Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves

Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves

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by Art T. Burton
     
 

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Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves appears as one of “eight notable Oklahomans,” the “most feared U.S. marshal in the Indian country.” That Reeves was also an African American who had spent his early life as a slave in Arkansas and Texas makes his accomplishments all the more remarkable. Bucking the odds (“I’m sorry, we

Overview


Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves appears as one of “eight notable Oklahomans,” the “most feared U.S. marshal in the Indian country.” That Reeves was also an African American who had spent his early life as a slave in Arkansas and Texas makes his accomplishments all the more remarkable. Bucking the odds (“I’m sorry, we didn’t keep black people’s history,” a clerk at one of Oklahoma’s local historical societies answered a query), Art T. Burton sifts through fact and legend to discover the truth about one of the most outstanding peace officers in late nineteenth-century America—and perhaps the greatest lawman of the Wild West era.
 
Fluent in Creek and other southern Native languages, physically powerful, skilled with firearms, and a master of disguise, Reeves was exceptionally adept at apprehending fugitives and outlaws, and his exploits were legendary in Oklahoma and Arkansas. A finalist for the 2007 Spur Award, sponsored by the Western Writers of America, Black Gun, Silver Star tells Bass Reeves’s story for the first time and restores this remarkable figure to his rightful place in the history of the American West.

Editorial Reviews

AfroAmericanHeritage.com

BLACK GUN, SILVER STAR, by Art T. Burton
5 Stars Highly Recommended

 

Brief though the period of the Wild West was, the exploits of its villains and lawmen have fascinated people around the world, and been disproportionately represented in pop culture. But the multicultural nature of the Wild West has rarely been evidenced in the plethora of films, books and television shows. Which probably explains why the arrival of  Sheriff Black Bart in Mel Brooks’ "Blazing Saddles" (1974) elicited such a stunned response from the townspeople, and a riot of laughter from the audience. Imagine: a black lawman in the Old West!

 

Imagine no more. Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves, a former slave, served for nearly 30 years  in the Oklahoma and Indian Territories, the most deadly location for U.S. marshals.   And according to glowing accounts of his bravery, skill and steadfast devotion to duty (found in white newspapers of the time, mind you) nobody was laughing when he rode into to town, especially not the bad guys.  As this book amply illustrates, Reeves is remarkable not merely for being a black marshal (there were others) but for being one of the greatest U.S. Marshals, period.

 

But Reeves’ story - with the exception of references published here and there - has been largely ignored by western historians.   Though widely known and respected during his lifetime, he was illiterate and left behind no diaries or letters, so what little has come down has been in the form of oral history and legends.  Art T. Burton has spent the better part of 20 years reclaiming the heritage of African Americans in the American West, and has scoured through a wide range of primary sources - including Reeves’ federal criminal court cases available in the National Archives, and account books at Fort Smith Historic Site  - to separate legend from fact and painstakingly piece together the story of this American hero.

 

The book is not a biography in the traditional sense, but as the subtitle states, a reader. It reproduces many of the court documents and contemporary newspaper articles with just enough narrative to put them into context. Not being a Wild West buff myself, I felt the author did an excellent job providing background to help me make sense of it all.

 

As the author recounts, one of the first responses he received from a local town historical society in Oklahoma when inquiring about Reeves was "I am sorry, we didn’t keep black people’s history." This book is the perfect example of the wealth of information which can be gleaned by a creative, dedicated historian who looks beyond the usual sources  in order to root out the hidden history of multicultural America. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Western history and culture, law enforcement, American or African American Studies.

 

And I hope this book inspires someone to finally bring the life and times of Bass Reeves to the big screen.

— Gerri Gribi

Arkansas Historical Quarterly

“Burton has completed a solid research effort, and his writing is clear. . . . Available sources do not allow Burton to resolve all the controversies about the exact details of Reeve’s life, but Burton has given new literary life to a black lawman in a white (and Indian) world.”—James M. Smallwood, Arkansas Historical Quarterly

— James M. Smallwood

Post and Courier

"As Burton traces Reeves’ exploits through oral accounts, records of court proceedings and scraps of correspondence, his fascination with the subject helps to maintain a vigorous pace and ultimately makes Black Gun, Silver Star an eye-opening study of justice and race in the Old West."—Nick Smith, The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)

— Nick Smith

Western Outlaw-Lawman History Association Journal

“The book is a good addition to the history of law enforcement in the Twin Territories. Students of this area will certainly want to add the book to their library.”—Western Outlaw-Lawman History Association Journal
True West

"[Burton's] years of research resulted in a remarkable story of an Old West giant, one who arguably was the best in his business."—True West
Oklahombres.org

"[This] biography is more statement of fact than tribute to Reeves and no punches are pulled. Bass had an exceptionally long tenure as a Deputy U. S. Marshal and made a few mistakes along the way. These are covered. But, so too, are the remarkable feats he accomplished. . . . No critic, then or now has been able to show that Bass did not do good and bring law and order to the frontier. Art’s rendering takes on all comers and their questions. The book is a heck of a good read and not the least bit painful."—Mike Tower, Oklahombres.org

— Mike Tower

Journal of African American History

"Burton is a generous author who shares his thinking and analysis with the reader, and explains his personal fascination with the story of Bass Reeves. The result is a highly readable book with a tone that will appeal to several audiences."—Barbara C. Behan, Journal of African American History

— Barbara C. Behan

Angela Y. Walton-Raji
"This is a book that should become mandatory reading for any student of American Frontier history. Black Gun, Silver Star not only answers questions about Bass Reeves, the man, but it also provides insight into the incredible courage and extraordinary skill required in nineteenth-century law enforcement. Those with a passion for history, particularly of the nineteenth century, will find this biography of Reeves to be an essential book for their library."

-Angela Y. Walton-Raji, author of Black Indian Genealogy Research

Bruce T. Fisher
"Art Burton has resurrected a heroic Black U. S. Deputy Marshal that thieves and outlaws in the Indian Territory could not kill but was practically eliminated by scholars of frontier history."

-Bruce T. Fisher, Curator of African American History, Oklahoma Historical Society

Robert K. DeArment
"In the long, sanguinary history of the battle to bring law and order to the violent American West there was no greater or more important figure than this former slave who spent his life enforcing the law in what was the most lawless section of the country. Because Reeves was black, his remarkable career for the most part was overlooked by the contemporary press, making it difficult now to reconstruct his history, but author Art Burton has admirably tackled the task and told a story, long overdue."

-Robert K. DeArment, author of Bravo of the Brazos: John Larn of Fort Griffin, Texas

William Black
"Art Burton's extensive research for Black Gun, Silver Star fleshes out the fascinating life story and exploits of a former slave who became one of the most famous lawmen in the Indian Territory days of ''Hanging Judge'' Isaac Parker."

-William Black, Superintendent Fort Smith National Historic Site

Post and Courier - Nick Smith

"As Burton traces Reeves' exploits through oral accounts, records of court proceedings and scraps of correspondence, his fascination with the subject helps to maintain a vigorous pace and ultimately makes Black Gun, Silver Star an eye-opening study of justice and race in the Old West."—Nick Smith, The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)
Oklahombres.org - Mike Tower

"[This] biography is more statement of fact than tribute to Reeves and no punches are pulled. Bass had an exceptionally long tenure as a Deputy U. S. Marshal and made a few mistakes along the way. These are covered. But, so too, are the remarkable feats he accomplished. . . . No critic, then or now has been able to show that Bass did not do good and bring law and order to the frontier. Art's rendering takes on all comers and their questions. The book is a heck of a good read and not the least bit painful."—Mike Tower, Oklahombres.org
AfroAmericanHeritage.com - Gerri Gribi

BLACK GUN, SILVER STAR, by Art T. Burton
5 Stars
Highly Recommended
 
Brief though the period of the Wild West was, the exploits of its villains and lawmen have fascinated people around the world, and been disproportionately represented in pop culture. But the multicultural nature of the Wild West has rarely been evidenced in the plethora of films, books and television shows. Which probably explains why the arrival of  Sheriff Black Bart in Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" (1974) elicited such a stunned response from the townspeople, and a riot of laughter from the audience. Imagine: a black lawman in the Old West!
 
Imagine no more. Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves, a former slave, served for nearly 30 years  in the Oklahoma and Indian Territories, the most deadly location for U.S. marshals.   And according to glowing accounts of his bravery, skill and steadfast devotion to duty (found in white newspapers of the time, mind you) nobody was laughing when he rode into to town, especially not the bad guys.  As this book amply illustrates, Reeves is remarkable not merely for being a black marshal (there were others) but for being one of the greatest U.S. Marshals, period.
 
But Reeves' story - with the exception of references published here and there - has been largely ignored by western historians.   Though widely known and respected during his lifetime, he was illiterate and left behind no diaries or letters, so what little has come down has been in the form of oral history and legends.  Art T. Burton has spent the better part of 20 years reclaiming the heritage of African Americans in the American West, and has scoured through a wide range of primary sources - including Reeves' federal criminal court cases available in the National Archives, and account books at Fort Smith Historic Site  - to separate legend from fact and painstakingly piece together the story of this American hero.
 
The book is not a biography in the traditional sense, but as the subtitle states, a reader. It reproduces many of the court documents and contemporary newspaper articles with just enough narrative to put them into context. Not being a Wild West buff myself, I felt the author did an excellent job providing background to help me make sense of it all.
 
As the author recounts, one of the first responses he received from a local town historical society in Oklahoma when inquiring about Reeves was "I am sorry, we didn't keep black people's history." This book is the perfect example of the wealth of information which can be gleaned by a creative, dedicated historian who looks beyond the usual sources  in order to root out the hidden history of multicultural America. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Western history and culture, law enforcement, American or African American Studies.
 
And I hope this book inspires someone to finally bring the life and times of Bass Reeves to the big screen.

Arkansas Historical Quarterly - James M. Smallwood

“Burton has completed a solid research effort, and his writing is clear. . . . Available sources do not allow Burton to resolve all the controversies about the exact details of Reeve’s life, but Burton has given new literary life to a black lawman in a white (and Indian) world.”—James M. Smallwood, Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Journal of African American History - Barbara C. Behan

"Burton is a generous author who shares his thinking and analysis with the reader, and explains his personal fascination with the story of Bass Reeves. The result is a highly readable book with a tone that will appeal to several audiences."—Barbara C. Behan, Journal of African American History
From the Publisher
"Butler's skillful pacing and emphasis ramp up the tension and occasional drama of the marshal's encounters with various criminals. A great pairing of narrator and history." —AudioFile

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780803217478
Publisher:
UNP - Bison Books
Publication date:
04/01/2008
Series:
Race and Ethnicity in the American West
Pages:
392
Sales rank:
130,636
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

Meet the Author


Art T. Burton is a professor of history at South Suburban College in South Holland, Illinois. He is the author of Black, Buckskin, and Blue: African American Scouts and Soldiers on the Western Frontier and Black, Red, and Deadly: Black and Indian Gunfighters of the Indian Territory, 1870–1907.

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Black Gun, Silver Star 4 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Brief though the period of the Wild West was, the exploits of its villains and lawmen have fascinated people around the world, and been disproportionately represented in pop culture. But the multicultural nature of the Wild West has rarely been evidenced in the plethora of films, books and television shows. Which probably explains why the arrival of Sheriff Black Bart in Mel Brooks¿ ¿Blazing Saddles¿ (1974) elicited such a stunned response from the townspeople, and a riot of laughter from the audience. Imagine: a black lawman in the Old West! Imagine no more. Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves, a former slave, served for nearly 30 years in the Oklahoma and Indian Territories, the most deadly location for U.S. marshals. And according to glowing accounts of his bravery, skill and steadfast devotion to duty (found in white newspapers of the time, mind you) nobody was laughing when he rode into to town, especially not the bad guys. As this book amply illustrates, Reeves is remarkable not merely for being a black marshal (there were others) but for being one of the greatest U.S. Marshals, period. But Reeves¿ story - with the exception of references published here and there - has been largely ignored by western historians. Though widely known and respected during his lifetime, he was illiterate and left behind no diaries or letters, so what little has come down has been in the form of oral history and legends. Art T. Burton has spent the better part of 20 years reclaiming the heritage of African Americans in the American West, and has scoured through a wide range of primary sources - including Reeves¿ federal criminal court cases available in the National Archives, and account books at Fort Smith Historic Site - to separate legend from fact and painstakingly piece together the story of this American hero. The book is not a biography in the traditional sense, but as the subtitle states, a reader. It reproduces many of the court documents and contemporary newspaper articles with just enough narrative to put them into context. Not being a Wild West buff myself, I felt the author did an excellent job providing background to help me make sense of it all. As the author recounts, one of the first responses he received from a local town historical society in Oklahoma when inquiring about Reeves was ¿I am sorry, we didn¿t keep black people¿s history.¿ This book is the perfect example of the wealth of information which can be gleaned by a creative, dedicated historian who looks beyond the usual sources in order to root out the hidden history of multicultural America. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Western history and culture, law enforcement, American or African American Studies. And I hope this book inspires someone to finally bring the life and times of Bass Reeves to the big screen.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Professor Burton's book about Bass Reeves combines thorough, meticulous scholarship on the details of Reeves' long career as a lawman with a most impressive general knowledge of the times in which he lived. The result is a biography unlikely to be surpassed. A question that has long interested me, and is asked by this book, concerns the criteria of historical remembrance. Why, for example, is Wyatt Earp (to pick just one example) remembered and even celebrated to this day, when--at the very least--equally deserving historical figures, such as Reeves, languish in relative obscurity? Were history fair (and of course it is not) the reverse should be the case, as by any objective measure Reeves was the superior lawman. One is cynically tempted to conclude that too often subsequent historical recognition is far more a result of puffery than of merit. Burton does an admirable job of reconstructing what can now be known about Reeves' remarkable life, and adeptly separates myth from fact along the way. This was a difficult task, as Reeves was illiterate, meaning that the record of his life is only indirectly available primarily through court transcripts, oral histories by others, and sketchy accounts in contemporary newspapers not often disposed to celebrate the accomplishment of a black man. In addition, Burton is able to present new and significant information. I, for one, had not known that, toward the end of his career, Reeves was prominently involved in a spectacular shootout (every bit as dramatic as the OK Corral) in Muskogee with a deadly gang of religious fanatics. Until now, lawman Bud Ledbetter (the 'Fourth Guardsman') got most of the credit for confronting these dangerous criminals. Professor Burton notes that he's been working on this project, intermittently, for some twenty years--the result is worth the wait.
tjohn33791 More than 1 year ago
A story of the old west every history buff should know.
Roger34 More than 1 year ago
This book is for those with serious interest in the American West. It is notable both for the overlooked contributions of black Americans on the frontier and for the real danger and violence that existed in the Territories before statehood. It is hard to imagine that US Marshall's rode into the open west with one deputy to round up dozens of wanted men, but Bass Reeves did so frequently. It is also instructive about the conditions in late 1800's Oklahoma.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Busily creates her new nest.It is made out of moss and leaves.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
SILVERCLAN
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*makes a nest*
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If there is history here worth mentioning I fail to see it. It is to bad the history of a black person, negro, afro american people of colour was not taken as seriously as it should have been. This is nothing but a bunch of heresay and court records thrown together and call a book/novel. A little more peronnel history aboiut the man Bass Reeves and his family is warranted. We should all know that crime in the I. T. of Oklahoma was mean and sometimes vicious. It is also known most of the trouble there was caused by persons on both sides of the badge.