Tuesday, April 26, 2011
You Have To Admire This Guy...!
Did you know that back in the wild west days, 25% of the cowboys were black?
I wouldn't kid you! But you know something else? It didn't matter at all the color of your skin when it came to getting the job done! This story from History.com and shows a fine example of what I'm talking about!
Who was the greatest Deputy U.S. Marshal of the Old West?
Wild Bill Hickok?
How about Bass Reeves? Bass who?
Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves was arguably the greatest lawman and gunfighter of the West, a man who served as a marshal for 32 years in the most dangerous district in the country, captured 3,000 felons, (once bringing in 17 men at one time), and shot 14 men in the line of duty, all without ever being shot himself.
He was also a black dude.
To understand the story of Bass Reeves, you first need to understand a bit of the fascinating history of Oklahoma. Let’s start there.
Before Oklahoma was a state, it was a territory. When the “Five Civilized Tribes” (Creeks, Cherokees, Choctaws, Seminoles, and Chickasaws) were forcibly removed from their ancestral homes in the Southeast, they were relocated to the middle of the country, to an area called the Indian Territory.
Because the Five Tribes sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War, the federal government forced them to renegotiate their treaties and cede the Western half of Indian Territory for the settlement of other tribes. This was called the Oklahoma Territory, and it was opened in 1890 to white settlers. The two territories were referred to as the "Twin Territories."
The Indian Territory boasted an unusual mix of peoples and cultures. It was the home of Indians, Indian Freedmen (the black slaves of the Indians who were emancipated after the Civil War and made citizens of the Five Tribes), white settlers and African-Americans who had formerly been slaves to white masters in the South who rented land from the Indians as sharecroppers, and finally, outlaws fleeing the law and squatting on the land.
The Indian Lightforce police and the tribal courts governed this diverse population. But the tribal courts only had jurisdiction over citizens of the Five Tribes. So if a crime was a committed by an Indian and/or it involved a fellow Indian, it was handled by these tribal courts.
Non-Freedmen blacks, whites, and Indians who committed a crime against a person who was not a citizen of the Indian nations had to be tried in the U.S. federal courts in Paris, Texas and Fort Smith, Arkansas. And so the only U.S. law enforcement officers or judicial figures in Indian Territory were the U.S. Marshals, who rode for miles over the prairies, for months at a time, looking for wanted criminals to arrest and bring back to Fort Smith or Paris.
This made the Indian Territory a highly desirable place for horse thieves, bootleggers, murderers and outlaws of all varieties to hide out and lay low. At the time, it was estimated that of the 22,000 whites living in Indian Territory, 17,000 of them were criminals. This was truly the Wild West, or as the saying of the time went, “No Sunday West of St. Louis. No God West of Forth Smith.”
“Eighty miles west of Forth Smith was known as “the dead line,” and whenever a deputy marshal from Fort Smith or Paris, Texas, crossed the Missouri, Kansas & Texas track he took his own life in his hands and he knew it. On nearly every trail would be found posted by outlaws a small card warning certain deputies that if they ever crossed the dead line they would be killed. Reeves has a dozen of these cards which were posted for his special benefit. And in those days such a notice was no idle boast, and many an outlaw has bitten the dust trying to ambush a deputy on these trails.” -Oklahoma City newspaper article, 1907
Indian Territory was the most dangerous place for a U.S. Marshal to work then or ever. In the period before Oklahoma statehood, over one hundred marshals were killed in the line of duty. It helps to put that number in perspective: Since the US Marshals Service was created in 1789, more than 200 marshals have been killed in the line of duty. 120 of those were killed in the Indian and Oklahoma territories before statehood in 1907. That’s right, half of all the U.S. marshals ever killed were killed in the Twin Territories.
A man really had to have true grit to be a marshal at this time and in this place.
Bass Reeves had that grit in spades.
Reeves was likely the first African-American commissioned as a deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi River and was brought into the service by Judge Isaac C. Parker, aka the “The Hanging Judge.” Parker presided over the largest federal court district in U.S. history (74,000 square miles) and sentenced 88 men to be hanged during the course of his career. For more than half of his years on the bench, no appeals of his decisions were allowed. Reeves and Parker enjoyed a professional and personal relationship of great mutual respect.
It was a respect Reeves worked hard to earn.
Reeves stood 6’2 in a time when men were much shorter, and he had very broad shoulders and large hands. He was a giant among men. Such a large man needed a uncommonly large horse (“When you get as big as me, a small horse is as worthless as a preacher in a whiskey joint fight. Just when you need him bad to help you out, he’s got to stop and think about it a little bit.”). He rode the territories with two six-shooters, his trusty Winchester rifle, and a big black hat upon his head. Needless to say, Reeves cut an extremely imposing figure.
But it was his reputation more than his appearance that really struck fear in the hearts of the “bad men” of the territories. Contemporaries described Reeves as a “lawman second to none,” a man who was “absolutely fearless,” and a “terror to outlaws and desperadoes.” He was said to be the “most feared U.S marshal that was ever heard of in that country,” and his nickname was the “Invincible Marshal;” the undisputed king of narrow escapes, “at different times his belt was shot in two, a button shot off his coat, his hat brim shot off, and the bridle reins which he held in his hands cut by a bullet.”
Reeves was also know for his honesty, dogged persistence, and unswerving devotion to duty and the law. He always got his man; having arrested 3,000 criminals, he only once failed to nab the man he was after. He never shot a man when it wasn’t necessary and they hadn’t aimed to kill him first. And he never changed his policies or treatment of folks on the basis of race, ethnicity, or even familial ties; all were equal under the law. Not only did Reeves arrest the minister who baptized him, he also arrested his own son after the young man murdered his wife in a fit of jealously. None of the other marshals wanted the latter assignment, but Reeves simply strode into the Chief Deputy Marshal’s office and said, “Give me the writ.” Two weeks later, he brought in his son to be booked.
Oh, and he had an awesome mustach
Just goes to show...you never can tell the good guys by the color of their skin, but by the size of their heart! What a guy!
Coffee on the patio this morning! No rain in the forecast, I'm afraid!