The fiercest federal lawman you never knew — and he was African American

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tags: African American history, Black History, Black west, the Watchmen, Bass Reves

Ponder, for a moment, the ideal law enforcement hero for our times — an era in which Americans are increasingly aware of the role racism plays in criminal justice and the virtue of character feels far too rare.

Our idol would probably be a righteous badass, rounding up criminals by the dozens, quick on the draw but with the kind of ironclad integrity that evokes the Lone Ranger. That hero might even be African American, struggling against barriers few white men could fathom.

Now, popular culture has discovered such a hero. His name was Bass Reeves — a former slave and one of the first black U.S. deputy marshals west of the Mississippi. He became legendary during the late 19th and early 20th centuries for his prowess at hunting down criminals in Indian Territory.

Reeves is featured in the opening of “Watchmen,” when the black crime-fighting hero of the HBO series, Will Reeves, is shown as a boy in a darkened Tulsa movie theater captivated by the Western gunslinger shooting it out on-screen. And on Dec. 13, “Hell On the Border,” a movie about Bass Reeves, debuted in theaters.

Reeves, a tall, burly man with a boisterous manner who reportedly handled a .44 Winchester rifle so ably he could kill a man from a quarter-mile away, brought scores of outlaws to justice, many of them white. In a turning of the tables nearly unheard of after Reconstruction, Reeves even hunted and arrested white men for lynchings and other racial hate crimes, according to Art T. Burton, 70, a retired university administrator and history professor who wrote the 2006 Reeves biography “Black Gun, Silver Star.”

Read entire article at Washington Post

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