even used a shotgun to take down a fugitive.
Where are Bass Reeves guns?
Bass Reeves guns are currently in possession of the Oklahoma Historical Society. They were donated to the society in 1970 by his grandson, Howard W. Reeves.