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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Unsung Hero of the West

The Legend of Bass Reeves: Being the True and Fictional Account of the Most Valiant Marshal in the West by Gary Paulsen

Bass Reeves was born in 1838 and is thought to be one of the first African-Americans to be comissioned as a Deputy US Marshal. For the first 17 years of his life, he was a slave "owned" by his master George Reeves (as far as I know, no relation to the George Reeves of Superman fame), a farmer. Just before the Civil War, Bass parted ways with his master and ran to Indian Territory, where he lived among the Creek and Seminole Indians for about 20 years. Later he moved to Arkansas, where he married twice and had 10+ children. There he was approached by the well-known Judge Isaac Parker (aka the Hanging Judge), who heard about his life living in Indian Territory. Bass Reeves spoke many Indian dialects and knew the land intimately. During his time as a lawman, he pursued and caught many a criminal using unique methods for the time. He would go undercover and disguise himself to catch his man. He even had to dress up as a woman at one point. He had to track down and arrest his own son for murder. During his 30+ years of service, he was shot at many times, but never hit. He became a constable at the ripe old age of 81. Bass Reeves was a well-respected and feared lawman of his time. A lot of his history still remains a mystery, but what is know about him is this...he was honorable, steadfast, feared, and respected. Bass was truly worthy of legendary status. In the words of US Marshal Leo Bennet, "He never shirked his duty."

This somewhat fictionalized account of Bass Reeves from age 10 toward the end of his career is a great first-person narrative. Paulsen gives you some historical background throughout, but for the most part you get to see the world through Reeves' eyes. From the 10-year-old boy who still relies on his Mammy to the great man he would eventually become, Bass Reeves is a man to remember. If you are a younger reader interested in Reeves, I highly recommend Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy US Marshal, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (Ages 5+).


Ages 12+
Publisher: Laurel Leaf (January 2008)
ISBN: 9780553494297
Available as an eBook.

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