Black History: Cowboys, Pioneers & the West

Black History: Cowboys, Pioneers & the West

Bad News for Outlaws

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

The Legend of Bass Reeves

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:


Use your indyPL Library Card to check out books at any of our locations, or check out e-books and e-audiobooks from home right to your device. Click on a book jacket below to request a book or download it. Need help? Call or ask a Library staff member at any of our locations, text a librarian at 317 333-6877, or leave a comment.

Nat LoveBlackIndiansBest ShotPickettNothingThunderBuffaloHurryOldWestNicodemusFrontiers

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.

WeNeedDiverseBooks LogoTo get young people engaged, one of the things they need is to see themselves in books. It is important for all of us to see ourselves in books, because that encourages us to read in a different way and encourages us to write more.” ~ Dr. Jerrie Cobb Scott Founder of the African American Read-in #weneeddiversebooks

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