Oklahoma City, OK 73105
For Immediate Release: March 22, 2016
Artist Wayne Cooper and sponsor Sen. Dan Newberry unveil the portrait
of Bass Reeves
Tuesday afternoon in the Senate Chamber.
Artist Wayne Cooper discusses life of Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves.
Fomer state Senator and President of the Senate Historical Preservation
with sponsor Dan Newberry and artist Wayne Cooper.
Portrait of first African American Deputy Marshal Bass
The Senate unveiled a portrait Tuesday of the nation’s first
African American Deputy Marshal, Bass Reeves.
Reeves was born a slave in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas. He
worked for a prominent politician in the region and farmer, William
S. Reeves, as a water boy in the cotton fields of the Reeves farm.
During the Civil War, Bass was a servant for William's son, George
Reeves, who was a Colonel in the Confederate Army who organized
the 11th Calvary regiment. Bass claimed to have fought in several
battles but because of a dispute with George, he allegedly escaped
and fled into the Indian Territory (now known as Oklahoma) as a
fugitive slave. There he associated with Native Americans from the
Creek and Seminole tribes learning their language and customs.
Bass eventually moved to Arkansas where he met his wife Nellie Jennie
and raised their ten children. Refining his skills as an outdoorsman,
Bass became an expert sharpshooter. In addition to earning a living
as a farmer, rancher and a horse breeder, he also served as a guide
into the Indian Territory for Deputy U.S. Marshals for the Van Buren
federal court searching for outlaws. In 1875, the legendary “Hanging
Judge” Isaac C. Parker was appointed a federal judge of the
Indian Territory. Parker appointed James Fagan as U.S. Marshal and
instructed him to hire 200 deputy marshals. Knowing of Reeves' reputation
with a pistol, his ability to speak several Indian languages and
interact with them as well as his knowledge of the territory, Fagan
named Reeves a Deputy Marshal, the first African American to hold
Reeves became one of the most feared and respected U.S. Marshals
in Indian Territory. He arrested some of the most dangerous criminals
of the time. During his 32 years as a federal peace officer, he
arrested 3,000 felons and killed 14 outlaws defending his life during
arrests. He was a legend in Indian Territory and was one of Judge
Parker’s most valued deputies. The fact that Reeves was an
African American who had spent his early life as a slave in Arkansas
and Texas makes his accomplishments all the more remarkable.
He was the only deputy to begin with Parker's court and work until
Oklahoma statehood in 1907. After retiring from federal service,
Reeves joined the Muskogee Police Department at the age of 68. Unfortunately,
in 1910, his health deteriorated and he died of Bright’s disease.
Reeves is considered by many scholars to be one of the most outstanding
frontier heroes in U.S. history.
The portrait is by artist Wayne Cooper and is his twentieth piece
to be displayed at the state Capitol. It is sponsored by Sen. Dan
and Laura Newberry, TTCU The Credit Union, WEOKIE Credit Union,
Communication Federal Credit Union, Bison Federal Credit Union,
Green Country, Federal Credit Union, Oklahoma Central Credit Union,
and Truity Credit Union. It is a project of the Oklahoma State Senate
Historical Preservation Fund.
For more information, contact:
Sandra Shelton: (405) 521-5563