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Who Is Bass Reeves? Legendary Lawman and 1883 Inspiration

Who Is Bass Reeves? Legendary Lawman and 1883 Inspiration

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Taylor Sheridan, the mastermind behind Yellowstone, continues to deliver top-notch television. His next upcoming project is the TV series 1883: The Bass Reeves Story.

Instead of a second season of 1883, Sheridan is taking a new direction with a different storyline.

1883: The Bass Reeves Story follows the real-life legendary lawman Bass Reeves.

The synopsis for the show reads, ”Known as the greatest frontier hero in American history, and also believed to be the inspiration for The Lone Ranger, Reeves worked in the post-Reconstruction era as a federal peace officer in the Indian Territory, capturing over 3,000 of the most dangerous criminals without ever being wounded.”

The upcoming show is set to be an “epic limited series” about the “greatest frontier hero in American history.”

While there is not much more information available regarding the plot of the show, there is plenty to learn about the real Bass Reeves in the meantime.

Who Was Bass Reeves?

Bass Reeves was the first black U.S. Marshal to serve west of the Mississippi River. He was born into slavery in July 1838, in Crawford County, Arkansas.

Real photo of the legendary black lawman Bass Reeves
Bass Reeves

Reeves was owned by Arkansas state legislator William Steele Reeves. When he was just eight years old, he was taken to Texas where he was likely kept in bondage by William Reeves’ son, Colonel George R. Reeves. Colonel George R. Reeves was a sheriff and legislator in the Lone Star State.

When the Civil War broke out in America, Colonel George R. Reeves joined the Confederate Army, forcing Reeves with him. At some point during the war, Reeves was able to escape to his freedom.

After escaping, Reeves went to Indian Territory, living among Cherokee, Creeks and Seminoles where he learned their languages and customs. It is believed that Reeves fought in the Indian Territory during the Civil War alongside the Union Indian brigades.

Also read: 10 Famous Cowboys & Outlaws Who Ruled the Wild West

The Career of Bass Reeves

After the thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in 1865, Reeves returned to the American colonies. He went on to settle on a farm in Van Buren, Arkansas. In 1875, Reeves was appointed to be a deputy U.S. Marshal by Judge Isaac C. Parker.

Reeves was known to be an expert with pistol and rifle, and at six feet two inches, he was said to have superhuman strength. In addition, he was also said to be a master detective and a remarkable horseman.

Bass Reeves (left) with a group of Marshals in 1907
Bass Reeves (left) with a group of Marshals in 1907

Reeves worked as a federal peace officer in the Indian Territory, serving for a remarkable 32 years. During his career, Reeves captured over 3,000 of the most dangerous criminals. He only shot 14 people in self-defense and managed to never get injured during his career.

The territory Reeves served mostly consisted of what is now Oklahoma and Arkansas. He worked in one of the most dangerous areas of the country, escaping numerous assassination attempts.

At the age of 67 in 1907, Reeves retired as a U.S. marshal and began working as a city policeman in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Reeves worked as a policeman for two years before retiring due to illness.

Bass Reeves was married twice and had 11 children. During his career, Reeves had to arrest his own son Bennie, who was charged with the murder of his wife.

On January 12, 1910, Bass Reeves died from either Bright’s disease or nephritis.

Also read: 10 Famous Female Cowgirls and Gunslingers of the Wild West

The Legacy of Bass Reeves

Reeves was the only deputy to begin with Judge Parker’s court and work until Oklahoma gained statehood in 1907. Reeves is said to be the inspiration for the iconic character The Lone Ranger.

Despite his incredible career, Reeves’ story has often gone untold. While real-life Wild West icons like Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday have gotten plenty of screen time over the years, Reeves has barely been recognized by Hollywood until recently.

Statue dedicated to Bass Reeves in Fort Smith, Arkansas
Statue dedicated to Bass Reeves in Fort Smith, Arkansas

Fortunately, that is about to change thanks to Taylor Sheridan and David Oyelowo. Together, they are working to bring justice to Reeves’s story and give him the spotlight he deserves.

Also read: 30 Best Western & Cowboy Movies of All Time

When Will 1883: The Bass Reeves Story Premiere?

So far, there has been no official announcement yet as to when 1883: The Bass Reeves Story will premiere. There is speculation that the series will release between mid to late 2023 or even early 2024.

According to reports, the series began filming in January 2022, in Texas. On January 17, David Oyelowo posted on Instagram a picture of Bass Reeves with the caption “DAY ONE! My dream of playing this great man starts coming to fruition on this today. Thank you Lord. 🙏🏾 #bassreeves @paramountplus @101studiosco @yorubasaxon”

When it premieres, 1883: The Bass Reeves Story will be available to watch on the streaming service Paramount+. The series will consist of six episodes.

If the series follows the title, the series will be set eight years into Reeves’ service as U.S. Marshall. As for what events the series includes and if there will be any connection to the Dutton family, we will just have to wait and see.

David Oyelowo’s Dedication to Telling the Story of Bass Reeves

Throughout his entire career, actor David Oyelowo has been fascinated by Bass Reeves and his incredible life. For over a decade, Oyelowo has been trying to bring the story of Reeves to the big screen.

David Oyelowo who will play Bass Reeves in 1883: The Bass Reeves Story
David Oyelowo. Credit: WikiPedia

Fortunately, Oyelowo got the green light to bring his project to life with Taylor Sheridan. After dozens of rejections, getting the go-ahead from Sheridan was a “pinch-me moment” for Oyelowo.

Oyelowo will take on the role of Bass Reeves and Sheridan will serve as the executive producer of the much-anticipated series. Sheridan will also direct the first two episodes, with David Oyelowo and his wife Jessica also serving as producers.

“This is the guy the Lone Ranger was based on, who got whitewashed out of history, and I just can’t wait to get on that horse and tell this story,” Oyelowo said.

Between Oyelowo and Sheridan, we can expect 1883: The Bass Reeves Story to be an epic telling of Reeves’s life and legacy.

After leading such an incredible life, Reeves’ story is finally getting the attention it deserves.