very February, during Black History Month, I always wonder if the public is becoming more aware of the legacy of Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves and his contributions. We honor many African Americans, men and women, during this month who should be recognized for their contributions to our country’s growth and development. There are many African Americans we should know more about. Their careers, exploits and adventures are not taught in our grade schools, high schools and universities. One individual we may not know about is Bass Reeves, who served for over thirty years as a federal
lawman in the Indian Territory, pre-statehood Oklahoma.
Reeves’ story is remarkable because he started life as a slave in Arkansas and Texas. He came from abject poverty, was never given any semblance of an education and remained illiterate throughout his adult life. Given these handicaps, Reeves was able to persevere and become a legend in his field during his own lifetime. We have had many frontier heroes in our country’s history such as Wyatt Earp, Kit Carson, and Wild Bill Hickock, to name a few. But Reeves stands head and shoulders above the crowd. Let me tell you why.
Bass Reeves overcame the obstacles of no education as a youth and was plagued with the constant danger of his profession as an adult in law enforcement. This did not deter him from the success he maintained throughout his career.
This is the reason I have stated many times that I feel Reeves is
the greatest frontier hero in United States history. His name should be
in the front ranks of any and all African Americans that we honor
during Black History Month. Sad to say, many people will not know about
him until a movie is made about his life because so many of our
citizens don’t read books.
I am honored to have written the first scholarly biography on his
life. Hopefully more information will come forward in coming years and
fill in some of the blanks we have on who he was and what he
accomplished during his remarkable lifetime. It is quite refreshing to
know that the City of Fort Smith, Arkansas is raising funds to build a
statue of Bass Reeves in a city park near the main river bridge
separating Arkansas and Oklahoma. This will be the first equestrian
statue ever built in the state of Arkansas.
In Oklahoma, the State Attorney General has a newly renovated office
building near the state capitol. In the foyer of the building there are
artistic paintings of three men in early Oklahoma law enforcement; one
of the men is Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves. Actor Morgan Freeman has
stated that he will not be satisfied until he portrays Reeves in a
film. I hope he reads my book.
If given a choice of individuals to honor during Black History
Month, my choice would be Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves. I hope all
reading this blog get a chance to purchase my book and read for
themselves this unique story of a former slave on the western frontier.
I welcome feed back on Black Gun, Silver Star; I will be most
interested in your remarks and observations.
Art T. Burton
Author Art T. Burton is keynote speaker at the University of Arkansas — Fort Smith’s American Heritage Week. He will speak on February 19, 2007 at 7:00p.m.