“Bass shook his head. He hated bloodshed, but Webb might need killing.” OH SNAP.
The story starts in medias res with an action-packed showdown shootout! Reeves has the tough job of being a lawman in Indian Territory. Though Natives were forcibly moved to Indian Territory to live, Whites squatted there illegally. The Territory was ripe with outlaws, gamblers and dangerous people. Reeves was the perfect man to uphold the law; in addition to being clever, well respected and honest, he was a crack shot, tall, broad and strong. He grew up a slave in Texas but escaped after an altercation with his master to Indian Territory. There he lived with tribes and learned their ways and languages until the Civil War when he became free.
Reeves married, had kids and was hired on to be a Deputy Marshal for Indian Territory. Though he couldn’t read, he had an excellent memory and was known for his disguises and clever schemes to track down outlaws. Being a church-going man, he also tried to talk sense into the criminals. Though he was generally respected, he was still a black man with power and many whites weren’t keen on that. When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, Reeves lost his job as Deputy Marshal but became a part of the Muskogee police force. In his entire career, he only killed fourteen men in the line of duty!!!
One issue I have with this book is the way in which the author addresses the murder of Reeves’ daughter in law. Reeves’ son Benjamin murdered his own wife because she was “untrue” and though sentenced to life, he only had to serve ten years because he was a “model prisoner.” Micheaux Nelson simply retells historical events (focuses on how tough this is for Reeves) but Reeves’ daughter in law has no agency in this story. She’s the victim of horrific violence yet we never learn her name, we don’t see her in the illustrations and there’s no mention of her in the material at the end of the book. This is unfortunate and I hope readers use it as an opportunity for discussion and to learn more about her. [After about 20 minutes of searching the internet, I found two sources that list her name, Cassie Reeves. Here and here on pg. 39.]
R. Gregory Christie’s illustrations bring Reeves and the unpredictability of the Wild West to life. He’s a great illustrator. Micheaux Nelson and Christie also collaborated on the excellent book, The Book Itch. In this book, Christie’s color palette is full of sandy browns, rich greens and dark colors. The first page with outlaw Jim Webb bursting through a window (shards of glass flying) to escape from Reeves on horseback is my favorite.
Be sure to check out Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal. He isn’t as well known as he should be and this picture book is an excellent introduction to his remarkable life.
P.S. HBO is making a mini-series about Bass Reeves. Click here for more information.
Recommended for: 3rd-4th grade and up
Great for: Western, Indian Territory, Native Americans, Oklahoma Tribes, Squatters, Fairness, Law Enforcement, Relationships, Family, Law, Discussion, Deputy U.S. Marshal, Outlaws, African-American, Slavery, Injustice, Respect, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books, Non-fiction, Biography
Book Info: Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, 2009 Carolrhoda Books (Lerner Publishing Group, Inc.), ISBN: 9780822567646