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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Bass Reeves, US Marshal

Bass Reeves statue

Bass Reeves was born a slave in 1848. He grew up in Arkansas but fled to Indian Territory during the Civil War. He lived with the Indians and learned to speak several languages.

In 1875, Isaac Parker became the federal judge responsible for the Indian Territory. Based in Ft. Smith, he immediately built a contingent of US Marshals to protect the peace and ensure justice. Its 75,000-square-mile territory made it the largest court district in the nation.

Bass Reeves became the first African-American marshal west of the Mississippi River. Over his lifetime, he developed a reputation as an extraordinary and well-respected lawman.

Ross Pendergraft Park leading to
the FS Historic Site
For 32 years, Reeves served as a deputy marshal. He is credited with arresting more than 3,000 criminals during this period. Although he killed more than a dozen outlaws in self-defense, he was never wounded.

Sadly, he also had the responsibility to arrest his own son who was accused of murdering his wife. Bennie was tried, convicted and served out his sentence at Ft Leavenworth, Kansas.

After Oklahoma became a state, Reeves, at age 68, joined the Muskogee Police Department. He served two years before bad health led to his retirement.

Ft Smith has erected a statue in his honor which stands at Ross Pendergraft Park near the Ft. Smith National Historic Site and the Arkansas River.

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