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Have you heard the tale of the most successful lawman of the Wild West? Born a slave, Bass Reeves became the first African-American Deputy U.S. Marshal. A legendary marksman, Bass used disguises to fool wanted criminals, lived among Native American people in Indian Territory, and apprehended thousands of outlaws. The lore of Bass inspired the tale of the Lone Ranger, and Bass Reeves: Tales of the Talented Tenth chronicles his life from enslavement to famed peace officer. 

Come along for the adventure as Bass wins shooting matches, escapes enslavement, lives among a Native American tribe, and finally becomes a Deputy U.S. Marshal.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas - the Man, the Myth

Bass Reeves lived a life of adventure - he was said to be so tough, he could "spit on a brick and bust it." Because there are so many stories about his work, it is often necessary to weed through them to find which are true, and which were exaggerations.

So, when researching a person like Bass Reeves, what is the best way to drill down into history and find an accurate source?

With Internet searches, the key can be as simple as looking at the URL for any sites your search turns up. The domain, which is the final few letters in the URL, can tell you a lot:

  • .edu - the site is educational (reliable)
  • .gov or .mil  - the site is a government  or military site (likely to be reliable)
  • .org - the site is likely to be a nonprofit site
  • .com - the site is a commercial site

Some sites, such as sites sponsored by a college or university (.edu), are written to share factual information, and usually provide references for all factual information. Others, such as wikis (, are considered collaborative - this means that users can edit the information or structure of a page... these aren't as likely to provide accurate information.

Conduct a web search on a question about Bass Reeves (such as, was he really the inspiration for the Lone Ranger?). Search information on three different websites that have three different domains. Describe which information seems more accurate, and why.

Key Ideas and Details - The Rebus

During his life, Bass Reeves faced countless challenges. One of the worst, which haunted him at every stage of his life, was racism.

In Bass Reeves: Tales of the Talented Tenth, the author has chosen to highlight the racism with symbolic images that are called "rebuses." You can see a rebus in some of the speech bubbles, in which a small face is inserted in the text to substitute for the hostile names Bass would have been called. Another rebus is the use of a large black crow - Jim Crow - to represent the racist people that Bass encountered.

Many cultures, across many thousands of years, have used rebuses to share information, from the ancient Egyptians through the ancient Chinese, and even in medieval Europe. To see how you can decipher rebuses, check out this site featuring early American letters. With a friend, or on your own, try to figure out what each rebus represents.

Now think of a rebus that can represent something in your life. Insert it into a comic strip or a story or a report you can share with someone else. Ask the reader if he or she knows what the rebus represents, and whether it's a more powerful way to share the idea than the written word itself.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas - Indian Territory vs. States

More than 200,000 African American servicemen fought in the Civil War. Following the war, many went on to fight with one of the all-African-American infantry and cavalry units. Native American people called these black soldiers "Buffalo Soldiers," perhaps because of their endurance (like a buffalo moving across the prairie), or because of the texture of their hair, or even because of the thick fur coats they wore during the brutal winter months.

During the first years of Reconstruction, the African American people faced considerable racial discrimination and prejudice, but it wasn't built into actual laws until around 1877. Then, gradually, state-by-state, laws started to pass that directly eroded African American rights.

Judge Isaac Parker, who hired Bass Reeves, hired between 30 and 50 African American deputy U.S. Marshals during his 20 years on the bench. He employed a black man named George Winston as his bailiff, many jailers were black, and black men served alongside white men on juries.

By the late 1880s, things were changing in the territory. Democrats, who were in power in the South, focused their attention on reversing the civil rights reforms that had happened in the years following the Civil War. This is when Bass Reeves was tried for the murder of his cook.

While Reeves continued his work following his trial, he focused his efforts in the federal and tribal lands in the eastern region of what would become Oklahoma in 1907.

One reason for this could be because black people enjoyed much greater freedom in Indian Territory before it became a state. African American people in the Territory didn't face the same discrimination there as they did in the southern states starting in the 1890s.

When Oklahoma became a state, some of the first laws the legislature passed were discriminatory Jim Crow laws. It's very possible that Bass Reeves never would have had the success he did if he'd had to work under the restrictive state laws.

State vs. Federal Laws Today

Today, the same dynamic between rights under state law versus federal law is at play. Choose one of the following topics, and see if you can figure out if your state's laws match or differ from the federal law.

  • Collecting taxes
  • Education standards
  • Voting rights
  • Marriage rights
  • Healthcare

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