Bass Reeves was an American lawman who worked as a deputy U.S. Marshal for thirty-two years in the Indian Territory.
He was born into slavery in Crawford County, Arkansas in July 1838 and grew up in Lamar and Grayson counties, Texas, where he belonged to Col. George R. Reeves.
Reeves escaped north into the Indian Territory as a young man and became acquainted with the Cherokee, Creek and Seminole.
It is believed he served as a soldier with the Union Indian Home Guard Regiments during the Civil War.
After the war, Reeves settled down in Van Buren, Arkansas, as a farmer and occasionally served as a guide for deputy U.S. Marshals.
Reeves transferred to Wetumka, Indian Territory, in 1897 and then to Muskogee in 1898 after federal courts opened in the territory.
He arrested more than three thousand men and women for violating federal laws in the territory.
Reeves was known for his valour and killed 14 outlaws and apprehended more than 3,000 throughout his tenure, including his own son.
Upon retirement in 1907, he became a city police officer in Muskogee, Oklahoma; three years before he died.
Bass Reeves wife
Reeves was married twice in his lifetime.
His first wife was Nellie Jennie, whom he married in 1864, and she died in 1896.
After her death, he married Winnie Sumter in 1900, and they remained together until his death in 1910.
Reeves had a total of 11 children, including Newland, Benjamin, George, Lula, Robert and others.
One of his sons, Benjamin ‘Bennie’ Reeves, was arrested by Reeves himself for the murder of his wife.
Bennie was tried and convicted and served 11 years at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas before his sentence was commuted.
Reeves’ descendants include NHL player Ryan Reaves and CFL player Jordan Reeves.
It is reported that Ryan Reeves’ grandfather changed the family name from “Reeves” to “Reaves”.
Bass Reeves career
Reeves had a remarkable career as a lawman, serving as a Deputy United States Marshal for over 35 years.
He was born into slavery in Crawford County, Arkansas, in July 1838, and his family were owned
by Arkansas state legislator William Steele Reeves.
During the American Civil War, Reeves escaped from slavery, and one account suggests that he had an altercation with his owner’s son, George Reeves, over a card game, which led to his escape.
He found refuge in the Indian Territory, living among the Cherokee, Creeks and Seminoles.
After gaining his freedom, Reeves worked as a guide for U.S. marshals and eventually became a deputy U.S. marshal himself.
He was one of the first Black deputy U.S. marshals in the American West.
Reeves was responsible for apprehending criminals in a 75,000-square-mile region, which is now mostly Oklahoma and Arkansas.
He became one of the most effective lawmen in the Indian Territory, bringing in more than 3,000 outlaws and helping to tame the lawless territory.
During his service, he killed around 14 outlaws, always claiming that he never shot a man when it was not necessary to save his own life or in the discharge of his duty.
In 1907, state agencies assumed law enforcement responsibilities, and Reeves’ duties as a deputy marshal ended.
He then took a job as a patrolman with the Muskogee, Oklahoma Police Department, where he reportedly had no crimes on his beat during the two years of service.
His career as a lawman ended when he was diagnosed with Bright’s disease in 1909, and he passed away on January 12, 1910.
What was the Indian Territory?
Indian Territory was an evolving land area set aside by the United States government for the relocation of Native Americans who held original Indian title to their land as a sovereign independent state.
The concept of an Indian territory was an outcome of the U.S. federal government’s 18th- and 19th-century policy of Indian removal.
The Indian Territory later came to refer to an unorganized territory whose general borders were initially set by the Nonintercourse Act of 1834, and was the successor to the remainder of the Missouri Territory after Missouri received statehood.
The borders of Indian Territory were reduced in size as various Organic Acts were passed by Congress to create organized territories of the United States.
The Indian Territory was located in the Central United States and encompassed the present states of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and part of Iowa.
The Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, Cherokee, and Chickasaw tribes were forcibly moved to this area between 1830 and 1843, and an act of June 30, 1834, set aside the land as Indian country (later known as Indian Territory).
The Indian Territory was never an organized territory, and it remained unorganized.
The geographical location commonly called “Indian Territory” was not a territory.
The Indian Territory was officially reduced to an area bounded by Texas on the south, Arkansas and Missouri on the east, Kansas on the north, and New Mexico Territory on the west.
The Indian Territory was eventually united with the Oklahoma Territory and admitted to the Union as the state of Oklahoma in 1907.