Bass Reeves

Have you heard of the American hero Bass Reeves?

In 1838 Bass Reeves was born into slavery in Arkansas to Arkansas state legislator William Steele Reeves.  His master refused to let him learn to read and write, but did teach him to shoot so he could serve as a bodyguard and hunt food.  He believed knowledge was much more dangerous than a firearm.  He became such a good marksman his owner would enter him into many shooting competitions, until he won so much he was banned.

William Steele Reeve’s son: Colonel George R. Reeves took him into the Civil war on the side of the South.  Something happened and they parted company with Bass fleeing to Indian country in Oklahoma where the Cherokee took him in, and he learned five different Indian languages.  In 1865 the 13th amendment freed him, he moved to Arkansas, started farming, got married and had 11 children.

1875, Isaac Parker was appointed federal judge for the Indian Territory.  He hired Bass as one of his 200 deputy marshals, making him the first black deputy west of the Mississippi River.
At a time where most men were 5’6, he was 6’2, an imposing figure.  Reeves became well known among criminals for never giving up pursuit and having high skill. He was never hit by a single bullet, though fired on many times.  He was called “The Indomitable Marshal,” and it was said he was so tough he could “spit on a brick and bust it.”

One time those he hunted, found him first.  Showing no alarm, Reeves took out his warrants and asked the three men, “What is the date today?”  The lead criminal asked: “What difference does that make?”  Bass explained he needed the date to put on the paperwork for when he took them all in…. dead or alive… The criminals laughed, and Bass used the distraction to grab the barrel of the lead criminal’s gun.  One of the others opened fire, but Bass drew and shot him dead, then killed the leader by hitting him in the head with his own gun.  The last man surrendered.

Another time when he went to take in a criminal, his party fell under fire.  He tripped and stayed down.  The criminal quit firing, assuming he had killed Bass and his party ran off.  When he was a yard away from Bass, laughing at finally taking down the marshal, Bass opened his eyes and called on the criminal to surrender.  The criminal startled and then went for his gun.  Bass out-drew him.

Bass was also known for his creative disguises.  While after two criminals, he found they were hiding in a cabin he could not easily approach.  He shot his hat three times, put on old clothes and hid his handcuffs.   He tied up his horse out of eye-shot.  Then he walked seemingly exhausted to the cabin and told of his escape from the U. S. Marshals.  The criminals invited him to join them.  While they slept, he handcuffed both of them and rode them back to jail.

During his time as a Marshal documentation says he arrested over 3000 wanted men.  He killed 14 in self-defense.  For a few of the 14 he was tried in court, but was always exonerated.  Note this was a judge intolerant of killing outside of self-defense, and other marshals were convicted of wrongful death.  He had to memorize each warrant as someone read it to him, since he never did learn to read or write.

He rode a white horse and handed out silver dollars as a calling card.  Due to this, some people believe he was the inspiration for the Lone Ranger…

In 1907 at the age of 68 he became an officer of the Muskogee, Oklahoma police department and served 2 years, before his health forced him to retire.  During his time in the police department, no criminals dared to do a single crime in his jurisdiction.  The lack of any crime is a matter of public record.

Why talk about Bass in church?  Bass’s great grand-nephew Federal Judge Paul Brady had this to say about Bass and the person that hired him:

They developed a very close working relationship, in spite of, the widely diverse backgrounds, one a slave, one a former congressman, one educated, one who was not. Bass had no semblance of any formal education. They developed a very deep respect for each other. I think that perhaps this was based upon their overriding sense of duty and responsibility that they had learned from their Christian backgrounds and Christian teachings. They were both very versed in the scriptures from their early learning, and Judge Parker convinced Bass to join him in helping to establish the rule of law over the rule of men, and to bring law where there had never been any law before. Parker reminded Bass, that he would be in a position to serve as a deputy to show the lawful as well as the lawless that a black man was the equal of any other law enforcement officer on the frontier.

Whenever he took someone into custody, he made sure to witness to them from the multitude of scriptures he had memorized.  His Christian faith allowed him to be an example, to the law abiding and criminals alike, at a time when being a black law man was extremely difficult.  Illustrating the following verses:

2 Timothy 1:6-8,11-12 (NIV)

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.  And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

Romans 10:13-15 (NASB)
for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”

Matthew 5:16 (NASB)
Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

1 Peter 3:15 (NASB)
...but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;

© Vivian P. Kirkpatrick, 2017


  • The Ayoob Files – The Gun Fights of Bass Revees Handgunner, May/June 2014

To see this in video form, click here.