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Bass Reeves: Braver than a criminal, Righteous as an angel.

Bass Reeves was an African American, U.S. Deputy Marshal who helped maintain law and order in the wildest, most dangerous area of the American Wild West. He was a criminals worst nightmare and a fellow law officers dream come true. But he wasn't always this highly respected maverick. Bass was born into slavery in Arkansas. He did not let that stop him. As a young man, he escaped and fled to an Indian territory. DANGEROUS! After the the Civil War, Reeves moved back to Arkansas to start a farm and family. RISKY!

Because he knew the area so well, Reeves often guided local law enforcers through the wild land. In 1872, he was commissioned to become a US Deputy Marshal himself. He was one of the very first African Americans west of the Mississippi river to earn this position.

Reeves took his job seriously and soon became known as one of the best law enforcers in the area. He taught himself multiple Native American languages, perfected shooting accurately using both his right and left hand, and was a master in finding ways to disguise himself to trick his targets. One time he even disguised himself as a fellow outlaw, traded stories of crimes with a criminal duo, agreed to join in with their gang, and then arrested them in their sleep. CAKE! He captured over 3,000 criminals during his reign.

Bass Reeves wasn’t just smart, he was also fearless. His area of jurisdiction was one of the most dangerous places in America. It is said that at different times throughout his career, he had his hat shot off, his belt shot into pieces, a button shot off his coat, and the horse reins he was holding shot in half. Police Chief Bud LedBetter said that, “he never quailed in facing any man.” His name became so respected that the famed Belle Star turned herself in when she found out that Bass Reeves had a warrant for her arrest. GOOD CHOICE!

Due to his background in slavery, he never learned to read and write, but he loved to boast that in 32 years of service, he never arrested the wrong person due this disadvantage. He memorized lists of criminals and subpoenas (a writ ordering a person to attend a court) perfectly. Some courts actually requested that Reeves serve their subpoenas because he was always reliable.

One of the biggest tests to Reeves moral strength and courage came in 1902, when he was called upon to arrest his own son. His son had murdered his wife out of jealousy when he found out that she had another lover. Because of their respect for Bass Reeves, none of the other law men wanted to arrest him. Bass took the warrant himself. No matter what the charge, no matter what the danger, Reeves never wavered from his duty. 

Can you read? Can you write? Were you born into slavery? Is it the mid-1800's? Then what's stopping you? Saddle up and arrest your fears like Bass.

By: Susanna Olson

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