Who Is Bass Reeves, the Star of the ‘1883’ Spinoff Show? Meet the Greatest Frontier Hero in American History

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The Yellowstone universe keeps expanding rapidly as more and more fans are getting enamored by the brilliant world that Taylor Sheridan is creating. The newest addition to the so-called Sheridanverse will be 1883: The Bass Reeves Story, the first Yellowstone universe series based on a real-life person. So, who is Bass Reeves, the star of the upcoming 1883 spinoff show?

Bass Reeves is often called the ‘greatest frontier hero in American history.’ He was the first Black Deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi river, who served in the Oklahoma and Arkansas territory in the mid-1800s and early 1900s. He caught over 3000 criminals in his career.

However, despite his incredible work, many people have never heard of Bass Reeves and his dedication to being an honorable police officer. He deserves more recognition, and I’m happy that Taylor Sheridan is giving us a window into the unforgiving period of American history he lived in and his life overall. Let’s meet the real Bass Reeves as we eagerly await the show.

Is Bass Reeves a real-life person?

Yellowstone, as well as all the spinoffs and prequel shows within that universe, are all fictional stories intertwined with historically precise depictions of the respectful eras in which each show takes place. That being said, they are still fictional. So, will 1883: The Bass Reeves Story be fictional as well, or is Bass Reeves actually a real-life person?

Bass Reeves was indeed a real-life person and a great historical figure in the history of the United States. 1883: The Bass Reeves Story will mark the first Yellowstone universe show that’ll be based on a real-life person and events.

Now, as it always tends to be with TV shows based on true stories, some parts will certainly be fictionalized for dramatic purposes, but the backbone of the show will be based on Bass Reeves’ real life and work. On that note, let’s dive into history and explain who this great frontier hero really was.

Who was Bass Reeves?

Bass Reeves was born in July 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas, where he was actually born into slavery. Reeves’ family named the boy after his grandfather, Bass Washington, and were enslaved by William Steele Reeves, the Arkansas state legislator at the time.

It’s uncertain why Bass moved to Grayson County, Texas, when he was just eight years old, but it’s most likely that he was still enslaved by the Reeves family. William Steele Reeves’ son, Colonel George R. Reeves, was a Texan sheriff and legislator, and after he joined the Confederate Army in the American Civil War, Bass was forced to join him. At one point, Bass managed to escape, but it can’t be claimed when and how with absolute historical certainty.


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There’s a story about George and Bass playing cards, and after a physical altercation, Bass beat George Reeves badly and then fled to the Indian Territory. He lived among the Cherokee and other Indian tribes and learned their languages and way of life before the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and made Bass a free man in 1865.

He then moved to Arkansas and became a farmer, founding a family in the process. In 1875, however, Isaac Parker was appointed as the federal judge for the Indian Territory. He hired James F. Fagan as the U.S. Marshal and instructed him to hire around two hundred deputies.

Fagan already had Bass Reeves in mind, knowing that he spent years living among the Native American tribes, speaking their languages, and being highly acquainted with the Indian Territory. That’s how Bass Reeves was hired as a deputy U.S. Marshal – the first African American deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi river.

Career on the frontier

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Image source: The Western History Collections at the University of Oklahoma Library

He served in the Western District of Arkansas until 1893, after which he was transferred to the Eastern District of Texas, specifically in Paris, Texas. A few years later, Reeves started serving at the Muskogee Federal Court in the Native Territory in Oklahoma.

Over his career, Reeves became not just a phenomenal marksman but also a great detective, having apprehended over 3000 felons, some of which were among the most wanted and most dangerous fugitives in the U.S. His only goal was finding justice – even if it was against his own flesh and blood.

Bass Reeves had to arrest his own son for the murder of his wife. Despite how hard it was on him personally, he insisted on being the one to catch Bennie, his son, and hold him accountable for his actions. Bennie was arrested and convicted and served his time at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

In 1907, Oklahoma became an official state, and Bass Reeves became an officer of the Muskogee Police Department. Shortly after, however, in 1909, Bass got sick and was forced to retire.


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It, unfortunately, didn’t take long for Bright’s disease to take his life, and Bass died on January 12, 1910, aged 71. His life’s work didn’t go unnoticed, as Reeves is believed to be the inspiration for the Lone Ranger. 

Also, in the past decade, there was a statue made in Fort Smith, Arkansas, depicting Bass Reeves on his horse, along with his faithful dog by their side. Additionally, in 2013, Bass Reeves was inducted into the Texas Trail of Fame. 

Reeves appeared as a character in many TV shows, and movies, including They Die by Dawn, The Harder They Fall, and now, of course, 1883: The Bass Reeves Story.

Who will portray Bass Reeves?

In the new Yellowstone universe series, 1883: The Bass Reeves Story, David Oyelowo will portray the titular hero, Bass Reeves. Oyelowo is a talented, Primetime Emmy award-nominated actor who has already expressed his gratitude and excitement for the opportunity to portray Bass Reeves on his social media:

“DAY ONE! My dream of playing this great man starts coming to fruition on this today. Thank you Lord.”

The post was made on January 17, 2023, marking the first day of filming the Taylor Sheridan-led TV series. That means we won’t have to wait long until the show actually premieres.

When is 1883: The Bess Reeves Story coming out?

As I’ve mentioned, the filming of 1883: The Bass Reeves Story began on January 17, 2023. However, it still wasn’t announced when exactly it’d be completed and arrive on our small screens. It’s believed that it’ll come by the end of this year, but what we know for certain is that it’ll be on Paramount Plus, much like the rest of Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone universe.

(Featured image source: https://texascooppower.com/bass-reeves-lawman-extraordinaire/)

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