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African American Heritage Week: Bass Reeves

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Are you a fan of 'The Lone Ranger?' It might surprise you to learn that the inspiration for the character may not have been white at all, but an African American deputy named Bass Reeves.

Reeves was born into slavery in 1838, in Arkansas. Not much is known concretely about his life and whereabouts, but we do know that the man who owned Reeves as a slave, Colonel George R. Reeves, took him along when he joined the Confederate army at the onset of the Civil War. How Bass Reeves escaped is the subject of debate, but some of the more fanciful tales involve Reeves beating his master over a card game, and escaping to Indian territory. We do know, however, that he escaped, spent time with the Cherokee and Seminole peoples, and became a farmer in Arkansas, until the Thirteenth Amendment made him a free man under the law.

When Judge Isaac Parker ordered James F. Fagan to deputize 200 men as U.S. marshals, Fagan sought out Reeves, and deputized him as the first black deputy to serve west of the Mississippi River. For 32 long years, Reeves found success as a peace officer, using his knowledge of native languages and culture, and never being wounded, despite his altercations with highly dangerous criminals and allegedly arresting over 3,000 criminals in total, including his own son, who was wanted as a suspect in the murder of Reeves' wife.

Reeves lived until 1910, when he finally succumbed to kidney disease.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

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