Bass Reeves (July 1838-January 1910) was the first black Deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi River.
Born into slavery, Reeves gained his freedom during the Civil War, possibly getting into an altercation with his enslaver regarding a card game. The story is that Bass beat his “owner” severely before escaping into Indian Territory, where he lived among the Cherokee, Creek and Seminole and learned to speak their languages.
As a freedman, Reeves moved to Arkansas and farmed there until 1875, when a call went out to hire 200 U.S. Deputy Marshals to serve in Indian Territory. Bass was recruited, becoming the first black deputy west of the Mississippi.
Reeves worked for 32 years as a federal peace officer and brought in some of the most dangerous criminals of the era. He was never wounded despite having his hat and belt shot off on separate occasions.
In addition to being a skilled marksman with both rifle and revolver, he was regarded as a superior detective, as well. When he retired in 1907, he had more than 3,000 felony arrests. He had also killed 14 outlaws while defending himself.
He even arrested his own son for murder. Benjamin “Bennie” Reeves served 11 years at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., for the murder of his own wife. Bass was shaken by the incident, but demanded that he be the one to bring his son to justice. Bennie reportedly lived an exemplary life after his release from prison.