Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal

Frontier Justice: Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal
In 1875, Indian Territory, in what is now the state of Oklahoma, was a haven for thieves, swindlers, and murderers, all trying to escape the reach of the law. When President U.S. Grant appointed Judge Isaac Parker judge of the Western District of Arkansas, which included the territory, Parker was intent upon bringing fugitives to justice. He authorized U.S. Marshal James Fagan to hire 200 deputy marshals to help police the 4,500 square mile lawless territory. Among those deputies was Bass Reeves. Born a slave in 1838, Reeves had spent the Civil War as a runaway in Indian Territory, and spoke five tribal languages. He was an expert tracker and an accomplished marksman, and at 6’2” and 180 pounds in an era when the average male height was 5’6”, was an imposing figure. During his 32 year tenure as a deputy marshal, Reeves brought in over 3,000 fugitives. Unable to either read or write, he had someone read warrants to him and memorized every detail – never making a mistake.

Reviewed by Richard Bunning

This book is typical of Ray’s easy to read journalistic style. Writing is never effortless, though Ray leaves one feeling that it comes to him nearly as easily as breathing. This historical fiction about the legendary Deputy U.S. Marshall Bass Reeves is a delight, though I would have liked to have had more of the same to read. That we don’t is no doubt simply because Ray has no wish to stray far from the factual history. The conversations created to put the bones on the known story ring so true that I found myself on the dusty trail, spitting tobacco with the best and worst of those tough pioneers.
That a black man born to slavery, Bass Reeves, could do so well for himself and so soon after the emancipation that stemmed from the American Civil War is nothing less than astounding. Some of his success seems almost unbelievable, which makes it just as well that the real life author is every bit as big a picture as the man he portrays. I am sure that Charles and Bass would have got on very well if a time skipped century or so enabled a meeting.
It is impossible to say much without lacing my review with spoilers, though to be honest it is enough to say that this short-novel, or long novella, finishes far too quickly. Lone Ranger, eat your heart out, this is how ‘The West’ was really won.

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