Bass Reeves first African American Deputy U.S. Marshal
Bass Reeves (July 1838 – 12 January 1910) was one of the first African Americans (possibly the first) to receive a commission as a Deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi River.
Reeves was born a slave in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas. Reeves was named after his grandfather, Basse Washington. Bass Reeves and his family were slaves of Arkansas state legislator William Steele Reeves. When Bass Reeves was eight (about 1846), William Reeves moved to Grayson County, Texas, near Sherman in the Peters Colony. Bass Reeves may have been a servant to Colonel George R. Reeves, the son of William Reeves. George Reeves was also a legislator, in Texas, and at the time of his death in 1882 from rabies, George Reeves was the Speaker of the House in the Texas legislature. During the American Civil War, Bass parted company with George Reeves. “Some say because Bass beat up George after a dispute in a card game. Others believe that Bass heard too much about the ‘freeing of slaves’ and simply ran away. Bass Reeves fled north into the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) and lived with the Cherokee, Seminole, and Creek Indians until he was freed by the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865
Later Reeves moved to Arkansas and farmed near Van Buren. He married Nellie Jennie from Texas, with whom he had ten children, five boys and five girls.
Reeves and his family farmed until 1875, when Isaac Parker was appointed federal judge for the Indian Territory. Parker appointed James F. Fagan as U.S. Marshal, directing him to hire 200 deputy U.S. Marshals. Fagan had heard about Reeves, who knew the Indian Territory and could speak several Indian languages. He recruited him as one of his deputies and Reeves was the first African-American deputy west of the Mississippi River. Reeves was initially assigned as a Deputy U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Arkansas, which also had responsibility for the Indian Territory. Reeves served in that district until 1893, when he transferred to the Eastern District of Texas in Paris, Texas. In 1897 he was transferred to the Muskogee Federal Court.
Reeves worked for thirty-two years as a Federal peace officer in the Indian Territory. He was one of Judge Parker’s most valued deputies. Reeves brought in some of the most dangerous criminals of the time, but was never wounded, despite having his hat and belt shot off on separate occasions. Once he had to arrest his own son for murder.
In addition to being a marksman with a rifle and pistol, Reeves, during his long career, developed superior detective skills. When he retired in 1907, Reeves claimed to have arrested over 3,000 felons. He is said to have had to shoot and kill fourteen outlaws to defend his own life.
One of his sons was charged with the murder of his wife. Marshal Reeves was disturbed and shaken by the incident but demanded to accept the responsibility of bringing his son to justice. His son was eventually tracked and captured, tried and convicted. He served his time in Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas before being released and living the rest of his life as a responsible and model citizen.
When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Reeves, then 68, became an officer of the Muskogee, Oklahoma police department. He served for two years before he became ill and had to retire.
He was himself once charged with murdering a posse cook. At his trial before Judge Parker, Reeves was represented by former United States Attorney W. H. H. Clayton, who had been his colleague and friend. Reeves was acquitted