Little Known Black History Fact: Bass Reeves

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Bass Reeves was a Paris, Texas-born slave who become one of the toughest men of the frontier in history. Owned by farmer and politician George Reeves, Bass worked as water boy and later as his owners’ personal servant. In 1860, Reeves took the distraction of the Civil War as an opportunity to escape and live among the Indians. Rumor spread that Bass fled after he had physically beat George during a card game.

The escaped slave built a family and life in Crawford County, TX. Reeves had learned to become a sharpshooter during his time with the Seminole and Creek Tribes. In 1875, the Sheriff appointed Reeves as commissioned deputy U.S. marshal, making him one of the first black federal lawmen west of the Mississippi. Reeves stood 6’2″ and was known to be the toughest Marshal around. In one instance, he brought 19 men to jail at one time. The number of Reeves’ fugitives grew into the thousands. Some even turned themselves’ in when they got word of the deputy assigned to bring them in.

A recent Disney production of “The Lone Ranger” starring Arnie Hammer and Johnny Depp, gave way to the assumption that the Lone Ranger’s character, which was created in Detroit in 1933, was based upon the life and likeness of Bass Reeves, an unsung hero of the West.

Ironically, both Reeves and the Lone Ranger wore masks, Reeves mostly because he was a black man in a powerful position of authority during the slave era. Both men left tokens of silver with those they encountered; Reeves left a silver dollar, the Ranger, a silver bullet. When Bass Reeves caught his criminals, he sent them to the Detroit correctional facility, the same place that George Trendle and Fran Striker created the character.

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