Bass Reeves grew up as a slave in Texas. Even as a young boy he was good with a gun. His master used to take him to shooting contests to show him off. One night though, when Bass was a young man, he and his master got in a fight and Bass punched his owner. Hitting a white man was punishable by death – so Bass ran, and he ran as a fast and as far as he could – all the way to Indian Territory in the West.
The frontier wasn’t called the Wild West for nothing. It was rough country with outlaws roaming around. The West was a great place for bad guys to hide. In 1875 the government hired 200 deputy marshals to help bring order to the frontier and Bass Reeves was one of them. He was also the best one. He could fight and he could shoot when he had too, but mostly, he was smart. He was also known for his honesty and integrity. One time, he had to arrest his own son! Author: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
Another great book about Bass is The Legend of Bass Reeves. Gary Paulsen, the author of this book, calls it “the true and fictional account of the most valiant marshal in the West.” Mr. Paulsen adds a little here and there to fill in the places where history left gaps…but for the most part, this is the story of Bass the real guy – the first African-American U.S. Deputy Marshal west of the Mississippi – and this was in the 1870s! Bass became a legend, even in his own time. Some outlaws turned themselves in once they heard it was Bass that would be looking for them! Bass Reeves – an American original! Look at the websites and books below to learn more about other African-Americans and the roles they played settling the American West.
Websites, Activities & Printables:
- The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History: Bass Reeves
- Scholastic: The Other Pioneers African Americans on the Frontier
- PBS Texas Ranch House: African American Cowboys
- Texas State Historical Association: Black Cowboys
- Oregon Northwest: Black Pioneers
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To learn even more about fascinating and inspiring black history makers, visit the Center for Black Literature & Culture at Central Library. The Center is dedicated to celebrating the vibrant and resilient heritage and triumphs of those born of African roots.
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