I’m finishing “The Lawman”, and in the last chapter, Will is reading the opening to a newspaper article that has elevated him and Jonesy to almost celebrity status. It begins with “It was as if Wyatt Earp and Bass Vance left their graves to ride one more posse . . .”
When I started writing the chapter, I wanted a comparison from history. Well anybody who is fan of the Old West knows who Wyatt Earp is, but how about a black lawman from the past.
I of course googled “Black lawmen of the Old West”. I knew there had to be some.
Normally we don’t think of a black man being a lawman in the old west. We don’t even think many of them were cowboys. John Ford westerns to the contrary, there were plenty of black cowboys. At least a third of all the cowboys were.
So, why not lawmen?
Bass Reeves was top of the list. Born a slave, he escaped from his master upon hearing of the Emancipation Proclamation. He ended up in Oklahoma where he was embraced by the Cherokee people. There he learned to ride, track, shoot, and is reported to have spoken five separate Native American languages, all fluently.
When the war was over, he got married, got a farm, and settled down. Occasionally, he worked as a scout for lawmen who were tracking criminals. In 1875, Judge Isaac Parker hired him as one of 200 Deputy Marshalls to help tame “Indian Country”.
History says he was an imposing figure. He stood 6’2”, was broad of shoulder, and said to be stronger than average. He must have scared more than a few bad guys riding about on a large gray horse, a black hat, and two colt peacemakers in his belt.
And it is said to give out Silver Dollars as a calling card.
He soon earned the name of the “Indomitable Marshal’. It was said that if he had an arrest warrant, there was nothing that was going to stop him from doing his job. One story I found interesting reflected that.
It seems he went after three bad guys, and they managed to get the drop on him. He was ordered off his horse, and when they approached him (big mistake number one), they informed him they were going to kill him.
Bass is said to have just taken out the arrest warrants and asked them what the date was.
“What difference does that make?” the leader asked.
“I need to put the date on the warrant when I take you in,” he replied. Dead or alive was their choice.
While they were busy laughing at him, he grabbed the leader shotgun. One of the men opened fire, but Reeves drew, killed him, and then the leader. The third man gave up and allowed himself to be arrested.
He was much feared lawman for over 30 years, and passed away in 1910 of natural causes. His lengthy and glowing obit described him as “absolutely fearless and knowing no master but duty.”
Some people have suggested that he was the inspiration for the Lone Ranger (I’ve seen their evidence. It’s kind of flimsy).
It really doesn’t matter if he was. He was the real deal when it came to lawmen!