Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Wild West: Marshals Bass Reeves and Grant Johnson

Born to slave parents in 1838 in Crawford County Arkansas, Bass Reeves would become the first black U.S. Deputy Marshal west of the Mississippi River and one of the greatest frontier heroes in United States history. 

Though Reeves could not read or write it did not curb his effectiveness in bringing back the criminals. Before he headed out, he would have someone read him the warrants and memorize which was which. When asked to produce the warrant, he never failed to pick out the correct one.

An imposing figure, always riding on a large white stallion, Reeves began to earn a reputation for his courage and success at bringing in or killing many desperadoes of the territory. Always wearing a large hat, Reeves was usually a spiffy dresser, with his boots polished to a gleaming shine. He was known for his politeness and courteous manner. However, when the purpose served him, he was a master of disguises and often utilized aliases. Sometimes appearing as a cowboy, farmer, gunslinger, or outlaw, himself, he always wore two Colt pistols, butt forward for a fast draw. Ambidextrous, he rarely missed his mark.

Another standout was Grant Johnson, who though largely forgotten today was a respected lawman in Indian Territory for more than two decades. The police work he performed with Reeves was quoted to me as being legend. In the analogy of the Lone Ranger, Johnson could have been Tonto.

Although Johnson was noted as being African American, he was also noted for having strong American Indian features. He was what some refer to as a “black Indian” or a mixed blood. He was in fact a Creek freedman. Indian freedmen were either former black slaves of Indians or descendants of Indian slaves of the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole). Johnson and other freedmen worked as lawmen in Indian Territory, tribal policemen or deputy U.S. marshals. Johnson clearly rates among the most important black lawmen in the history of Indian Territory. Some even felt he was superior to Bass Reeves.



  1. Nice post, great looking minis...and bases, thanks for this little travel in the Wild West!

  2. I am on a real 'Wild West' vibe at the moment thanks to playing 'Legends of the Old West' and found this post really interesting. Thanks for posting.