The 2012 film Django Unchained featured an ensemble of A-listers, including Jamie Foxx (Django Freeman), 

Leonardo DiCaprio (“Monsieur” Calvin J. Candie), Kerry Washington (Broomhilda “Hildi” von Shaft), Christoph Waltz (Dr. King Schultz), and Samuel L. Jackson (Stephen Warren).

It tells the story of Django, a freed slave who turned into a bounty hunter partner.

At the time of film release, Tarantino already has been a seasoned director known for taking inspiration from other movies and real-life events, versatile mastery, and excessive dose of violent scenes.

Django Unchained was Tarantino’s first attempt at exploring the revisionist western genre. Some have questioned whether the director created it based on a true story.

There was a Django character before portrayed by Franco Nero in the 1966 film Django. Tarantino also used the term “Mandingo” as a reference to the 1975 film.

Few sources claim that Bass Reeves inspired Django, the legendary Deputy U.S. Marshal believed to be the real Lone Ranger.

Throughout Reeves’ career, he killed 14 outlaws and arrested thousands of them. Django or not, Reeves’ story and legend are worth retelling many times over.

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10 /10 Born Slave

Before Bass Reeves became a Deputy U.S. Marshal, he was a farmer in Van Buren, Arkansas. Way back in his childhood, he was a slave.

Bass was born a slave in Arkansas, but he grew up in Texas, specifically in the Lamar and Grayson counties.

His master was Colonel George R. Reeves, who would be later become Texas Speaker of the House in 1881.

Bass made a run for his freedom in his youth, escaping to Indian Territory where he familiarized himself with Seminole, Cherokee, and Creek. During Civil War, he served with the Union Indian Home Guard Regiments.

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9 /10 A Prolific Scout

When he was not working on his farm in Van Buren, Bass earned a lot of money from his job as a guide for deputy U.S. Marshals who had to venture deep into the Indian Territory.

He knew the Territory well from his time as a fugitive slave before the Civil War. He once boasted of having known the area just like a cook in the kitchen.

Even if being a farmer didn’t bring a fortune, his occasional work as a scout and tracker for peace officers earned him a relatively comfortable life.

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8 /10 A Tracker Turned Deputy Marshal

Judge Isaac C. Parker was put in charge of Fort Smith in 1875. Knowing Bass’s ability as a tracker, familiarity with the Territory, and previous good scouting works with peace officers, the judge commissioned him as a Deputy U.S. Marshal – and the legend began.

The jurisdiction covered more than 75,000 square miles back then. Each time he executed an arrest warrant, Bass took a guard who also served as a cook and a posse.

In 1897, Deputy Reeves transferred to the Indian Territory of Wetumka, then a year later to Muskogee.


7 /10 Early Successful African American Lawman

By November 1901, the Chickasaw Enterprise reported that Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves had already arrested more than two thousand men and women for violating federal laws in his jurisdiction.

Bass is believed to be one of the earliest (if not the earliest) African Americans in the west of Mississippi River to be commissioned as a deputy U.S. marshal.

He worked as a law officer in the Indian Territory for 32 years until Oklahoma statehood in 1907. Also, he was the only deputy in Parker’s court.

Sheriff of Muskogee County Bud Ledbetter once said that Bass Reeves never quailed in duties.

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6 /10 An Imposing Deputy

Standing at 6’2″ and weighing 180 pounds, Deputy Marshal Reeves was taller than most men in the era.

He rode like a big red stallion and carried two Colt revolvers on his belt. A Winchester rifle was in a sheath right by his side.

A clean-shaven face was underneath the black hat, save for the bristly mustache as thick as chimney brush.

On the left side of his vest, just above the heart, was a silver star with “United States Marshal” carved on it. His stature, the Colts, the Winchester, and the badge gave him no reason to quail.


5 /10 Excellent Marksman

The revolvers and rifle were not just for show either. Newspapers spread the word that Deputy Reeves had killed 14 outlaws throughout his career.

His works and reputation as a peace officer made frequent stories in territorial newspapers.

In November 1909, the Muskogee Times-Democrat wrote that in the early days when the Indian Territory was overridden with outlaws, Deputy Reeves would often single-handedly capture bands of men from petty criminals to seasoned murderers.

The deputy was paid thousands of dollars in a single trip to search and arrest a fugitive for his service.

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4 /10 Historical Deputy

Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves died on January 12, 1910. By the time of his passing, he had already carved his name into the history of Eastern Oklahoma.

On the day after he died, the Muskogee Phoenix newspaper reminded everyone of his role in keeping the peace in the Territory.

The name Bass Reeves belonged among front ranks who took part in the battle against outlaws in the old Indian Territory.

No story about law enforcement in the region would ever be complete without any mention of the name.

3 /10 The Hunt For Jim Webb

Among the most famous tales of Bass Reeves was his hunt for Jim Webb, a fugitive of the law wanted for the murder of 11 people.

In 1883, the deputy already had apprehended the culprit in the Chickasaw Nation. Webb was jailed, awaiting trial for killing a reverend named William Steward.

He posted bail then failed to appear in court as scheduled, so Deputy Reeves was again tasked to execute the arrest warrant. Long story short, Webb surrendered in 1884 after a shootout.

Webb’s dying wish was for Deputy Reeves to shoot him using his gun.

2 /10 Arresting His Own Son

Some exaggerations of his story most likely came long after his death.

For example, some criminals chose to turn themselves in when they heard Deputy Reeves was assigned to execute their arrest warrants or that the deputy hunted them in nightmares.

But the story was not always pretty. Among all the outlaws he arrested, his son Benjamin Reeves, charged with killing his wife.

Other deputies could have taken the responsibility, but he insisted on taking on the assignment himself. The son was eventually convicted.


1 /10 American Folk Hero

For much of the last century, the Deputy U.S. Marshal’s legend has been almost forgotten, if not for the people of Muskogee, Oklahoma, who held the Bass Reeves Western History Conference each year.

Thankfully, his tales have been retold (although in many different versions) in popular media, for example, in the HBO series Watchmen and possibly Django Unchained.

More people than ever have now started to believe that Bass Reeves was the real Lone Ranger too. Nobody alive knows where the deputy was buried, but certainly, there are plenty of other ways to honor his legacy.

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