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The Raising of Bass Reeves: Forgotten Territory Lawman Becoming Famous Once Again

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MUSKOGEE, OKLAHOMA -- To separate fact from legend researchers often have to re-trace a man's steps.

That's why Oscar Ray and Roger Bell have walked this section of 2nd Street in Muskogee before.

Oscar, as the man pretending to be Bass Reeves.

"He was a unique man in a challenging time," he says.

Roger Bell as the man who's studied his exploits for the better part of 20 years.

"Bass hasn't been well-known at all nationally," he argues.

During the last two years of his long career as a lawman Reeves walked a beat here, cane in one hand, gun in the other, for the Muskogee Police Department.

Such was his level of respect that no crime was ever recorded on his watch.

Ray explains, "He was so well-known, so feared."

Born a slave, Bass Reeves escaped his Confederate officer master during the Civil War.

He hid out for a while in Seminole and Choctaw lands emerging a free man to marry, raise a family and farm.

It was Judge Parker's chief deputy who recruited Reeves to be a U.S. Marshal.

Bass knew five Native American languages, and was deadly with both rifle and revolver.

Bell says, "Whenever there was something that needed to be done Reeves was usually the one they called to go and do his stuff."

He worked for the U.S. Marshal Service for 32 years amassing some 3,000 arrests.

Reeves was forced to kill at least 14 times in the course of his duties.

Though illiterate, he could track, he could shoot, and his devotion to duty was legendary.

"When he died here in Muskogee," says Bell, "It's amazing to see how many different people came to the funeral from all walks of life."

It's been a few years since historians began to uncover the exploits often 'whitewashed' or just forgotten.

The old Fort Smith court-house has a statue nearby of Reeves mounted on his horse.

The City of Muskogee and its 3 Rivers Museum offer books and walking tours that tell more of his story.

On a day when people talk about the content of character trumping the color of skin one man's character stands tall where it belongs, towering over the Territories he once rode.

For more information about Bass Reeves in Muskogee go to http://www.3riversmuseum.org

You can also find out more at http://www.okhistory.org