Brief Description: Picture book biography of African American man who was born into slavery, escaped during the American Civil War, lived among many Native American nations and learned their languages, and became a U.S. Marshal, patrolling the wild west of the Oklahoma Territory.
Date Range: 1838-1910 (lifespan)
Keywords: African American, African American Slavery, American Civil War, American Westward Expansion, Bass Reeves, Belle Starr, Colonel George R. Reeves, Hellubee Sammy, Indian Territory, Jim Webb, Judge Isaac C. Parker, Native American relocation, U.S. marshals
Original Publication: 2009
Suitable for Grades: 3-6th
Target Audience: Picture Book, Chapter Book, Middle Grade
From the cleverly worded title to its subject’s dignified end, author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson tells a tale of a larger than life western hero Bass Reeves. known for his size, horsemanship, aim, bravery, honesty and sense of duty, Reeves’s story “is so incredible it comes close to sounding like a tall tale.” That he is not more well known is a true shame.
The picture book biography briefly portrays Reeves’s childhood of slavery until his escape from his owner during the Civil War. He fled to “Indian Territory” and lived among the Native Americans in what is today Arkansas and Oklahoma. After the war, he was hired as the first African American lawman west of the Mississippi. The painted illustrations by R. Gregory Christie charmingly convey the life of the marshal, whether pursuing outlaws or camping out under the stars. Reeves was such a figure of moral authority that he was well respected among the Native Americans, blacks and, grudgingly, by the white people that lived in the territory. One poignant scene has him calmly cutting down a black man slated for lynching and plopping him onto the back of his horse as the sullen, angry mob looks on. The notorious Belle Starr simply turned herself in after learning that Reeves had her warrant.
Educational back matter includes a glossary of western words, a time line, suggestions for further reading, further information, a bibliography, and an author’s note. I highly recommend this entertaining story of a forgotten hero for readers of all ages.