October 28, 2023 – Bass Reeves, An Example of Black Excellence

The Lone Ranger Image

An immensely popular TV series, “The Lone Ranger” began as a radio program in the 1930s.  The television show aired from 1949-1957 on ABC. It was the highest-rated television program in the 1950s and is considered the first true “hit” on television.

In the TV series, the Lone Ranger travels throughout Texas and the American West. Each episode ended with him saying “Hi-Yo Silver Away!””

The real Lone Ranger was a Black man born a slave and owned by an Arkansas state legislator who moved to Texas.  He was forced to go with the son of his owner who fought for the Confederate Army in the Civil War. Bass Reeves escaped slavery and lived among the Cherokee, Creek and Seminole communities and learned their languages.

After the Civil War, Reeves and his family returned to Arkansas and farmed as a free man. In 1875, he was appointed a US Marshal, the first Black deputy to serve west of the Mississippi.  He was named by a federal judge who’d heard he was good with a gun and knew many of the languages spoken by Native Americans.

When most men were 5’6”, Bass Reeves stood 6’2”. He cut a striking figure on his large gray (almost white) horse while wearing his trademark black hat and twin .45 Colt Peacemakers cross-draw style.

Reeves became famous among criminals for his skills and relentless pursuit. Although shot at many times, he remained untouched by a single bullet.  He was called “The Indomitable Marshal,” so tough he could “spit on a brick and bust it.” The Oklahoma City Weekly Times-Journal reported, “Reeves was never known to show the slightest excitement under any circumstances. He does not know what fear is.”

Reeves worked for 32 years as a federal peace officer. He brought in some of the most dangerous fugitives of the time. It was reported that Reeves had brought in 3,000 living felons.

His obituary described him as “absolute fearless and knowing no master but duty.”

There is an equestrian statue of Reeves at Fort Smith. Bass Reeves has been inducted into the Texas Trail of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas near the Stockyards.

Several books have been written about him:

The Black Badge: Deputy United States Marshal Bass Reeves from Slave to Heroic Lawmen by Paul Brady.

Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves by Arthur Burton.

The Legend of Bass Reeves: Being the True and Fictional Account of the Most Valiant Marshal in the West by Gary Paulsen. 

150 150 Ethel Mitchell

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