Wednesday, 19 March 2014


Deputy US Marshal Bass Reeves 

Bass Reeves being mentioned on Justified.

Bass was born in Paris, Texas, in 1838, the son of slaves.  Eventually Bass became his owner George Reeves' personal companion and body servant, and accompanied him when he joined up for the Civil War.  Bass left George, possibly after a fight over a card game, and fled to Indian Territory when he learnt to fire a pistol and rifle with both hands.  Although he claimed to be "only fair" with the rifle, he was regularly banned from competitive Turkey shoots for being too good.  After the Emancipation Proclamation he returned from Indian Territory and became a landowner in Arkansas, married and raised five girl and five boys.

In 1875, Judge Isaac C Parker appointed James F Fagan as US Marshal and told to hire around 200 Deputies to clear up the lawless Indian Territory.  Fagan heard of Reeves' familiarity with the territory and the languages and recruit Bass as a US Deputy Marshal based at Fort Smith (the court covering the largest area in the country) making him the first black man commissioned as a law man west of the Mississippi.

Reeves would leave with a number of warrants, and although Reeves could neither read nor write, he got people to read the Warrants to him and memorised them, allowing him to always produce the correct one when asked.  He was known to return herding a number of outlaws back to Fort Smith, making a handsome reward from fees and rewards.

  • Suspecting two outlaws were hiding at their mothers, he disguised himself as a tramp with three bullet holes in his hat, and visited her saying he'd been chased by a posse who'd shot at him, hitting his hat.  The mother suggested that he join forces with her sons who returned as the sun was setting.  The three discussed their crimes and planned to head off the next morning.  While the two outlaws slept, Bass produced his hidden handcuffs, cuffed them while they slept and then led them the 28 miles back to his camp, being cursed by the mother the first three miles but making $5,000 in reward money for the pair.
  • He arrested six outlaws by dressing as a farmer and pretending that his cart was caught on a stump outside thier house, drawing on them when they came out to help him.
  • Bob Dozier was an outlaw wanted for a range of crimes. Unpredictable and hard to track no lawman came close to capture him.  He even eluded Reeves for several years until, finally, Reeves tracked him down.  Dozier refused to surrender and was shot and killed in a gunfight with Reeves.
  • He arrested horse thief Belle Star in 1882.  Some say she surrendered when she heard that the legendary Bass Reeves was after her.
  • He was arrested in 1887 for the murder of his posse's cook, William Leach, but was acquitted after testifying that he shot him accidentally while cleaning his gun.  It is suggested that the trial may have been politically motivated and bankrupted him.  The 49 year old returned to his job as a Deputy US Marshal.
  • In 1889, he waited along the route that the Tom Story Gang's long-term horse rustling operation used, surprising Story with a warrant.  Story drew on Reeves, but Reeves was quicker.  The gang disbanded and were never heard from again.
  • Greenleaf a Seminole outlaw who'd killed seven people and been on the run for nineteen years was captured by Reeves in 1890.
  • The murderous Brunt brothers (known for killing officers of the law) laughed at him when they read the warrant he gave them.  But he used their inattention to draw on them, killing two and disarming and arresting the third.
  • In 1892, Reeves returned with a pair of prisoners to be told that his daughter in-law had been murdered and his own son, Benny/Bennie, was wanted for the crime.  The warrant had been on US Marshall Leo Bennett's desk for two days - none of the other Deputy Marshals wanted to take it.  A shaken Reeves demanded that it be given to him.  Two weeks later he returned with his own son as a prisoner.  Benny served 20 years.
  • After a running gun battle with Reeves in 1895, dying horse thief Jim Webb acknowledge Reeves as the better man, giving him his gun and scabbard.
  • In 1902, Reeves and another Marshal arrested 25 men (black and white) who participated in a "race riot" in Paris, Texas.
  • Reeves said that the most outlaws he captured at one time was a group of nineteen horse thieves he captured near Fort Still.
  • One of Reeves last cases was arresting Reverend William Hobson for illegally selling liquor to pay off the church debt.  Only three years early Reeves had been baptised by the same Reverend.

    Reeves brought in 3,000 outlaws in his 32 years as a Marshal, the only one on record to have served from the Parker's court until Oklahoma statehood.  In that time he also shot fourteen men as, but said that he never did so unless to save his own life.  He himself was never shot.  When Oklahoma achieve statehood in 1907, law enforcement came under state control and aged 68, Reeves joined the Muskogee Oklahoma Police Department, but no crimes were reported on his beat for the two years we walked it.  He was diagnosed with Brights disease in 1909 and died in 1910.

    Why it should be filmed:
    • Solid action story.
    • Historical significance.
    • To start to redress the white-washing of the American West.
    • Morgan Freeman wants to play him.
    • Cool facial hair.

    Previous films of this story:
    • Bass Reeves (2010) - A very low budget, hard to find film.
    • Some claim inspiration for The Lone Ranger and Django Unchained due to superficial similarities.
    Should be in the Style of:
    • True Grit (2010).
    • Unforgiven (1992).
    ~ DUG.


    1. Great post, which I just found. Check out my fictionalized account of Bass's first two years at I'm currently negotiating to adapt if as a movie.

      1. I wish you luck and hope that I can remove this as a film that should be made and isn't.

    2. the REAL story of Bass reeves the REAL lone ranger is coming, taking back black history