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on May 20, 2006
Professor Burton's book about Bass Reeves combines thorough, meticulous scholarship on the details of Reeves' long career as a lawman with a most impressive general knowledge of the times in which he lived. The result is a biography unlikely to be surpassed.

A question that has long interested me, and is asked by this book, concerns the criteria of historical remembrance. Why, for example, is Wyatt Earp (to pick just one example) remembered and even celebrated to this day, when--at the very least--equally deserving historical figures, such as Reeves, languish in relative obscurity? Were history fair (and of course it is not) the reverse should be the case, as by any objective measure Reeves was the superior lawman. One is cynically tempted to conclude that too often subsequent historical recognition is far more a result of puffery than of merit.

Burton does an admirable job of reconstructing what can now be known about Reeves' remarkable life, and adeptly separates myth from fact along the way. This was a difficult task, as Reeves was illiterate, meaning that the record of his life is only indirectly available primarily through court transcripts, oral histories by others, and sketchy accounts in contemporary newspapers not often disposed to celebrate the accomplishment of a black man.

In addition, Burton is able to present new and significant information. I, for one, had not known that, toward the end of his career, Reeves was prominently involved in a spectacular shootout (every bit as dramatic as the OK Corral) in Muskogee with a deadly gang of religious fanatics. Until now, lawman Bud Ledbetter (the "Fourth Guardsman") got most of the credit for confronting these dangerous criminals.

Professor Burton notes that he's been working on this project, intermittently, for some twenty years--the result is worth the wait.
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on March 13, 2007
Brief though the period of the Wild West was, the exploits of its villains and lawmen have fascinated people around the world, and been disproportionately represented in pop culture. But the multicultural nature of the Wild West has rarely been evidenced in the plethora of films, books and television shows. Which probably explains why the arrival of Sheriff Black Bart in Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" (1974) elicited such a stunned response from the townspeople, and a riot of laughter from the audience. Imagine: a black lawman in the Old West!

Imagine no more. Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves, a former slave, served for nearly 30 years in the Oklahoma and Indian Territories, the most deadly location for U.S. marshals. And according to glowing accounts of his bravery, skill and steadfast devotion to duty (found in white newspapers of the time, mind you) nobody was laughing when he rode into to town, especially not the bad guys. As this book amply illustrates, Reeves is remarkable not merely for being a black marshal (there were others) but for being one of the greatest U.S. Marshals, period.

But Reeves' story - with the exception of references published here and there - has been largely ignored by western historians. Though widely known and respected during his lifetime, he was illiterate and left behind no diaries or letters, so what little has come down has been in the form of oral history and legends. Art T. Burton has spent the better part of 20 years reclaiming the heritage of African Americans in the American West, and has scoured through a wide range of primary sources - including Reeves' federal criminal court cases available in the National Archives, and account books at Fort Smith Historic Site - to separate legend from fact and painstakingly piece together the story of this American hero.

The book is not a biography in the traditional sense, but as the subtitle states, a reader. It reproduces many of the court documents and contemporary newspaper articles with just enough narrative to put them into context. Not being a Wild West buff myself, I felt the author did an excellent job providing background to help me make sense of it all.

As the author recounts, one of the first responses he received from a local town historical society in Oklahoma when inquiring about Reeves was "I am sorry, we didn't keep black people's history." This book is the perfect example of the wealth of information which can be gleaned by a creative, dedicated historian who looks beyond the usual sources in order to root out the hidden history of multicultural America. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Western history and culture, law enforcement, American or African American Studies.

And I hope this book inspires someone to finally bring the life and times of Bass Reeves to the big screen.
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on October 6, 2012
Bass Reeves is an inspiration for all of us. His example is not just for black people, but for all of us. America would be much better off if we had men such as Bass Reeves in all of our law enforcement. He proved himself over and over and even when the odds were stacked against him, he never faltered. I graduated twice form the University of Arkansas and live in Arkansas. We will never stop talking about our hero, Bass Reeves. I am a white person and I don't admire Bass Reeves as a black man, I admire him as a man. The Civil Was didn't impact Arkansas as it did some of the other states in the South, but even then, people were in awe of a lawman who would set aside everything else and just do his job. What a man!!
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on March 27, 2007
This is a very intereting book about a black marshal that rode for Judge Parker. I was amazed at the amount of money he made as a "non-paid" marshal. His influence on the court and the city of Fort Smith at the time was also interesting. An interesting twist to see a marshal on trial, and obviously, motivated by hatred.
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on March 29, 2014
He arrested thousands of dangerous men, and was involved in fourteen face-to-face gunfights, including two "quick-draw contests," a type of gun-fight actually seldom seen outside of Hollywood.
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on September 12, 2015
I saw the biography of the real Lone Ranger on The Americam Hero channel and was fascinated. Bass Reeves is highlighted on their Gunslinger series. It is a must watch. Bass Reeves was left out of history books because of his race. He was a U.S. marshal in the Indian terrory for 30 years and arrested over 3000 criminals. This is longer than any other Marshal of that era. He was the inspiration for the Lone Ranger series. He rode a white horse, used disguises, gave away silver dollars and was friends with the Indians. He never failed to arrest his man. He was a legend during his lifetime but was forgotten to history.
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on April 12, 2016
This is a well-researched but kind of dry look at the life of African American lawman, Bass Reeves. Reeves was a legendary figure in the Indian Territory; a man who always got his man. Very little biographical information exists about the man's life but, as evidenced here, the newspapers are full of accounts of his adventures and Professor Burton uses those to put together this history.
This is not biography in the truest sense; it is basically an accounting of many of Reeves' arrests with as much information about his life as can be gleaned from the public record (due to fires, poor record keeping and a lack of people caring about such things at the time, there's not much). Burton is to be commended for gathering this much information together in one place so that the exploits of this overlooked but deserving man, Bass Reeves, can be remembered.
Reeves deserves to take his place in the western iconography alongside the Earps, Hickcock and others. This book begins that process and is an important addition to Western studies. It's dry reading and not for everyone but it's what scholarship needs concerning Bass Reeves.
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on June 25, 2015
A very interesting and informative read with appropriate references.
I recommend without reservations to any history buff, especially for those that want to understand and better appreciate those that helped settle and tame the Wild West! Reading the actual court transcripts of some of his cases gave me a first-person feel for the challenges and dangers to lawmen of the West.
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on May 21, 2015
This is truly and amazing book, it is so sad that individuals such and Bass Reeves is not taught in school. The things this man did is so amazing and to accomplish all he did being illiterate blows my mind. Unforgettable reading.
theron w reece
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on November 24, 2013
It is interesting how they consider him the first Lone Ranger due to the disguises etc that he utilized as a Marshall. Also amazing is how a former slave came to be known as one of the best Marshalls. He could not even read and write. Great book on our history.
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