Is Lawmen: Bass Reeves based on a true story?

Jasmine Valentine
Bass and George in Lawmen: Bass ReevesParamount+

From Ray Donovan writer Chad Feehan comes a brand-new story set in the Wild West – but is Lawmen: Bass Reeves based on a true story?

Yellowstone might soon be drawing to a close, but the Sheridan-verse is far from done when it comes to expanding.

Starring David Oyelowo in the titular role – and as an executive producer – Lawmen: Bass Reeves originally started its life as a direct spin-off to Yellowstone, and a possible Season 2 for prequel series 1883.

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Though it’s since been confirmed that the show is a standalone series and has Sheridan as an executive producer rather than creator, is Lawmen: Bass Reeves based on a true story?

Is Lawmen: Bass Reeves based on a true story?

Yes – Lawmen: Bass Reeves is based on the real-life story of the infamous lawman of the same name.

The show’s official synopsis reads: “About the legendary lawman Bass Reeves, one of the greatest frontier heroes and one of the first Black deputy US marshals west of the Mississippi River in American history.”

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Born in July of 1938, the real Bass Reeves was born into slavery in Crawford County, Arkansas. Shortly after, he became enslaved to Captain George Reeves of Grayson County, Texas. Captain George served for the Confederacy when the Civil War broke out, leading Bass to be at the battle of Pea Bridge. Seeing an opportunity over a card game dispute, Bass physically turned on his captor and was able to flee to Indian Territory in Oklahoma.

From here, Bass learned the skills that would later serve for crafting his timeless legend. As well as his physical abilities, Bass eventually learned the Muscogee language fluently, with rumors surrounding his eventual serving in the Union Army. What is clear, however, is that Bass learned to use two pistols at once, with one in each hand.

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According to History.com, the legend reads as follows: “On a riverbank in Texas, a master of disguise waited patiently with his accomplice, hoping that his target, an infamous horse thief, would show himself on the trail. After four days, the hunch paid off, when the bandit unwittingly walked toward the man who haunted the outlaws of the Old West.

“Springing from the bushes, the cowboy confronted his mark with a warrant. As the desperado reached for his weapon in a last-ditch effort, the lawman shot him down before his gun could leave his side.”

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Lawmen: Bass Reeves – Life after Texas

David Oyelowo in Lawmen: Bass Reeves, 1883 Season 2Paramount+

Moving on from Texas after the war, Bass settled in Arkansas, along with his wife and children. He served as a scout and guide across the Indian Territory, where he was able to make a decent living. After hundreds of murders were committed on the land in 1875, Judge Isaac Parker of Fort Smith, Arkansas ordered around 200 deputies to patrol and control the Territory. With Bass’ weaponry skills having become known to many, he was an obvious choice for the role.

This is where the reality of Bass Reeves blurs into legend. It was said that there was once a $5,000 reward for the capture of two criminal brothers, leading Bass to disguise himself with a tattered hat and rickety cane, walking more than 20 miles to the house where he suspected the brothers were hiding. While the pair were sleeping, Bass pounced, cuffing them for their misdeeds. Even better — Bass drove the 20 miles back, leaving the two criminals to find their way on foot.

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It’s still speculation as to whether the lawman was actually the inspiration for The Lone Ranger – but based on the above, it’s pretty easy to see why he would be.

Lawmen: Bass Reeves streams on Paramount Plus from November 5. Check out our other coverage below:

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About The Author

Jasmine Valentine is a TV and Movies Writer at Dexerto. She's written for the likes of Total Film, The Daily Beast, and Radio Times. Jasmine loves anime, dystopian thrillers, and anything starring Tilda Swinton. You can email her here: jasmine.waters@dexerto.com.