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Monday, January 24, 2011

African-American Deputy U.S. Marshals

In researching the job of Deputy U. S. Marshal for the hero in my new book, LOST HEARTS, I discovered that many African Americans also rode for Judge Isaac Parker, Federal Court judge for the Western District of Arkansas, which had jurisdiction over Indian Territory.

In a time of post-war, southern reconstruction, when blacks were deprived of citizenship and the right to vote, Judge Parker gave these deputies the legal authority to arrest whites and to shoot whites--or anyone else the situation warranted.

One of the first men to ride for Parker, was Bass Reeves, who was one of Parker's favorite deputies, if not his most dependable.

Reeves stood over 6 feet tall and weighed between 180 and 200 pounds, with a large frame and muscular arms. He could cup a Colt revolver in his palm the way a lesser man would cup a Derringer.

He wore a large black hat, always dressed neatly and was known for his polite and courteous manners. He moved with the easy grace of a man used to open spaces, whose strength had been tested and proven many times. His voice was deep and carried the smooth drawl of the south. He smiled often and his laughter was booming.

Bass was fluent in Creek and could converse well in all the languages of the Five Civilized Tribes.

He wore two pistols, butts forward, for a quick draw that was not only fast, but accurate. However Bass prefered the slower, even more accurate method of taking his time, planting himself solidly and drawing a bead. His skill with a rifle was legendary and he was banned from participating in any local competitions at picnics and turkey shoots.

Reeves prefered using detective skills and disguises as much as possible to avoid shoot outs, although he did admit to having killed at least fourteen men in the line of duty.

Any incident where a felon was killed by a deputy marshal was thoroughly investigated by the Fort Smith court. Some deputies were prosecuted for unjust killings. Bass was never one of them.

Early records paid little attention to race, so it is impossible to know how many African-Americans served as deputy marshals except through newspaper accounts. These are the names of some of the men I came across.

Bass Reeves, Grant Johnson, Zeke Miller, Bill Corbert, Neely Factor, John Garrett, Jim Ruth, Charles Pettit, Robert Fortune and Rufus Cannon.

Many of these men were former slaves with no education. They faced ambushes, shoot-outs, exhaustion, and hazzards of nature. They performed all the duties of a deputy marshal often with outstanding valor and distinction. They are some of the unsung heroes of the old west.

25 comments:

Tina Donahue said...

What fascinating research, Kathy. I'm looking forward to reading your book Lost Hearts!

Paris said...

Kathy, I love finding out more about this intriguing period of history. Unsung heroes have always been a fascination of mine, thanks for letting us know more about Bass Reeves. Can't wait to read more from you!

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Tina,
I love doing research because it takes me down some fascinating paths. All of Parker's deputies, these African Americans included, did their job just like the Texas Rangers, but received little recognition.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Paris,
Thanks for stopping by. The more I read about Bass Reeves the more I realized he had all qualities of the perfect real life romance hero.

Delaney Diamond said...

Very interesting post, Kathy. Your description of Bass Reeves does make me think of a romance hero.

Thanks for sharing. I learned something today.

Valerie Douglas aka V. J. Devereaux said...

I have Bass Reeves's autobiography, written by his grandnephew, Judge Paul L. Brady, called The Black Badge. It makes for fascinating reading. I was doing research for a book, too.
There's a good picture of Marshal Reeves in the book, he was a handsome man and he married the love of his life, Jinney.
If you haven't read the book, you should.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Delaney,
Thanks for taking the time to post a comment. Bass Reeves fascinated me. He could take on two men at a time in a fist fight and he always sang softly to himself before he went into a gun fight. Anyone who heard him knew he meant business.

Kathy Otten said...

Valerie,
Thanks for sharing that book. I haven't read it, but I will. I got most of my information on Bass from the book, Black, Red and Deadly, Black and Indian Gunfighters of the Indian Territory, 1870-1907, by Arthur T. Burton.
Yes, I read that Jinney was a pretty girl from Texas and they raised ten kids together on a farm Bass had bought outside of Van Buren. I loved learning about him.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

I should have known that you would find something fascinating to blog about, Kathy. I would have never guessed that such extraordinary black men stood as US Marshals back in the old west. Heck, I was dumbfounded to learn that Wyoming was the first state to legally allow women the vote. What is it about the west that made such free and liberal minded people? Just as I knew I would, I found your blog as riveting as your books. I have Lost Hearts and I can't wait to start reading it.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Sarah,
What I had found to be most extrodinary was the full legal authority Judge Parker gave these men when they couldn't even get the right to vote elsewhere in the country.

Rawiya said...

Great post Kathy! This is awesome! Looking forward to the book!

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Rawiya,
Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.
Someone on the SweetnSexy loop asked me if Lost Hearts was an African American romance. It is not, and I hope I haven't given that impression. I just wanted to share this information I found while researching Deputy U.S Marshals. Bass Reeves was such a fascinating man I did give him a cameo appearance in a few scenes.

Judy said...

I find it very interesting how much research goes into writing a book. I read alot of historicals, and I do not think I would want to read something based on history with the background be in left field.

Great looking book!!

Fiona McGier said...

They say that history is written by the victors. I wonder just how many other unsung heroes were not white people? Or not men? Feminists used to say that we need to teach "herstory" in school as well as history. Interesting information you shared today. Thanks.

Redameter said...

I liked this blog very much. Bass sounded like a real character. I love research no matter what the subject matter it is. So fascinating to find out new information. Sometimes that info can spur a book out of a writer.

Great work here. Enjoyed it no end. We can learn so much. Funny thing is, people read our books and sometimes never know how much fact we put in them.

Wonderful, bravo!!!

Love and blessings
Rita

Renee Vincent said...

Sorry to disturb you all....just checking to see if I came through.
Carry on.....

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Judy,
I appreciate your stopping by. The thing about research is the more you learn, the more you realize you didn't know. So hopefully research is compiled, the research gets better with each book.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Fiona,
Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. The history is there, you just have to dig. The praise and accolades might not have been divided fairly, but there are footprints left from those who went before.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Redameter,
Thanks for stopping. If the reader doesn't realize how much research went into the book, that's a good thing. Cause they will notice if there isn't enough or it's wrong.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Renee,
You're not disturbing us. It's great to see you.

LORETTA CANTON said...

Interesting! I have to make sure to read your book and also The Black Badge. I have read alot of Black history books but miss reading about Black Marshalls.

loretta
lbcanton@verizon.net

Estella said...

Interesting post!

Kathy Otten said...

Loretta and Estella,
Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I want to get The Black Badge too.

I had a good time today and I'll be back next month. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi,
I just came across this post.Your book looks like it will be an awesome read.I wrote it down.Thanks for sharing about the unsung heroes,they never taught that in high school.I even read it aloud to my hubby,he said that it was cool too.

Thanks,
Jessica

Carol L. said...

Wow Kathy,
Amazing post and wonderful to bring attention to these unsung heroes. I'd love to read the Black Badge now to read more about Bass. Sounds like a remarkable man.
Carol L
Lucky4750@aol.com