Bass Reeves was the first black deputy U.S. Marshal to serve west of the Mississippi River a decade after the ratification of the 13th Amendment.

Biography

Bass Reeves was born into slavery in Crawford County, Arkansas, in 1838. After severely beating his enslaver, he fled to the Indian Territory where he lived among the Cherokee, Creeks and Seminoles. Bass stayed in the Indian Territories and learned their languages until he was freed by the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, in 1865.

Assigned to a district of Arkansas, he also covered the Indian Territory. According to the Norman Transcript, he was revered for bringing in some of the most dangerous criminals, being a marksman and having superior detective skills, and making over 3,000 arrests.

When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Bass Reeves, then 68, became an officer of the Muskogee Police Department. He served for two years before he became ill and retired.

Legacy

In 1921, Oscar Micheaux released a film titled Trust In The Law!, a film which dramatizes the life of Bass Reeves. The film was released only at the Dreamland Theater during the onslaught of the Tulsa race massacre. The film made a strong impression on a young William Reeves, who inspired by the lawman would become a police officer for the New York City Police Department and eventually Hooded Justice.[1][2]

Trivia

  • On the HBO series Watchmen, a hooded Bass Reeves (portrayed by Jamal Akakpo) appears in the opening scene of Trust in the Law!, a film playing at the nearly empty Dreamland Theater as the Tulsa race massacre unfolds outside. The scene depicts Reeves chasing down a white man, whom he ultimately arrests after it’s revealed that he is a “scoundrel” while Reeves is a member of the law -- and the real hero of the story.
  • Bass Reeves, was the basis for The Lone Ranger, who was a whitewashed version of him. Hooded Justice was "whitewashed" as well in American Hero Story.

References

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.