The Man Behind the Legend-The True Story That Inspired Lawmen: Bass Reeves

Taylor Sheridan’s passion for the modern Western style has led to him producing some of the most popular shows in recent television history. His latest project, Lawmen: Bass Reeves, is no different. The series is set to premiere on Paramount+ on November 6.

Since the success of Sheridan’s best-known project, Yellowstone, Paramount+ has been making money out of various spin-offs set in the neo-Western universe of the series or making projects based on similar topics, such as Tulsa King and Mayor of Kingstown.

Sheridan’s latest project for Paramount+, Lawmen: Bass Reeves, has a promising premise. It is based on the true story of the titular character, who served as the first black Deputy U.S. Marshal in the west of the Mississippi River.

Lawmen: Bass Reeves is based on the real-life story of Bass Reeves, a black U.S. federal officer of the Indian Territory. It is based on the first two books of Sidney Thompson’s nonfiction series, The Bass Reeves Trilogy.

1. Who was Bass Reeves in real life?

Bass Reeves is one of the most significant frontier heroes in American history. He was a black U.S. federal officer serving in the Indian Territory. He is best known for capturing 3000 notorious criminals without being wounded.  

Reeves was born as an enslaved person in the pre-Civil War era in 1838. He served as a slave to Captain George Reeves in Texas. After the outbreak of the American Civil War, George Reeves took Bass with him while serving the Confederacy.

David Oyelowo as Bass Reeves
David Oyelowo as Bass Reeves | Source: IMDb

Bass Reeves was present alongside George in the battle of Pea Ridge. During the battle, he escaped into Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Rumors suggest that Bass got into an argument with George Reeves over a card game and ended up beating him up before running away.

In the Indian Territory, Bass learned all his skills. He became fluent in the Muscogee language spoken in the area, along with all other major languages of the place. He also learned how to use two pistols ambidextrously during this time. Although it is not confirmed, rumors suggest that Bass Reeves served in the Union Army later in the Civil War.

After the end of the Civil War, Reeves lived in Arkansas with his family and earned by serving as a guide in the Indian Territory. In 1875, more than a hundred gruesome murders took place in the area, leading to Judge Isaac Parker ordering the recruitment of 200 new deputies in the police force.

Since Reeves was extremely fluent in the languages of the territory and had knowledge of the region’s geography, he was easily recruited as a federal officer. He was reportedly the first Black U.S. Deputy Marshal West of the Mississippi.

2. Why Bass Reeves is Significant in American History

Much of Reeves’ early life, as I described above, is not well documented. While some of the facts mentioned are definitely true, there are certain doubts about some facts, such as Bass serving in the Union Army or being the first Black federal officer.

However, Bass Reeves’ life after he became an officer is better documented and recorded. Reeves had a significant knack for disguises, and there’s a famous story about him capturing two dangerous criminal brothers in disguise.

Reeves disguised himself as a beggar and walked 20 miles to the house where the brothers were hiding. He became friends with them and later captured them at night. He was rewarded $5000 for arresting the brothers.

During his tenure, Reeves captured 3000 criminals without getting wounded and killed 14 criminals in the line of duty. During that time, these criminals would leave notes for the police, threatening that if they “crossed the dead line” they would die. Reeves collected these notes as souvenirs.

Reeves had a long career and died at the age of 72. He is always remembered for his dedication to his profession and faith in law and order, especially since he even dragged his own son to court for murder charges.

Lawmen: Bass Reeves has a lot of material to cover, so let’s hope the series does a good job.

Watch Lawmen: Bass Reeves on:

3. About Lawmen: Bass Reeves

Lawmen: Bass Reeves is an American Western television series created by Chad Feehan, who also serves as showrunner, and executive produced by Taylor Sheridan, Feehan, David C. Glasser, David Oyelowo, Jessica Oyelowo, David Permut, Christina Alexandra Voros, Ron Burkle, Bob Yari and David Hutkin.

It is based on the life of the first black Deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi River, Bass Reeves. The series premieres on Paramount+ on Sunday, November 5, 2023, with back-to-back episodes.


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