Book Review – The Legend of Bass Reeves

The Legend of Bass Reeves: Being the True and Fictional Account of the Most Valiant Marshall in the West

(Gary Paulsen, Wendy Lamb Books)

Ten year-old Bass Reeves and his mother were slaves on Mister’s ranch. Bass managed the ranch almost by himself. There is another slave on the ranch named Flowers, who couldn’t talk because “…he was whipped and beaten, and it made the thinking part of his brain shut down.” The three worked under the watchful eye of mean-spirited Mister.

When Mister drank he got even meaner. He taught Bass to play cards so he could have some company. After Bass got good at cards Mister put up the money for Bass to play, starting with nickels until they got to fifty cents. One night when Bass had won all his money, Mister bet Bass his, and his mother’s freedom. Bass was nearly 17 and longing to be a free man.

Then he caught Mister cheating. Mister threw down his cards and hit Bass in the head. Bass hit him back. Enraged, Mister pulled his gun on Bass. Knowing that he was about to die, Bass hit him with a whiskey jug. Mister went down. Bass believed he had killed Mister. When she heard the shot, his mother came running. In no time, Bass was running for his life, never to see his mother again. He escaped to Indian Territory and began his life as a free man.

Bass survived on deer and buffalo that he hunted. He learned to read the sounds and movements all around him. Once he had to kill two men in self-defense. Another time he saved a little Creek (Indian)girl from being killed by three wolves. He lived with the Creek nation for 22 years.

The historic legend of Bass Reeves really began when he was fifty-one. The US government needed someone familiar with the Indian Territory to be a marshall and they recruited Bass Reeves. From 1862 until 1907 Bass Reeves was a US Marshall bringing in fugitives. In 1907, the town of Muskogee asked eighty-one year old Bass Reeves to be the town constable. His story is exciting and worthy of investigation.