History of Bass

May 26, 2012

By R.W. Hampton

Bass Reeves

Memorial Day weekend usually finds me honoring our Veterans somewhere across America.

This year though, I find myself in Fort Smith, Arkansas to honor one of America’s many colorful characters that fill our history books.  Bass Reeves, slave, farmer, deputy & American hero.

So who is Bass?

Bass Reeves redefined our perception of a true American hero. Born a slave to a Texas farmer and politician, Reeves fled to Indian Territory in the 1860s to avoid the usual punishment of death for fighting with his master. Reeves lived among the Seminole and Creek Indians until the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing African-Americans from slavery and oppression. Settling in Van Bure, Arkansas, Reeves married, began a family, and tended his farm.

In 1875, Isaac C. Parker – a newly appointed federal judge – set out to tame the Indian Territory, now known as Oklahoma. James Fagan, the tenth U.S. Marshal appointed the the district, began recruitting 200 deputies to capture fugitives so that Judge Parker’s court could administer justice. Bass Reeves was a natural choice because of his intimate knowledge of Indian Territory, his skills in multiple dialects, his markmanship, and his tenacity.

By the time Reeves retired in 1907, this former slave had served 32 years as a federal peace officer, arresting more than 3,000 felons. Reeves finished his law enforcement career as a member of the Muskogee, Oklahoma Police Department. Many scholars consider Reeves to be the most outstanding frontier hero in United States history.

(Copied from the website

All of that is just a little bit of history….  but today I joined my good friends Harold (HT) Holden and his wife Edna Mae at the unveiling of the Bass Reeves Monument, “Into the Territories”.  H is the wonderful sculptor who has been working on this masterpiece for several years now and in honor of it’s completion Edna Mae and I co-wrote  a song honoring Bass that I sang at the event.

Now our song may not be as beautiful as H’s monument, but then not much is!

I know most of you weren’t able to join us today but I do hope you will stop by the Pendergraft Park in Fort Smith sometime and learn more about Bass and see this wonderful monument by my dear friend HT Holden, one of today’s finest Western artists.


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