Who was Bass Reeves?
Deputy U.S. Marshall Bass Reeves was born to slave parents in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas, and would become the first black U.S. Deputy Marshal west of the Mississippi River.
Having first escaped slavery, fleeing to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and then having been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation Reeves left Indian Territory in 1863 and bought land near Van Buren, Arkansas, where he became a successful farmer and rancher. He would also serve as a scout for other U.S. Deputy Marshalls entering the Indian Territory. He was later appointed a U.S. Deputy Marshall himself by "Hanging Judge" Isaac Parker in Fort Smith. The deputies were tasked with “cleaning up” Indian Territory and, on Judge Parker’s orders, “Bring them in alive — or dead!”
Over the 35 years that Bass Reeves served as a Deputy United States Marshal, he earned his place in history by being one of the most effective lawmen in Indian Territory, bringing in more than 3,000 outlaws. Tales of his captures are legendary. Killing some 14 men during his service, Reeves always said 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’ diagnosis with kidney failure finally ended his career in 1909. He died on January 12, 1910, and he was buried in the Union Agency Cemetery at Muskogee, Oklahoma, but the exact location of his grave is unknown.