Bass Reeves was a legendary American lawman who rose from slavery to become a deputy U.S. Marshal. Not only was he the first black man to be appointed a deputy U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi river, he was also revered for his superhuman strength, excellent detective skills and efficient marksmanship which saw him capture not less than 3,000 criminals during a career spanning 32 years.
Bass Reeves was born in July 1938 in Crawford County, Arkansas. His family members were slaves of an Arkansas state legislator by the name of William Steele Reeves. Bass Reeves got his first name from his grandfather Basse Washington and took the surname of the Reeves family who owned him as a slave. Bass Reeves’ mother’s name was Pearlalee and he also had a sister named Jane Reeves.
At the age of 8, the Reeves family, together with their slaves, moved to Texas. Bass worked as a waterboy, a field hand and when he got older, started working with the household animals consisting of mules and horse. He was eventually selected to be a companion for his master which was quite an “honor” at the time. He was a valet, bodyguard, coachman, and butler all rolled into one.
Bass, however, ran away from his master in 1861/1862 after a disputed card game turned into a physical altercation. In fear for his life, Bass ran to the Indian territories in what is now known as Kansas and Oklahoma. Even though he was illiterate, he was able to learn the languages of the five civilized tribes occupying the territory at the time namely Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole. It was there that Bass Reeves learned his excellent horsemanship and tracking skills.
Upon the abolition of slavery in 1865, Bass Reeves moved to Arkansas and took up farming. He also worked as a guide for government officials traveling through the Indian territory which he now knew like the back of his hand. As a result of that knowledge as well as his other acquired skills, he was commissioned as a deputy U.S. Marshal by Judge Isaac Parker in 1875.
Bass Reeve was a fearless lawman and went on long expeditions throughout the Indian territory, single-handedly apprehending criminals and bringing them back for trial at Fort Smith. During a tenure spanning 32 years, Reeves reportedly apprehended not less than 3,000 criminals. Reeves retired from federal service in 1907 at the age of 67. He thereafter worked as a policeman in Muskogee, Oklahoma for two years before eventually retiring as a result of illness.
Bass Reeves’ Family and Children
Following the abolition of slavery in 1865, Reeves moved to Arkansas and became a farmer. He got married to Nellie Jennie from Texas and they had a total of 11 children. They are Sally, Robert, Harriet, Georgia, Alice, Newland, Edgar, Lula, Benjamin, Homer and Bass Jr.
After the passing of his first wife, Bass Reeves got married a second time to a Cherokee freedwoman named Winnie J. Sumner in 1990. Bass had a stepdaughter from Winnie’s previous marriage by the name Estella Sumner.
Interesting Facts About Bass Reeves
Reeves made use of numerous disguises to catch up with his unsuspecting “prey”. He would dress up as a preacher, a tramp, and even a woman. On one famous occasion, he was tipped off that a bunch of outlaws were holed up in a cabin near Keokuk. He dressed up as a poor farmer and set off with his old Oxen and an outdated wagon. When he got there, he deliberately got himself stuck and when the outlaws numbering 6 came out to see what was going on, he arrested all of them.