History has a way of disappearing, especially in today’s world. I came across Bass Reeves while researching a historical horror novel. After digging into this man’s life and his impact on the American frontier, I drew a lot from his story for a main character in my book. Most historians believe Bass Reeves, a black man in the post Civil War frontier was the basis for the ever popular western stalwart and champion, The Lone Ranger!
Bass Reeves was born into slavery in Arkansas in1838, most agree, probably in July. His surname is from William S. Reeves. He served under the leadership of Colonel George Reeves, William S. Reeves’s son, in the confederate army. Fought in, he claimed, three significant battles, Pea Ridge, Chickamauga, and Missionary Ridge. There is a dispute over his involvement in Missionary Ridge and Chickamauga. Conflicting reports have him escaping to Indian Territory after an argument over a card game in 1862 with William S. Reeves.
During the remainder of the Civil War, in his time spent in the western frontier, Bass Reeves learned several skills that made him useful to the U.S. Government following the war. Speaking several Native American dialects, possessing exceptional equestrian skills, he was a sought-after guide for government officials through Indian Territory.
Statue Of Bass Reeves at Fort Smith, Arkansas
Later, he was deputized into the U.S. Marshall’s under the infamous hanging judge, Federal Judge Isaac Parker. Covering his almost 75,000 square mile territory as a U.S. Marshall, Bass Reeves is credited with apprehending 3,000 fugitives, including his own son. He killed another 14 outlaws in carrying out his duties.
Retiring from the U.S. Marshalls, he became a police officer in Muskogee, Oklahoma. He worked that beat until his passing on January 12, 1910, of Bright’s disease. He blazed a trail that few would imagine and even less remember. His exploits became legendary, and his talents were many. A statue was erected of him at Fort Smith, Arkansas, in Pendergraft Park in 2012. His election in the Texas Trail of Fame was in 2013. The US-62 bridge over the Arkansas River in Oklahoma was renamed Bass Reeves Memorial Bridge.
Whether or not the Lone Ranger is based on his tenure as a lawman, it is hard to dispute that he overwhelmingly got his man, more often than not, brought them in unharmed, much like the fictitious masked lawman. He was resolute in the charge given him with the badge, to the point his own family didn’t find favor over the law.