Tales from The b.a.SKET: Black Art Sketches for the Contemporary Art Lover
By D. Amari Jackson
This week, we reach into the b.a.SKET and pull out the historic era of the Black cowboy…
Cowboys were known to tell their tales.
Some of these were true.
Case in point. In the 1870s, a striking, six-foot-two U.S. Deputy Marshal perused the Western frontier on a large white stallion dressed to the nines with a large hat, impeccably shined boots, and a pair of Colt pistols straddling each hip. Though known for his calm, upright and courteous disposition, he was also widely recognized for his courage, his resourcefulness, his relentless pursuit of outlaws, and his marksmanship, being ambidextrous with a legendary fast draw.
His name was Bass Reeves. Born into slavery in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas, Reeves was also known to employ an array of disguises and aliases while hunting criminals. In one scenario near the Texas border, the pioneering Black deputy tracked two armed and dangerous outlaws to their mother’s house before Reeves assumed a disheveled appearance with a cane and a large hat bearing three bullet holes. He told the woman who came to the door that he was a persecuted outlaw in need of food and rest. Upon gaining her confidence, the woman subsequently introduced Reeves to her sons and the three agreed to work together on a planned crime spree.
That night, as Reeves stayed over, he waited until the drunk men were sound asleep before softly handcuffing them without waking them. Early the next morning, he marched the outlaws 28 miles to the camp where his posse waited. Days later, Reeves turned the men over to the appropriate authorities and collected a $5000 reward without a shot fired.
That said, Reeves never hesitated to pull the trigger. A highlight of Reeves’ career was the capture of infamous outlaw, Bob Dozier, whose crimes ranged from bank robbery to murder and had eluded lawmen for years. After several months, Reeves caught up with Dozier in Cherokee territory and killed him in a shootout on December 20, 1878.
Reeves unparalleled, real-life career in the law became the stuff of legend. Many have identified Reeves as the basis of the popular radio and television series, The Lone Ranger, particularly given the similar abilities and habits of the two. The Oklahoma City Weekly Times-Journal once wrote: “Reeves was never known to show the slightest excitement, under any circumstance. He does not know what fear is.”
With, The Deputy, Texas-based artist, Burl Washington, recalls an era where Black cowboys roamed the American frontier herding cattle, patronizing saloons, gambling, shooting, roping, and even enforcing the law.
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Amari Jackson is a creator, author, TV/web/film producer, and award-winning journalist. He is author of the 2011 novel, The Savion Sequence; creator/writer/coproducer of the 2012-2014 web series The Book Look; writer/coproducer of the 2016 film Edge of the Pier; and current writer/coproducer of Listen Up! on HBCU GO/Roku TV. He is a former Chief of Staff for a NJ State Senator; a former VP of Communications & Development for the Jamestown Project at Harvard University; and a recipient of several writing fellowships including the George Washington Williams Fellowship from the Independent Press Association. An active ghost writer, song writer, martial artist, and journalist, his writings have appeared in a wide variety of national and regional publications.
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