2006 Hall of Fame Inductee
2006 Hall of Fame Inductee
Bass Reeves, the first black commissioned United States deputy marshal west of the Mississippi River, was born to slave parents in July 1824 in Paris, Texas. He escaped to Indian Territory after severely beating his young master in a dispute over cards and lived among the "five civilized tribes," especially the Creeks, as a fugitive until 1863. Freed by the Emancipation Proclamation and no longer a fugitive, the six-foot-two, 190-pound former slave left the Indian country, bought land near Van Buren, Arkansas, and became a successful stockman and farmer. Reeves married Nellie Jennie (or Jinney), a Texas native, in 1864, and they raised a family of ten, five boys and five girls. After his first wife's death, Reeves married Winnie Sumter of Muskogee, Oklahoma, in 1900 and started a second family.
When Isaac C. Parker was appointed judge for the Federal Western District Court at Fort Smith, Arkansas, on May 10, 1875, to bring law to the Indian Territory, one of his first official acts was to swear in a United States marshal and appoint 200 deputies to curb the lawlessness in the area. White outlaws had so terrorized the interior groups, especially the Creeks and Seminoles, that whites, with or without a badge, were unwelcome. Reeves was recruited because he knew the tribal languages and country well, and as a black he did not suffer from the reputation for abuse produced by the activities of the white criminal element among the Indians.
Reeves had a well-earned reputation for law enforcement south of the Red River. He killed fourteen men in the performance of his duty while assigned to the federal district courts at Paris and Sherman, Texas, during his thirty-two-year career as deputy.
Dependability and devotion to duty were the benchmarks of Reeves's service to the government. Many of the district courts asked for Reeves because of his reliability in serving warrants. Having never learned to read and write, he had someone to read the subpoenas or warrants to him until he memorized which name belonged to each warrant. The deputy's respect for the law was legendary. He once arrested his own son on a murder warrant after a two-week manhunt. His son was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison, but was later given a full pardon.
After 1907 the role and the duties of the United States deputy marshal as a primary law-enforcement officer were assumed by state agencies. At the age of eighty-three Reeves accepted a job as patrolman with the Muskogee city police department, and from 1907 to 1909 there was reportedly never a crime committed on his beat. In 1909 his health failed, and he died on January 12, 1910, of Bright's disease.
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