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The First Black Deputy U.S. Marshall West of the Mississippi

The inspiration for The Lone Ranger...  The Odysseus of cowboys...  The James Bond of U.S. Marshalls...  

Bass Reeves was a lawman for a total of 32 years with over 3,000 felon arrests and killed 14 outlaws in the line of duty, all without ever being shot himself.  Bass had to overcome, prejudice, betrayal, and some of the worst criminals in Oklahoma, the most dangerous district in the country. 

"Bass Reeves is the greatest Deputy U.S. Marshal of the Old West."

- Dave Amis

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July 1838 – January 12, 1910

Born a slave in 1830’s Texas, Bass was owned by Colonel Reeves, who taught him to shoot, ride, and hunt, but would not let him learn to read.  Bass grew to be a strong, physically impressive, and determined man who ran away at the age of 20 to be free.  Pursued by slave hunters, he narrowly escaped into the Indian Territory where Creek Indian Warriors accepted him into their tribe.  Bass learned to speak Creek, Cherokee and Seminole.  It is believed that Bass fought in the Indian Territory during the Civil War with the Union Indian brigades.

The Indian Territory, at this time, was a cesspool of violence.  In 1875 President Ulysses S. Grant named Congressman Isaac Parker, Federal Judge at Fort Smith, with the mandate to “save Oklahoma”.  The “Hanging Judge”, as he was soon to be known, brought in 200 deputy marshals to calm the growing chaos throughout the West.  The Indian Territory, later to include the Oklahoma Territory, in 1890, was the most dangerous area for federal peace officers in the Old West.  More than 120 lost their lives before Oklahoma became a state in 1907.

One of the first of the deputies hired by Judge Parker's court was former slave from Texas, Bass Reeves.  Bass was known as an expert with pistol and rifle, stood about 6 feet 2 inches, weighed 180 pounds, and was said to have superhuman strength.  Being a former slave, Bass was illiterate.  He would memorize his warrants and writs.  In the thirty–two years of serving the people of the Oklahoma Territory it is said he never arrested the wrong person due to the fact he couldn't read. 

Bass had a reputation throughout the territory for his ability to catch outlaws that other deputies couldn't.  He was known to work in disguise in order to get information and affect the arrest of fugitives he wanted to capture.  Bass is said to have arrested more than 3,000 people and killed 14 outlaws, all without sustaining a single gun wound.  Bass escaped numerous assassination attempts on his life, he was the most feared deputy U.S. marshal to work the Indian Territory.  

At the age of 67, Bass Reeves retired from federal service at Oklahoma statehood in 1907.  As an African-American, Bass was unable to continue in his position as deputy marshal under the new state laws.  He was hired as a city policeman in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where he served for about two years until his death in 1910, at age 71, from Bright’s disease.  

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“One of the bravest men this country has ever known.”

- Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal of the Western District, Bud Ledbetter

“Eighty miles west of Fort 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

“If Reeves were fictional, he would be a combination of Sherlock Holmes, Superman, and the Lone Ranger.”

- Historian, Art Burton

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Bass Reeves

Bass dressed up as a tramp and walked 28 miles to the home of the mother of two outlaws he was pursuing. He told the woman he was running from the law and needed some food and rest. As she fed him, she encouraged him to wait for her sons so they could ride off together to escape the posse pursuing them. She allowed him to sleep over and in the middle of the night he handcuffed the sons to their beds and left the next morning, walking the two outlaws 28 miles back to his camp. The mother was alleged to have followed for three miles cursing him.


Bass left his horse, dressed up like an old farmer and rode in a cart pulled by old oxen. He approached a house where the outlaws he was looking for were staying. He pretended that the cart had gotten caught up on a stump and when the six outlaws came out of the house to investigate, he pulled out his .45s and

arrested all six of them.

 He once approached three men, the notorious Brunter brothers, who were wanted and had the drop on him. They forced him off of his horse and asked what he was doing out there. He said “Well, I’ve come to arrest you.” Then calmly asked what the date was. They asked why, Bass said he needed to write down when he was arresting them for his records and approached them to show them the warrants. They laughed and looked at the warrants. The leader reminded him that he was the one about to die. Bass reached out grabbed the barrel of his gun, while he fired three times, avoiding the bullets. He pulled one of his .45s, shot the second man and then hit the third over the head with the gun,

killing him.

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If you are interested in making a film about the legendary Bass Reeves,

Dave Amis would like to consult advice or option his screenplay to you.

 Dave Amis is a Harvard MBA, a former Sheriff’s Deputy, and currently a Private Investigator in Texas.  He is committed to promoting and sharing the story of Bass Reeves in whatever form it may take. 

Dave Amis has completed over 1,100 hours of research and writing on the life of Bass Reeves and Judge Isaac Parker as well as life in the Oklahoma Territory from 1830 to 1890. Read more in Source Material.

Dave Amis was mentored by film writer, Ron Mita (know for: 24 Hours to Live, Robots, S.W.A.T., and Sniper 2)  in writing writing his historical screenplay, in 2011.   Film maker, Tyler Perry, and film production company, Alcon Entertainment, were interested in the screenplay but didn't want to do a western film at the time. 

Dave Amis has met with Judge Paul L. Brady, the Muskogee Police Chief, and members of Reeve's descendants. He is an expert on life in the Oklahoma Territory from 1830 to 1890 and U.S. Marshalls. 

If you would like expert consulting on the story of Bass Reeves or interested in a Bass Reeves historical screenplay, please click contact bellow.  

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Dave Amis has completed over 1,100 hours of research and writing on the life of Bass Reeves and Judge Isaac Parker, as well as life in the Oklahoma Territory from 1830 to 1890 including:

  • Conducting primary research at the Oklahoma Historical Museum

  • Meeting with the nation’s best historians on Bass Reeves

  • Meeting with members of Bass’s descendants

  • Participating in the 100th Anniversary Celebration of Bass

  • Visiting historical gallows and other relevant sites at U.S. Parks

  • Meeting with the Muskogee Police Chief, where Bass finished his career

  • Studying weapons and holsters of the time

  • Learning Indian sign language for use in BASS

  • Writing and rewriting over 22 versions of BASS, the screenplay

"We didn't do black peoples history back then."

- Librarian at Oklahoma Public Library

Dave Amis 500 hours of writing and 600 hours of research also included travel to Oklahoma to interview the Director of the Oklahoma Public Library and reading original archived documents from Bass Reeves time as U.S. Marshall, Arizona to see historical gallows at U.S. Parks, New Mexico to research Indian sign language with the Apaches and to investigate the O.K. Corral and Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, and to Las Vegas to meet Judge Paul Brady.  He is an expert on life in the Oklahoma Territory from 1830 to 1890 and U.S. Marshalls. 

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