In Hell on the Border, a B-movie western set in Arkansas, Bass Reeves saves the life of a judge, tracks down a dangerous outlaw, and is appointed deputy US marshal. So far, so familiar. What makes this interesting is that Reeves (1838-1910) was not just a real historical character, but the first black deputy west of the Mississippi River. And the film doesn’t tell the half of it. Reeves was a runaway slave who sought refuge in Native American territories, where he learned the Cherokee, Creek and Seminole languages. Later, as a marshal, he would sometimes wear disguises to sneak up on the white bandits who operated with impunity in the otherwise lawless region; this was when he wasn’t chasing them long-distance on horseback, using Native American tricks to keep his mounts fresher than those of the men he was pursuing. At his retirement in 1909, he claimed to have arrested more than 3,000 felons, never sustaining serious injury despite close calls in which his hat and belt were shot off. It’s a career that is crying out for the Hollywood treatment, the way the lives of Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok or Billy the Kid have been enshrined in… Read full this story
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