Black Gun, Silver Star

The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves

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Pub Date 01 Sep 2022 | Archive Date 31 Aug 2022

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In The Story of Oklahoma, Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves appears as the “most feared U.S. marshal in the Indian country.” That Reeves was also an African American who had spent his early life enslaved in Arkansas and Texas made his accomplishments all the more remarkable. Black Gun, Silver Star sifts through fact and legend to discover the truth about one of the most outstanding peace officers in late nineteenth-century America—and perhaps the greatest lawman of the Wild West era.

Bucking the odds (“I’m sorry, we didn’t keep Black people’s history,” a clerk at one of Oklahoma’s local historical societies answered one query), Art T. Burton traces Reeves from his days of slavery to his Civil War soldiering to his career as a deputy U.S. marshal out of Fort Smith, Arkansas, when he worked under “Hanging Judge” Isaac C. Parker. Fluent in Creek and other regional Native languages, physically powerful, skilled with firearms, and a master of disguise, Reeves was exceptionally adept at apprehending fugitives and outlaws and his exploits were legendary in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

In this new edition Burton traces Reeves’s presence in the national media of his day as well as his growing modern presence in popular media such as television, movies, comics, and video games.

In The Story of Oklahoma, Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves appears as the “most feared U.S. marshal in the Indian country.” That Reeves was also an African American who had spent his early life...

Advance Praise

"[Burton's] years of research resulted in a remarkable story of an Old West giant, one who arguably was the best in his business."—True West

"As Burton traces Reeves' exploits through oral accounts, records of court proceedings and scraps of correspondence, his fascination with the subject helps to maintain a vigorous pace and ultimately makes Black Gun, Silver Star an eye-opening study of justice and race in the Old West."—Nick Smith, The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC)

"This is a book that should become mandatory reading for any student of American Frontier history. Black Gun, Silver Star not only answers questions about Bass Reeves, the man, but it also provides insight into the incredible courage and extraordinary skill required in nineteenth-century law enforcement. Those with a passion for history, particularly of the nineteenth century, will find this biography of Reeves to be an essential book for their library."—Angela Y. Walton-Raji, author of Black Indian Genealogy Research

"Burton is a generous author who shares his thinking and analysis with the reader, and explains his personal fascination with the story of Bass Reeves. The result is a highly readable book with a tone that will appeal to several audiences."—Barbara C. Behan, Journal of African American History

"Art Burton has resurrected a heroic Black U. S. Deputy Marshal that thieves and outlaws in the Indian Territory could not kill but was practically eliminated by scholars of frontier history."—Bruce T. Fisher, Curator of African American History, Oklahoma Historical Society

"[Burton's] years of research resulted in a remarkable story of an Old West giant, one who arguably was the best in his business."—True West

"As Burton traces Reeves' exploits through oral accounts...

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ISBN 9781496233424
PRICE $22.95 (USD)

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Featured Reviews

I am an avid fan of the Wild West and anything to do with cowboys so when I heard about this book I was super excited to read it.

As a future history teacher, I love that the book shows a more diverse view of the West and just how important Bass Reeves was for this time period but overall I found the book hard to finish.

I felt that while it was easy to read, I did not latch onto it like I do other history books and especially other Western books such as Dan Clevy’s Tombstone. I felt like this was more of a textbook than a historical biography but I did learn a lot which is important for a book like this.

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A book on Bass Reeves has been a long time coming, and Art T. Burton is just the person for the job. Burton is a history professor and long-time author about African Americans in the American Old West, and he blends facts and stories together with an expert, confident prose. As the author himself mentions in the introduction, Reeves- one of the greatest American lawmen of all time- has not received the attention he deserves, largely because care of records for African Americans in the Wild West and beyond have not been properly taken care of. Burton, however, lighted on the idea of scouring court archives for cases that Reeves was involved in. This results in what can sometimes be a difficult read- you may find yourself bogged down in a case file being recounted and wonder where this is going. But that's because this book is not only one that sheds light on Bass Reeves, but on the law system in the West itself.

By the end, if you're like me, you will inevitably come out wanting simply more about Reeves- there are still holes and gaps in his life, even when he was involved in something sensational, that may never be filled. But this book is worth the effort you'll put into reading it, and if you persist you will come out understanding more about the American West beyond the films as well as an extraordinary character such as Bass Reeves.

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Incredible story about the MAN and not his skin color

Yes, the fact that he was black makes the story even more amazing but a good historical account of what one good man (person) can do if they truly have a desire to do good.

Kids should read this in the 7th grade to get a clue. You will enjoy!

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Fascinating account of Marshal Bass Reeves. I read this because of a Masterpiece Theater show I watched, in which Reeves was a character portrayed. I was intrigued to know about his life, and this book more than served that goal. Definitely a worthwhile read for fans of the 'Old West' and the role African Americans played in it.
Thanks to NetGalley and University of Nebraska Press for this ARC, which I voluntarily read and reviewed.

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This was a tough one to rate. While I found the topic intriguing, particularly since I recall hearing periodically of Bass Reeves' possible connection to the Lone Ranger, a favorite show of my horse loving childhood, it wasn't an easy read. The author is obviously a researcher and scholar and, as such, he provides us with a wealth of documentation and information as any research project should do. Unfortunately, research papers, which I believe this is/was, don't necessarily make for good reading. I'd find myself fascinated at one point, then not many pages afterward, I'd feel my eyes glazing over. Don't get me wrong, this isn't to slam the book. It's simply that it's far more research paper than the average, mildly interested reader can digest with the wealth of often contradictory information and detail. Thus, for the average reader, this one might be a 3 star at best. For those of a more research oriented mind, it might easily rate a 4+ rating. I've opted to rate for the average reader, however, so take all this into consideration when deciding whether to read or not.

As for the content, as noted, there is an abundance or documentation and information, all fact based and checked. Personal memories were probed and the stories of the real Bass Reeves were fascinating. Were they all true? Who knows? Sadly, for the simple fact that he was a black man, records on his history and exploits were scarce. Author Burton has done an admirable job pulling it all together in this well researched volume.

Whether Reeves was the inspiration for the Lone Ranger or not, his story is one that deserves to be told. Born into slavery, he escaped and became one of the West's best lawmen ever. Those who knew him personally claimed he outshone the likes of the legendary Wyatt Earp. He was conscientious. He even arrested his own son at one point. An excellent horseman, he was also said to be a dog-lover, a real plus to me. Some say he rode a white horse, or maybe gray, which, of course, calls to mind the TV Lone Ranger's Silver. Reeves was known to distribute silver dollars, however, not silver bullets. Hmm, another tie. I understand there are ongoing talks about a movie featuring Reeves, so will be intrigued to see if that happens and how the research within this book is utilized. The story of a respected and authoritarian black man in a decidedly white world is definitely one that deserves to be heard.

Thanks to #NetGalley and the #UniversityOfNebraskaPress - #BisonBooks for giving me the chance to delve into a childhood legend in depth.

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One of the most well known African American lawmen in the west, Bass Reeves has long been rumored to be the inspiration for the Lone Ranger and has currently started to gain interest in from popular culture with the announcement that the tv show Yellowstone is producing a spin off show of their spin off show about Bass Reeves. This book has never been more timely with the growing interest in Reeves.

Reeves himself was a former slave and lived to become the first black US Deputy Marshal west of the Mississippi. Arresting more than 3000 criminals and never bringing the wrong one in, He even arrested his own son when he broke the law, proving his integrity. Reeves was a man to be reckoned with and the appeal to learn more about him is understandable. That is unfortunately where the biggest problem with this book comes in. Author Art Burton has done an admirable job piecing together what he can about Reeves' life. You'd think with a career so noted and a track record so impeccable that there would be many fascinating stories about Reeves. Sadly you would be wrong since there are incredibly limited sources about the man and that is the problem the author seemed to run up against. Because of that almost every story he could find about Reeves was added to the text whether it was interesting or fit into the flow of the book or not. This made the text start to read rather like a laundry list than an exciting adventure. When it comes to actual research about the man, this would be an excellent reference source, which is why I rated it so high. When it comes to being a casual read this book unfortunately suffers from dryness related to a lack of source material to give the narrative a decent flow. Records about Reeves's exploits should have been as well chronicled as Wyatt Earp and a bevy of other western lawmen. Unfortunately because of his ethnicity the fascinating history of Bass Reeves has been lost to time, heartbreaking based off of the thinking that this man's life had to have been epic, just not chronicled.

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Black Gun, Silver Star tells the true story of Deputy US Marshal Bass Reeves, one of the few Black marshals in the wild West...or at least author Art T. Burton tries to tell the story. Unfortunately, few records exist, mainly because basically none were kept about Reeves except for the arrests he made. The book devolves into a sort of text book account of the arrests with some information from trials. I was really hoping for more of a biography of Reeves, but you can only work with what's available, and there just isn't enough available about Reeves to make compelling, full length book.

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