Who was Bass Reeves?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Bass Reeves was an African American law enforcement official.  He was one of the very first African Americans to become a deputy US marshal in the area west of the Mississippi River.

Bass Reeves's accomplishments are even more impressive given his background.  Born in 1838 in the Arkansas Territory, he was a slave early in his life.  As a young man, he escaped from slavery in to what was then Indian Territory.  He is believed to have fought for the Union during the Civil War.  After working as a scout and tracker for law enforcement, he became a deputy in his own right and served for 32 years in that capacity.

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larrygates | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Bass Reeves was the first Black federal law enforcement official to hold office west of the Mississippi River. He held the office of deputy United States Marshall. He was born a slave, and took the last name of his master, on George Reeves, but ran away during the Civil War. In 1875 he was hired as a deputy U.S. Marshall by then Marshall James F. Fagan, who worked under Federal District Judge Isaac Parker in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Fagan apparently hired Reeves because he was fluent in several Indian languages. Reeves served for thirty two years as a deputy U.S. Marshall, primarily in Oklahoma territory. Although he was never wounded, he did have his hat and belt shot off in several gun fights with criminals whom he subsequently arrested. On one particularly sad occasion, he arrested his own son for murder.  By the time of his retirement, he had arrested over three thousand felons and also had shot and killed fourteen others, all of which were determined to be in self defense.


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