Cover image for The legend of Bass Reeves : being the true and fictional account of the most valiant marshal in the West
The legend of Bass Reeves : being the true and fictional account of the most valiant marshal in the West
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Wendy Lamb Books, c2006.
Physical Description:
xiii, 137 p. : map ; 22 cm.
Reading Level:
950 L Lexile
Personal Subject:
An account of the life of Bass Reeves.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available

On Order



Born into slavery, Bass Reeves became the most successful US Marshal of the Wild West. Many "heroic lawmen" of the Wild West, familiar to us through television and film, were actually violent scoundrels and outlaws themselves. But of all the sheriffs of the frontier, one man stands out as a true hero: Bass Reeves. He was the most successful Federal Marshal in the US in his day. True to the mythical code of the West, he never drew his gun first. He brought hundreds of fugitives to justice, was shot at countless times, and never hit. Bass Reeves was a black man, 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 became a legend. From the Hardcover edition.

Author Notes

Gary Paulsen was born on May 17, 1939 in Minnesota. He was working as a satellite technician for an aerospace firm in California when he realized he wanted to be a writer. He left his job and spent the next year in Hollywood as a magazine proofreader. His first book, Special War, was published in 1966. He has written more than 175 books for young adults including Brian's Winter, Winterkill, Harris and Me, Woodsong, Winterdance, The Transall Saga, Soldier's Heart, This Side of Wild, and Guts: The True Stories Behind Hatchet and the Brian Books. Hatchet, Dogsong, and The Winter Room are Newbery Honor Books. He was the recipient of the 1997 Margaret A. Edwards Award for his lifetime achievement in writing for young adults.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Horn Book Review

Paulsen constructs a coming-of-age narrative for Bass Reeves, an African American federal marshal who served in the Indian Territory in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The Hatchet-like survival story of the young runaway slave is exciting and always plausible; Paulsen also (although without sources) disperses what is known about Reeves's own story throughout the novel. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

Gr. 5-8. Aptly subtitled Being the true and fictional account of the most valiant Marshal in the West, this engrossingly told tale fills in the unrecorded youth of an unjustly obscure historical figure who was born a slave, became a successful rancher, then later in his long life went on to play an integral role in taming the rough-hewn Oklahoma Territory. After opening with clear-eyed looks at what Wild Bill Hickock, Wyatt Earp, and other western legends were really like, Paulsen portrays Reeves as a truer hero, formed into a tough, wily survivor with an unshakable sense of duty by experiences as a child on an isolated Texas ranch and later, as an escaped slave, among residents in the Indian Territory. Closing with reconstructed versions of some of Reeves' astonishing exploits as a lawman, the author makes his case convincingly while dishing up a stirring tale of adventure. --GraceAnne DeCandido Copyright 2006 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

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) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.



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: Being the True and Fictional Account of the Most Valiant Marshal in the West by Gary Paulsen All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.