Bass Reeves: The Bullet-Dodging Black Lone Ranger History Almost Forgot

Published February 18, 2016
Updated May 30, 2019
Published February 18, 2016
Updated May 30, 2019

From Slave To U.S. Deputy Marshal

Judge Isaac Parker

Judge Isaac C. Parker. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1875, Isaac C. Parker was appointed federal judge of Indian Territory. During the chaos of the Civil War, Indian Territory — where federal and state governments had had virtually no jurisdiction — became the hiding grounds for outlaws.

Parker hired U.S. Marshal James F. Fagan to lead 200 deputies in the pursuit of these outlaws. The stories of Reeves’ familiarity with the land and his own fugitive past got around to Fagan, and Reeves was soon hired on as a U.S. deputy marshal. Reeves, along with the other deputies, was ordered to bring the outlaws back to Parker — dead or alive.

Bass Reeves, The Indomitable Marshal

Reeves took his job as a marshal very seriously. Six feet, two inches tall, the slender Reeves rode a large white stallion as he patrolled all 75,000 square miles of Indian Territory. The rough and tough lawman, with his intimidating black hat, two colt .45 Peacemakers strapped at his sides, slick suits, and polished shoes, brought over 3,000 felons to justice.

In the course of doing so, Reeves was involved in his fair share of shootouts. Despite being shot at on multiple occasions, he managed to dodge every bullet, earning him the moniker “The Indomitable Marshal.”

Bass Reeves Sharp Dresser

Bass Reeves. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Dodging bullets was by no means his only skill. Reeves used the fact that he’d never learned how to read or write to his advantage in an inventive and effective way: Before pursuit, he would have someone read him the warrants so he could memorize which was which. Often, he would distract outlaws with this gimmick, asking them to read a piece of the warrant or some other letter for him. In the few moments of their confusion, Reeves would draw his gun.

By all accounts, Reeves was also a master of disguise. He would appear to felons as a cowboy, farmer, or even an outlaw. And when he wasn’t in disguise, he was easily recognized by the silver dollars he left as his calling card.

Briana Jones
Briana Jones is a freelance writer, screenwriter, and artist roaming the hot sands of the southwest. She enjoys the strange and unusual, and green tea.