The Old West had some mighty impressive people. Lawmen, outlaws, railroad workers, prospectors, settlers, cattlemen, cowboys, Natives, women of ill repute, women of great repute, all were there. Many became legends.
One of those legends, though not as well known as he maybe should be, was Bass Reeves.
Bass began his life as a slave. His master didn’t believe in teaching him to read, but did believe in teaching him to shoot. No, that doesn’t make sense to me either. Bass’ master was a colonel in the Confederate army and took Bass with him. Bass got in a fight with his master over a poker game one night, beat the living hell out of his master, and hightailed it out of there as fast as he could. He moved to Indian Territory and learned a lot of the Native’s languages and eventually found his way to fighting in the Union Army.
Now, we can probably stop right there and he’d be mighty impressive on his own, but, as they say, there’s more.
Bass was later appointed a U.S. Marshall, the first black man to gain that title West of the Mississippi. The local Natives were more likely to trust black men in positions of authority it seems. Bass even had a Native helping him out as he did his job. He had some superior detective skills and was a fine marksman. He wore disguises on the job. By his own accounts, he arrested over 3,000 fugitives and killed 14 in self-defense. One of those fugitives was his own son. He also never got so much of a scratch by some accounts.
He also never learned to read, so he had to memorize wanted posters.
See, there’s a chance you already kind of heard of Bass Reeves before, and that is because many historians believe he inspired a famous fictional character. Here he side-by-side with the guy he may have inspired:
And you thought Johnny Depp was the more problematic part of that 2013 movie!