Bass Reeves Born July 1838 Died 12 January 1910 was one of the first African Americans (possibly the first) to receive a commission as a Deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi River. Born a slave in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas, and was given the surname of his owner, George Reeves, a farmer and politician. He moved to Paris, Texas with George Reeves. During the American Civil War, Bass parted company with George Reeves: “some say because Bass beat up George after a dispute in a card game. Others believe that Bass heard too much about the ‘freeing of slaves’ and simply ran away.” Below are some faces of The Muscogee (or Muskogee), also known as the Creek or Creeks
Reeves became a crack shot with a pistol. Later Reeves moved to Arkansas and homesteaded near Van Buren. Once he got his farm going, he married Nellie Jennie from Texas. They had ten children – five boys and five girls. Reeves and his family farmed until 1875 when the legendary Isaac Parker was appointed federal judge for the Indian Territory. Judge Parker appointed James F. Fagan as U.S. Marshal, and directed him to hire 200 deputy U.S. Marshals. Fagan heard about Bass Reeves, who knew the Indian Territory and could speak several Indian languages, and recruited him as a deputy U.S. Marshal.
James F. Fagan-
Reeves worked a total of thirty-two years as a Federal peace officer in the Indian Territory. He was one of Judge Parker’s most valued deputies. He arrested some of the most dangerous criminals of the time, but was never shot (despite having his hat and belt shot off on separate occasions). He had to arrest his own son for murder. Reeves was an expert with rifle and pistol. During his long career he developed superior detective skills. When he retired from Federal service in 1907, Reeves had arrested over 3,000 felons. Reeves admitted having to shoot and kill fourteen outlaws in defending his life while making arrests. When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Reeves, then 68, became an officer of the Muskogee, Oklahoma police department.
Reeves was himself once charged with murdering a posse cook. At his trial (before Judge Parker), Reeves was represented by former United States Attorney W. H. H. Clayton, who had been his colleague and good friend, and was acquitted.
W.H.H Clayton –Reeves’ health failed in 1910, and he died of Bright’s disease on 12 January. He was the uncle of Paul L. Brady, the first African-American appointed a Federal Administrative Law Judge (in 1972). Finally in 2007, the U.S. Route 62 bridge crossing the Arkansas River between Muskogee and Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, was named the Bass Reeves Memorial Bridge in Reeves’ honor. And On May 16, 2012 a bronze statue of Reeves by sculptor Harold Holden, of Enid, Oklahoma, was cast at a foundry in Norman, Oklahoma, and then transported to its permanent location at Pendergraft Park in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Newspapers praised Reeves’s reputation often. On November 19, 1909, theMuskogee Times Democrat wrote that “in the early days when the Indian country was overridden with outlaws, Reeves would herd into Fort Smith, often single handed, bands of men charged with crimes from bootlegging to murder. He was paid fees in those days that sometimes amounted to thousands of dollars for a single trip . . . trips that sometimes lasted for months.”When Bass Reeves died on January 12, 1910, the Muskogee Phoenix wrote of the legendary lawman, “In the history of the early days of Eastern Oklahoma the name of Bass Reeves has a place in the front rank among those who cleansed out the old Indian Territory of outlaws and desperadoes. No story of the conflict of government’s officers with those outlaws, which ended only a few years ago with the rapid filling up of the territory with people, can be complete without mention of the Negro who died yesterday. . . . During that time he was sent to arrest some of the most desperate characters that ever infested Indian Territory and endangered life and peace in its borders. And he got his man as often as any of the deputies. . . .”
Bass Reeves was one of the greatest peace officers in the history of the American western frontier.
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