Bass Reeves: Legendary African-American Lawman and Lone Ranger

Updated on October 27, 2019
Readmikenow profile image

Readmikenow enjoys writing about unique and interesting people. He likes to learn about individuals who live or have lived unusual lives.

Bass Reeves With Native American partner
Bass Reeves With Native American partner

Bass Reeves was a well-known African-American U.S. Deputy Marshal who worked in the Oklahoma and the Arkansas Territories starting in 1875. Other U.S. Deputy Marshals marveled at the skills and abilities he used when in relentless pursuit of criminals. Reeves was shot at many times during his work as a U.S. Deputy Marshal, but he was never hit by a single bullet. Many newspapers followed Bass Reeves as he worked. One reporter wrote that when an arrest warrant was placed in the hands of U.S. Deputy Marshal Reeves, there was no set of circumstances that would make him stop pursuing that criminal. It only ended when the criminal was apprehended.

Early Years

In 1838, Bass Reeves was born in Crawford County, Arkansas as a slave. His master was the Confederate Colonel George Reeves. During the Civil war, Bass Reeves accompanied Colonel Reeves as he went to fight in the war. Once Bass Reeves heard about the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Lincoln, he told Colonel Reeves he was a free man. Colonel Reeves did not agree and the two fought. Colonel Reeves was severely beaten. Bass Reeves escaped and ended up in the Oklahoma Territory. This is where he became good friends with the Cherokee Indian tribe. During his time with them, Bass Reeves learned how to shoot, ride, track as well as fluently speak five Native American languages. These skills helped him become a legendary U.S. Deputy Marshal.

Bass Reeves
Bass Reeves

No Fear

Bass Reeves was sent to bring in three men who had broken the law. When he thought he had caught up with them, the three criminals were able to get the drop on Reeves. They told him to get off his horse. Reeves was known as the Indomitable Marshal. This is how the leader referred to him when he told Bass Reeves he was about to die. Reeves calmly took out the warrants he had for the arrest of the three men and asked what was the date. When they asked why Reeves told them he had to put the date of their arrest on the arrest warrants. He then told them he could take them in dead or alive and it was their choice. When the three men started laughing, Reeves seized the moment and grabbed the gun of the leader. One of the men shot at him and Reeves fired back and killed him. He then took his gun and bashed in the skull of the leader. The third man surrendered. This is from a reporter's eye witness account. It was written about in The Oklahoma City Weekly Times-Journal.

Master Of Disguise

Bass Reeves also had a reputation for using brilliant disguises. Once when he was after two criminals, he discovered they were staying in a secluded cabin. In this situation, it would not be safe to approach the cabin as a U.S. Deputy Marshal. Reeves took his hat and shot three holes into it. He had worn and tattered clothing he put on. Reeves put a few sets of handcuffs in a bag. He then tied his horse up out of sight. Bass Reeves then walked up to the cabin and acted as if he was scared and exhausted. Standing outside, Reeves started talking to the two criminals inside the cabin. He told them he had barely escaped U.S. Marshals and showed them his hat with the bullet holes to prove his story. The two men invited Bass Reeves into the cabin and made an offer for him to participate in a robbery they were planning. They trusted Bass Reeves completely and after an evening of eating and drinking, they fell asleep. During the night, Reeves handcuffed both of them. In the morning, he told the two men he let them sleep during the night. He wanted them to be rested for the long journey back to Fort Smith and jail.

Bass Reeves gun and U.S. Marshal badge
Bass Reeves gun and U.S. Marshal badge

Possible Lone Ranger Inspiration

One of the key parts of the Lone Ranger legend was how he would hand out silver bullets. Bass Reeves was known for handing out silver coins as part of his personal trademark. His goal in doing this was to get in good favor with people wherever he was working. People from many towns recognized Bass Reeves They viewed him and his silver coins as good luck and getting rid of a criminal causing them trouble. Bass Reeves also had a Native American who was his close companion. This Native American was regularly with Reeves when he was working. During the time they worked together, the two of them apprehended thousands of criminals.


Bass Reeves worked as a U.S. Deputy Marshal in the Indian Territories for 32 years. The judge who in charge of the Indian Territories considered Reeves one of his most valued deputies if not the most valued. Some of the worst criminals of this time were hunted down and apprehended by Bass Reeves. During his career, Reeves was never wounded. He came close on two occasions Once was when his belt was shot off and the other incident his hat was shot off. At the end of his career, a newspaper reporter in 1907 wrote that Bass Reeves had brought in over 3,000 felons alive and 20 dead. Reeves wanted to make certain that the record was correct. He stated that he had also been forced to kill 14 men in self-defense.

Death And Legacy

Bass Reeves health started to fail when he was 70. On January 12, 1910, Bass Reeves died of Bright's disease in Muskogee, Oklahoma. He was 71 years old. The bridge spanning the Arkansas River between Fort Gibson and Muskogee, Oklahoma has been named the Bass Reeves Memorial Bridge. Bass Reeves was also inducted into the Texas Trail of fame in 2013.

Bass Reeves Statute
Bass Reeves Statute

Bass Reeves Statue

On May 26, 2012, over a thousand people gathered at Ross Pendergraft Park in Fort Smith, Oklahoma for the unveiling of the statue of U.S. Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves. The monument was made in Norman, Oklahoma. The statue made a 200-mile journey on a flatbed trailer with a large police escort. The monument to Bass Reeves is made of bronze and stands approximately 25 feet tall. The base of it is made from the cobblestone from a downtown street.

Book about Bass Reeves by Gary Paulson
Book about Bass Reeves by Gary Paulson


The Legend of Bass Reeves was published by Gary Paulsen on January 8, 2008. A biography by Art T. Burton titled Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves was released April 1, 2008. Bad News For Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson was published on August 1, 2009. Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Charles Ray was published on February 2, 2014.


The movie Bass Reeves was released by Ponderous Productions in 2010. Another movie named Bass Reeves was released by producers Marlon Ladd and Jacqueline Edwards in 2017. The movie Lawman based on Bass Reeves career was released in 2017 and produced by Matthew Gentile Productions.

Documentary About Bass Reeves



Legends Of America

Black Past

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Readmikenow


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      • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


        14 months ago

        Randall, Thanks. You need to read toward the end of the article. More than one movie has been done about Bass Reeves and a few books have been written about him. He is a fascinating story.

      • profile image


        14 months ago

        Love it,never knew about this great figure in American History.He needs a movie based on his life.Never knew he inspired the Lone Ranger.Sad he did not get the light he deserves.Like other African Americans in history.

      • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


        16 months ago

        FlourishAnyway, thanks. It is a great story.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image


        16 months ago from USA

        I had no idea who he was. Thank you for profiling him. I hope this hub really gains traction during Black History Month to help show the variety of African Americans who have contributed to our country.

      • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


        16 months ago

        Liz, thanks. I found this to be a rather fascinating story.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        16 months ago from UK

        This was all new to me. You give a great account of Bass Reeves.

      • Readmikenow profile imageAUTHOR


        16 months ago

        Bill, thanks! I found this a very fascinating yet little known part of American history.

      • bdegiulio profile image

        Bill De Giulio 

        16 months ago from Massachusetts

        Hi Mike. Fascinating story. I was not familiar with Bass Reeves, but what an interesting life. I will have to look for the books and movie. Great hub.


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