The Legend of Bass Reeves
I stumbled across this title quite by accident, and I’m mighty glad I did. I didn’t even know Gary Paulsen wrote stories about the West. And this is a story worth telling. The subtitle reads “being a true and fictional account of the most valiant marshal in the west.” So you’ll find this in the young adult fiction section of the library.
But the story is based on a very real man. And what a man! Bass Reeves was an African American born into slavery who eventually became “the most successful federal marshal in the United States” to use Mr. Paulsen’s words. In the introduction, he points out that most of our western heroes, Wyatt Earp, Bill Hickok, Kit Carson, among others, all had some less than admirable traits that we tend to gloss over in our search for heroes. Bass Reeves, however, stands head and shoulders above them all. He did not even become a lawman until he was fifty-one years old. He was still hunting down outlaws when he was seventy, in the wild lands of the Oklahoma Indian Territory.
There has never been much written about this man who, because of his courage, integrity and perseverance, became a legend in his own time. I am very grateful that Mr. Paulsen has shed some light on his amazing story.