o;ld west

The Western View: The Best Lawman in the Old West

Dan Western View

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Bass Reeves – first African-American US Deputy Marshal. Died 1910.

One of the most effective lawmen of the old west wasn’t Wyatt Earp or Wild Bill Hickok.  It’s a Federal Marshall who worked out of Judge Parker’s court in Fort Smith, Arkansas.  His job was hunting outlaws in the 75,000 square miles of Indian Territory – what is now the state of Oklahoma.  This Marshall excelled at his job.  Over his 32 years working for Judge Parker, he rounded up over 3000 hardened criminals.  His name was Bass Reeves, and he was an African-American, a former slave from Paris, Texas.  

He was a very brave man, and he always took the high moral ground.  The outlaws knew he couldn’t be bought and he couldn’t be scared away from his target.   He was fluent in at least two Native languages, stood over 6 feet tall and was physically powerful, and an expert with pistols or rifle.  Over his career he was in several shootouts, and reportedly killed 20 men in gunfights.  He also developed excellent skills as a detective and was a master of disguise, often infiltrating outlaw hideouts to gain information about his targets.  

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Reeves in 1907

Reeves was a legendary lawman, the man to send after the outlaws no one else could catch.  He was Judge Parker’s best Marshall and the outlaws hated him and wanted him dead.  He survived several attempts on his life, and even though he was in numerous gunfights, he never took a bullet.  

A measure of his character showed when his son was charged with murdering his wife in a domestic dispute.  Marshall Reeves took charge of the warrant and brought him in for trial.  He was convicted and sent to Leavenworth.

Reeves was a flamboyant and inspiring character – so inspiring that some people believe that the radio and TV show The Lone Ranger was patterned after him.  It seems likely, considering that Reeves was known for wearing disguises, was a crack shot with pistol or rifle, had a Native American partner, passed out silver coins, rode a silver-white horse, and had high ideals.  He was a truly remarkable man, a real hero of the American West.

The Western View: The Best Lawman in the Old West

I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View from AgNet West and Citrus Industry Magazine.  Visit us on the web at www.citrusindustry.net.

About the Author

Len Wilcox

Len Wilcox is a retired scientist who also ran a newspaper and has written for agricultural publications since the 1980s. He was a regular contributor to California Farmer Magazine. His commentary “The Western View” is a regular feature on Farm City Newsday and AgNet West.