"The First African American US Deputy Marshall West of the Mississippi River"
Bass Reeves is the first African American to serve as Deputy U.S. Marshall west of the Mississipi River. He was appointed by James F. Fagan primarlily due to his ability to speak several Native American languages and his familiarity with Native American territories.
U.S. Deputy Marshall Bass Reeves was born in July of 1838 in Paris, Texas and passed in January of 1910, in Muskogee, Oklahoma of Bright’s Disease. Due to his extensive career and accomplishments he is considered to be one of the most outstanding fronteir heroes in United States History. He is interred in the old Union Agency Cemetery in Muskogee, Oklahoma.
Bass Reeves served for 32 years as Deputy U.S. Marshall in Native American Territory (Oklahoma). He had a reputation for being fearless and despite killing fourteen outlaws and arresting over 3,000 felons he was never shot. However, he did have his hat shot off his head several times.
Deputy Marshall Reeves was ambidextrous and known to be deadly, quick and accurate with a pistol. He was also a skilled rifleman though he was very humble when it came to describing his skills with his rifle. He often stated that he was only “fair” with one, however, he was repeatedly banned from participating in Turkey shoots because of his skill.
Bass Reeves married Nellie Jennie of Texas and had ten children, five boys and five girls. One of his sons eventually was charged with the murder of his wife. Marshall Reeves was disturbed and shaken by the incident but demanded to accept the responsiblity of bringing his son to justice. His son was eventually tracked and captured, tried and convicted. He served his time in Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas before being released and living the rest of his life as a responsible and model citizen.
Bass was an imposing figure at 6’2″ and 200lbs. He was known to be courteous and mannerly and to always be immaculately dressed with boots polished to a gleaming shine. He usually rode a large red stallion with a white blazed face.
Bass Reeves acheived freedom by fleeing after beating up George Reeves, his “master”, after a card game dispute. He fled into Native American territory where he lived with Cherokees and Seminoles until the Emancipation Proclamation “officially” freed him in 1863.
Bass could not read or write. He would typically have someone read him a stack of warrants of arrest and memorized them before setting out on the hunt with his posse.
During the course of his career Deputy Reeves was even charged with murder himself for allegedly shooting a posse cook. He was eventually acquitted of the charge by Judge Isaac C. Parker.
In 1907, when Oklahoma became a state, Bass Reeves joined the Muskogee Police Department and served as officer up until 1909 when he retired due to health complications.
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