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The Legend of Bass Reeves

The Legend of Bass Reeves

4.2 6
by Gary Paulsen

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Cowboy stories and movies about the Wild West are full of amazing characters. Yet many of the lawmen we think of as heroes were anything but — some were violent scoundrels and outlaws themselves.

Among all the lawmen of the frontier, one man stands out as a true hero: Bass Reeves.

In his day, Bass Reeves was the most successful federal marshal in the


Cowboy stories and movies about the Wild West are full of amazing characters. Yet many of the lawmen we think of as heroes were anything but — some were violent scoundrels and outlaws themselves.

Among all the lawmen of the frontier, one man stands out as a true hero: Bass Reeves.

In his day, Bass Reeves was the most successful federal marshal in the United States. True to the mythical code of the West, he never drew his gun first. He rounded up hundreds of outlaws and was shot at countless times but was never hit.

Bass Reeves was born into slavery. And though the laws of his country enslaved him and his mother, when he became a free man he served the law with such courage and honor that he was known and respected all over the Indian Territory.

Gary Paulsen’s dramatic account of the life of Bass Reeves, through stories both real and imagined, makes him come alive as a boy and a man. Listeners will truly understand why he became a legend.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In a foreword to this compelling fictionalized biography (appropriately subtitled, "Being the True and Fictional Account of the Most Valiant Marshal in the West"), Paulsen debunks the myths surrounding some of the Wild West's most celebrated figures. ("All in all, poor stock to consider when looking for role models from our frontier," he writes). As a dramatic alternative, he introduces Bass Reeves as "a man who truly qualified as legendary and heroic," a claim that Paulsen's tale easily supports. The young slave of a drunken rancher, Bass runs away after an altercation with his master (whom he calls "the mister") the man was cheating in a poker game against Reeves in which the captive's freedom were the stakes. Paulsen's lilting prose weaves in colorful details (e.g., a "Jesus stick," two sharpened sticks fashioned into a cross, used to kill rabbits or hens) and historic events, such as the Alamo and the establishment of the Indian Territory. The chapters covering Bass's time among the Creek Indians moves almost too swiftly, but set the stage for the man's later work. (After the Emancipation Proclamation, Bass becomes a successful cattle rancher and, at 51, is appointed a deputy federal marshal, charged with "clean[ing] up" the Indian Territory.) Frequently confronting racial prejudice, Bass nonetheless never draws his gun first, killing only 14 outlaws. Effectively conveying Reeve's thoughts and emotions, the author shapes an articulate, well-deserved tribute to this unsung hero. Ages 10-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature - Kathleen Isaacs
The skills of horseback riding and reading the land Bass Reeves learned first as a slave and then as a fugitive in Indian Territory served him well later in life when he became the first black commissioned deputy federal marshal west of the Mississippi, tracking, capturing and sometimes killing outlaws, working on his own in the lawless Wild West. This appealing fictional biography has a curious construction: three factual sections are interspersed among nine imagined chapters presenting his life chronologically from childhood to old age. The narrative is lively and suspenseful, good material for reading aloud and book bait for the reluctant reader. The factual sections are relatively short and provide necessary historical background. Paulsen offers no sources for his information, explaining that there is little hard evidence except newspaper records of Reeve's work, but much of it seems to be based on material readily available on line; Paulsen's own extensive outdoor experiences provide vivid detail. In a forward, he introduces other legendary men of the West as considerably less heroic than their reputations might suggest but calls Reeves "the most successful federal marshal in the history of the United States" [xi]. Children's books about African-American cowboys are in short supply; to have one written by a master craftsman with such sympathy for both the African-Americans and Native Americans in that environment is doubly welcome.
Bass Reeves was a real-life African American marshal in the American West, a man known for bringing in the bad guys, including his own son. Little is known of how Reeves made his way from slavery into the annals of the Wild West, and so Paulsen creates for him a back-story of growing up on a ranch near Paris, Texas with his mother. They are slaves owned by a hard-drinking ranch owner at a time when the Alamo was attacked and the Comanche were raiding isolated ranches. Bass learns to use a gun to protect the ranch and learns to play cards to entertain his master. When his master tries to cheat him, he fights him and then must run for his life. He is free, with all the responsibility of finding food and shelter that freedom entails. The land Bass Reeves enters in 1840 is Indian Territory, wild and lawless. Here, in what is now Oklahoma, he develops a relationship with an Indian family and begins his work in law enforcement. His is a fascinating story of what it took to survive in the American West. The violence is graphic, but even so this book will certainly work its way into school classrooms. Especially useful for teachers will be the introduction to the novel and the discussion of truth and legend that Paulsen presents there. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2006, Random House, Wendy Lamb, 160p., and Ages 12 to 18.
—Janis Flint-Ferguson
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up-Drawing on newspaper accounts and his own fertile imagination, Paulsen tells Reeves's story. Brief sections give the known facts of this hero's life, set in historical context, and longer, narrative sections (the longest being about his boyhood) fill out the details. The result is a compelling tale of the runaway slave who lived as a fugitive among the Creek Indians for 22 years, until the Emancipation Proclamation freed him to become a cattle rancher in Arkansas and, finally, a federal marshal appointed to help bring order to the Indian Territory. Bring order he did, with thousands of arrests and 14 gunfights to his credit. Paulsen doesn't romanticize the Wild West or flinch from descriptions of the lawlessness (including murder and prostitution) that was rampant in the Territory, but this dark backdrop only serves to illuminate Reeves's heroism. The protagonist is a fully fleshed-out character whose story is made all the more satisfying by the truth behind it.-Laurie Slagenwhite, Baldwin Public Library, Birmingham, MI Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Paulsen takes the few facts known about this remarkable man and shapes them into a compelling, even elegant narrative-brief sections of historical fact between longer, fictionalized tales of the boy Bass Reeves was and the man he became. He begins by debunking the so-called "heroes" Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid and Wild Bill Hickok, among others, who were disreputable at best and wicked at worst. He spins out Bass's story: a boy born a slave, kept with his mother and owned by a gambler and a drunkard. He lets readers see how Bass learns the land, and how to hunt and care for himself and his animals. He shows why Bass had to run-hiding in the Indian Territory, leaving his mother behind-and live with the Creek for 22 years. At age 51, honorable and successful, he became a marshal, bringing in hundreds of criminals and never drawing his gun first. Paulsen's telling is rich in both vivid and gory historical detail, from scalping, branding and burying to hunting, butchering and animal care. Completely captivating-begs to be made into a movie. (Historical fiction/nonfiction. 10-14)
From the Publisher
“Paulsen’s telling is rich in both vivid and gory historical detail, from scalping, branding and burying to hunting, butchering and animal care. Completely captivating–begs to be made into a movie.”–Kirkus Reviews, Starred

“A stirring tale of adventure.”–Booklist, Starred

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.06(w) x 8.47(h) x 0.65(d)
950L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Legend of Bass Reeves

By Gary Paulsen

Random House

Gary Paulsen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0385908989

Chapter One

Spring 1834

The Witch Dog

The boy lay under a mesquite bush to get shade from the Texas sun and watched the cow intently.

She was a longhorn with horns a full five feet across. He'd seen horns that size cut men and kill horses, so he waited. She was about to go into labor, what he called getting calf sick, and when she was actually having the calf she couldn't attack him. Then he would run up, drop a noose around her head and dance back before one of those horns could catch him. The rope was twenty feet long and tied to a four-foot piece of log about five inches in diameter. When the cow tried to run, the log would tangle in the mesquite and rocks and stop her so she could be captured, branded and added to the mister's herd to sell and make him rich.

The cow moved and he studied her with a knowing eye. She was huge for a cow, with flat sides and many scars from running through brush and fighting other cows.

It would be another half hour, at least, before labor. She wasn't even hunched yet.

"You take the rope and the log," the mister had told him. The boy never thought of him as the master, though legally he was, like all white men who owned slaves. The boy's mammy had told him: "Your name is Bass, and ain't no man your master. Not now. Not ever. We got to do what we got to do'cause of the white man's law. But that don't make no man your master in God's eyes."

Bass studied the horns. They came around so fast, and sharp, sometimes you almost couldn't see them move. Once he moved in too close on an old brindle cow and just the tip of a horn caught his trousers. Cut them open like a knife.

"Zzzzzttt!" The cloth almost sang. They were no-'count pants anyway, handed down from the mister, all patches and held up with a piece of tow over his shoulder. He knew his mammy would sew them up, but he didn't like the feel of the horn swinging by that close.

Another inch and I'd have been looking at my guts, he thought, squinting in the sun. Pulled out on a horn like wet rope. He'd seen cow and pig guts when they slaughtered, horse guts once when a bull hooked a mare that wasn't paying attention. He did not want to see his own.

Now he heard movement in the mesquite off to the right and waited. Might be the mister sneaking to see if he was working. Make sure he was doing.

No need at all, he thought. I work all the time. Not for the mister. I work because it makes the time pass.

It was two coyotes, low on their bellies. They knew there would soon be afterbirth for them to eat.

Bass watched them. They did not know he was there, back in the shady hole where he'd had to scare out a rattlesnake. The snake had buzzed some and then left when he pushed it with a stick. He didn't like snakes. He wasn't afraid of them-how could you be scared of something that couldn't crawl faster than a slow walk?-but they were always mad. Seems like they bit just to be mean. His mammy told him of one that crawled in a cradle and bit a baby and killed it. Why? Baby wasn't doing a thing. Sometimes Bass killed snakes, especially around the house where they could get a dog or cat or baby pig or a chicken. But when he was out in the mesquite or down at the creek bottom, he let them be. If, he thought, they let me be. He didn't like killing things without a good reason.

The mister, now, would take his percussion pistol and shoot anything. Lizards off a rock, songbirds off a rail. Or try to. Whenever he got hold of a whiskey jug, he couldn't hit the ground, let alone a bird on a fence.

Now, it was something, how the coyotes knew when a cow was ready. Maybe the smell, Bass thought, or they might be witch dogs. His mammy told him that, back in New Orleans where she was from, there were witch dogs that could tell you things if you knew how to understand them. She didn't know how to talk to the dogs but her mammy could do it, could give a witch dog molasses, and when it wrinkled its lips to lick the molasses off its tongue, she could tell if someone was going to die or when they would have a baby, and was it a boy or a girl.

"Mammy said the power skips," Bass's mammy told him. "Didn't come to me, but maybe to you, to read the witch dogs. Mostly women have it, but I didn't have a girl and won't be no more chirrun. So if it happens, it will have to be you."

Bass was seven when his mammy told him that, better than three years ago come fall. He had lifted a jug of blackstrap molasses from the pump house and tried it on one of the mister's old tick hounds. He tried it so often the dog took a liking to it and followed him around all day, waiting to have his tongue wiped with molasses.

Problem was, Bass remembered now as he watched the coyotes move toward the cow, problem was it gave the hound the black skoots. Dog messed the yard and the pump house and all over the porch, and Bass had to quit because the mister said he was going to shoot the hound if he didn't stop messing.

Bass never learned anything from the hound but that it liked molasses and had a straight pipe for a gut. It was a good dog and Bass felt bad when one day a snake cooling itself by the pump house bit it between the eyes. Killed that hound. After that, whenever Bass saw a snake in the yard, he would get a hoe and chop it and feed it to the pigs.

There. The cow hunched. Her labor was starting. Bass gathered the rope and the log. The coyotes saw him and one looked straight into Bass's eyes and moved its lips.

At first he couldn't believe what he saw. The coyotes were thirty-five yards away, just past the head of the cow, but when Bass shook his head, the coyote was still looking at him, straight up into his eyes. And the animal's lips moved.

Things will change.

Bass wasn't sure if he heard it or felt it like a touch on his skin, but the phrase was there. In his head. As clear as if somebody had said it aloud. And it came from the coyote.

Things will change.

"What will change?"

He said it so loud that the coyotes both jumped and the cow started and turned to see him for the first time, though she didn't move, couldn't move now that her labor had begun.

The coyotes didn't answer him, either aloud or in his head, but they didn't run. Instead they stood, one looking at the cow, the other staring directly at Bass.

"Are you a witch dog?" Bass said.

Excerpted from The Legend of Bass Reeves by Gary Paulsen Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Gary Paulsen is the distinguished author of many critically acclaimed books for young people, His most recent books are Brian's Hunt, The Quilt, Molly McGinty Has a Really Good Day, and The Time Hackers. The author lives in New Mexico and the Pacific Ocean.

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Legend of Bass Reeves 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A young boy named Bass lived in Southern United States, he was born into slavery. As he grew older Bass became a slave. Bass lived with two other people, his mammy and a guy named Flowers. When bass about to get set free by his master he had to run because he hit his master in the face with a jug.[He and the master made a deal with cards, if Bass won the series then he and his Mammy would be set free but Bass's master was cheating and Bass caught him and started yelling at his master then Bass's master swung at Bass and he immediatly swung back with a jug in his hand]. Years went on without Bass seeing his Mammy or any one else. Bass was about in his mid twenties when some wolves were chasing a girl and he stopped to help. He eventually got help for the girl. At the same time Bass got help for the girl the girl got help for Bass until Abraham Lincoln singed the Emancipation Proclamation. A couple years later Bass went west until he reached Arkansas where he became famous. Bass became famous because a newspaper article told what happend when he slapped his master. There is where he became a legend. He started catching outlaws when the head marshal of Arkansas named Parker asked Bass to catch outlaws for him. While doing this Bass is about fifty years old. That is how Bass has lived the rest of his life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You really think shes gonna find out?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
No but you don't want to, and I respect that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This sucked
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago