Sunday, July 3, 2016

American Biography: Bass Reeves: African American Federal Marshall: The Real Lone Ranger?

Bass Reeves was an African American federal officer.  He was born into slavery in 1838.  Growing up he was such a good marksman, his master enrolled him in competitions.  When his master, George Reeves became sheriff and tax collector, he had Bass at his side.  Bass claimed to have served in the Civil War with his master, and thus earned his freedom.
The Lone Ranger was a fictional character.  However if his exploits and life were based on an individual, this would be Bass Reeves.  There are enough similarities to make you wonder.  Bass Reeves would give informants a silver dollar.  The Lone Ranger would leave a silver bullet.  Bass Reeves often would work alone on the trail of suspects, as would the Lone Ranger.  He would travel light and move fast, as did the Lone ranger.   When he got on a man's trail he wouldn't let it go until he had brought in his man.  He was considered one of the best trackers.  he had spent his time living with the Indians.  Bass Reeves would often go with a Native American companion, although this companion would change from time to time.  The Lone Ranger used Tonto.  Bass Reeves supported the law, bringing people back alive whenever possible.  He had a sense of fair play, as did the Lone Ranger.  He said, "Government law didn't send me out here to kill people, but to arrest them."
Bass Reeves serviced they most dangerous place in America, Indian Territory.  Of the 22 thousand white men in the territory, it was estimated seventeen thousand were criminals on the lam.  At the time, this area had the highest murder rate in the country.  To Bass Reeves and the other Federal Marshals came the job of cleaning this mess up and bringing law and order.  Bass Reeves worked with Judge Issac Park, who was known as the hanging judge.  The judge tried over 13,000 people, of whom 29 were hung.
On one occasion, he even had to arrest his own son who had shot and killed his wife.  He tracked him down, and brought him to justice.
However, even Bass Reeves would fall victim to White prejudice.  He had performed his job with honor, but when Jim Crow laws came into effect, he was forced to resign.  A Black man couldn't arrest a White criminal.  He then joined the Muskogee police department and walked a beat.

Excerpts from Bill O'Reilly's Legends & Lies by David Fisher

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