According to Bass Reeves...
The Real Lone Ranger

Bass Reeves

A closer look at the historicity of the Lone Ranger suggests the possible inspiration for the legendary figure to be Bass Reeves, an often forgotten former slave and U.S. Marshall in the Indian Territory in the years preceding the Civil War.

Bass Reeves was born in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas, a child of slaves. He grew up in Grayson, Texas after his owner, William S. Reeves relocated. During the Civil War, Bass claimed to have fought under the leadership of William Reeves’ son, Col. George Reeves in the Battles of Pea Ridge (1862), Chickamauga (1863), and Missionary Ridge (1863). Bass Reeves’ family however, claims an alternative story which suggests that between 1861 and 1862, Reeves attacked his owner in an argument over a card game and escaped into Indian Territory. Though the truth has yet to be determined, historians consider it unlikely that Reeves ever served in the last two battles. Regardless, after the war, it is understood that Reeves served as a guide for U.S. government officials as they passed through Indian Territory.

In 1875, Reeves began his career as a deputy U.S. Marshal under the guidance of Federal Judge Isaac Parker of the Western District of Arkansas. Roaming a 75,000 mile area in what is now mostly Oklahoma, Reeves was responsible for chasing and apprehending criminals. To do his job, Reeves employed a number of clever tricks and techniques all too reminiscent of the well known Masked Avenger. As a 6’ 2″ man, Reeves learned from the Native Americans how to make himself appear smaller on his strong white and grey horse. At times he would surprise outlaws by adopting their clothing and mannerisms. Just as the Lone Ranger gave out silver bullets, so too did Reeves give out silver dollars as calling cards. Reeves was also often accompanied by one particular Native American, whose name is unfortunately unknown to historians at this time. According to contemporary reports, Reeves apprehended more than 3,000 outlaws and killed 14 during his time as a marshal. Many of the criminals he apprehended were sent to Detroit to serve their time. Interestingly enough, it was in Detroit that the Lone Ranger radio program first aired.

What the Lone Ranger did in movies, Bass Reeves did in real life. Known for wielding a rifle along with two pistols on either hip and being a dangerously accurate shot, Reeves no doubt had an intimidating presence. It was his unwavering dedication to his job however, that gave Reeves his serious reputation throughout the West. Despite his success, Reeves was forced to retire in 1907 when Oklahoma became a state due to the strict Jim Crow laws. Sadly, his larger than life persona has since been lost in the annals of history. While the story of the fictional Lone Ranger comes back time and time again, the true story of Bass Reeves continues on without much notice.

Although he arrested more than 3,000 felons, he was never harmed by gunfire (although his hat and gun belt were shot off). He did clam, however, to having to shoot to death 14 criminals in self-defense. On one occasion he claimed to have brought in nineteen horse thieves he captured near Fort Sill, Oklahoma. One famous outlaw, the notorious Belle Starr allegedly turned herself in at Fort Smith, Arkansas when she heard that Reeves had the warrant for her arrest. He also captured Seminole outlaw Greenleaf, wanted for the murder of seven people and alluding capture for more than eighteen years.

He retired his position in 1907 when Oklahoma gained statehood. He then became an officer with the Muskogee Police Department. He served in this position for another three years before his health began to fail.

Although his years of service have become legendary (many believe he was the model for the character of the “Lone Ranger”), they were not without controversy. In one instance, he was accused of murdering a posse cook named William Leach and was forced to stand trial before Judge Parker. Leach claimed that while he was cleaning his gun, it misfired, striking Leach accidentally. Represented by his friend, former United States Attorney General W.H.H. Clayton, he was acquitted in 1887. As well, Reeves was once tasked to track down his own son, Bennie, who was accused of killing his wife and was now in hiding. All of the other marshals declined to take on the job of tracking him down but Bass’ sense of duty prompted him to say, “Give me the writ.” He tracked down his son and returned him to custody a few weeks later. Bennie was convicted and sent to the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas. He also arrested the minister who baptized him.

Bass Reeves

Bass Reeves died of Bright’s disease on January 12, 1910. For his service he has received several tributes in recent years. He was the first African-American inducted into the Great Westerners Hall of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City in 1992 and was inducted into the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Hall of Fame on December 5, 2010. On November 9, 2011, the U.S. Route 62 bridge crossing the Arkansas River between Muskogee and Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, was named the Bass Reeves Memorial Bridge by the Oklahoma State Legislature. On May 26, 2012, a large, bronze statue designed by sculptor Harold Holden, which depicts Reeves riding on a horse was dedicated in Fort Smith’s Pendergraft Park. The statue cost more than $300,000 and was paid for by donations to the Bass Reeves Legacy Initiative.

Bass Reeves is a true hero. -- See More.



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