"Bass Reeves was the only U. S. Marshal that I can recall," said Sarah Wash Neighbors. Over three hundred officers served Indian Territory between 1875 and 1907 (Oklahoma statehood), sixty of them were killed in the line of duty; Bass is mentioned over 36 times in the Histories, and is often the only officer an interviewee spoke of!
Harve Lovelday said:
"These small (Oklahoma Territory) western towns (in the 1880s) were inhabited by Negroes, whites, Indians, half-breeds, gamblers, bootleggers, killers, and any kind of outcast. If any tough hombre steps up to the bar and invites everybody to take a drink on him, and there happened to be one who did not take up the invitation, a good and real reason had to be given if (the decliner) hoped to live a little longer. It was an insult to the man who extended an invitation if a man refused, and his quickness on the draw had to settle it, as they would have to shoot it out.
"There were some men living that never did know the day and night time because they were never sober enough, but they were stuck to the bar! If such a man handed a bartender $10.00 or $20.00, he would stay at the bar and not take any change until he had spent every cent of the money for drinks.
"Old goverment (business) was sent to these places out from Fort Smith, (Arkansas), or (Paris,) Texas. (At one time or another Bass Reeves operated out of these two towns.)
"(It was) never allowed to sell whiskey (in the adjacent Indian Territory), but Indians could be found drunk almost anytime, as drunk as the rest of them, for they obtained whiskey at night...from some other source, (they were tough in those days) but they were not so tough as the U. S. marshals!
"Bass Reeves was a coal-black Negro, and was a U.S. marshal during (that) time, and he was the most feared U.S. marshal that was ever heard of in that country. To any man or any criminal that was subject to arrest, he did his full duty according to law. He brought his men before the court (at Fort Smith) to be tried fairly."
Then, suddenly changing his tone, Mr. Lovelday added wryly:
"...but many times he never brought in all the criminals, but would kill some of them. He didn't want to spend so much time in chasing down the man who resisted arrest, so would shoot him down in his tracks."
Lest we get the wrong idea about Bass, who killed only fourteen outlaws in thirty-two years and over three thousand arrests, even when almost every outlaw he arrested was trying to kill Bass, here's what George Looney said:
"Bass Reeves was a mulatto fellow and a good officer. He never killed a man but would go up and tell his business. He served a long time in this country." (Mr. Looney refers to 'telling his business,' meaning Bass was subject to an inquiry after every shooting, and was always exhonerated and returned to duty.)
J. B. Sparks told:
"Bass Reeves was a Negro, but he was a United States Marshal and made a brave officer.
He was sent to get two outlaws near Atwood. He caught and arrested them, and that night he went to Frank Casey's home and had them fix beds in the yard so he could sleep with both prisoners handcuffed to him. Bass Reeves was a large man weighing over two hundred pounds."
Richard and Judy have been researching Bass Reeves since 1987, and have been working on a historic video about Bass since 1998. There are a hundred stories about Bass Reeves, we've just scratched the surface!
(Quotes from the Indian-Pioneer Histories, Vol. 51, page 5; Vol. 61, page 429; Vol. 33, page 380; and Vol. 59, page 503.)
Stories From the Days of Christopher Columbus by Richard and Judy Dockrey Young © 1992, all rights reserved. Cover Art © 1992 by August House
revised 1 April 2001
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