Bass Reeves (1838—1910) was the first Black U.S. Marshall, west of the Mississippi River. He arrested nearly 3,000 outlaws in his career.
Before becoming a legendary lawman of the Wild West, Reeves was an enslaved man born in Arkansas. When the Civil War broke out, he was forced to fight for the Confederacy, but escaped to Indian Territory (modern day Oklahoma). Reeves quickly adapted to his new environment, learning the customs and languages of the Seminole and Creek people.
After the war, Reeves returned to Arkansas as a free man. He settled down, got married and had 11 children. However, his quiet family life came to an end when he was recruited to reign in the growing number of outlaws.
In one particular arrest, Reeves disguised himself as a vagabond and walked nearly 30 miles to the mother’s house of two outlaws. The mother took him in, fed him, and allowed him to spend the night. The next morning, Reeves arrested both her sons and walked all the way back. The mother is said to have followed him for 3 miles cursing his name.
Another time, Reeves approached the Brunter Brothers who were wanted for robbery and multiple murders. When questioned, Reeves calmly said, “Well, I’ve come to arrest you.” He then asked for the date. When one of the brothers asked why, Reeves replied that he wanted to write down the date of their arrest. The brothers laughed as one of them retrieved his pistol. Reeves grabbed the barrel of the pistol and held it, as it squeezed off three shots, which all missed. Reeves then took out his .45 and shot two of the brothers and hit the third one over the head.
Reeves’ sense of justice was so strong and unwavering that he even arrested his own son, Benjamin “Bennie” Reeves, after he was accused of killing his own wife. None of the other U.S. Marshals were willing to go after Bennie, except for his own father. Bennie was sentenced to 11 years in prison, but his sentence was eventually commuted, and he lived out the rest of his life as a law-abiding citizen. Reeves also went after the minister who had baptized him as a boy because he was selling illegal liquor.