"Wellsir, I's farmin' outside Van Buren, Arkansas with my wife, Nellie Jennie an' our ten kids…five boys an' five girls. I had been doin' some scoutin' an' trackin' fer Marshal Fagan in the Nations on account I'd lived with the Cherokee, Creeks an Siminoles durin' an' after Lincoln's war an' spoke they languages. Judge Isaac Parker in Fort Smith decided he wanted 'bout 200 marshals to patrol the Nations and Oklahoma Territory an' tol Marshal Fagan to offer me a commission."
What did being a Deputy Marshal in the Nations pay?
Bass chuckled. "Haw! We gots two dollars fer ever warrant we served an' ten cents a mile fer expenses. 'Course if'n we had to kill the felon, we had to pay fer the buryin', though. Sometimes go in the hole thataway, 'specially when the Marshal Service never got around to payin' our chits. The savin' grace was if'n they's any re-ward on the miscreants, we got it. Had to split it with our possemen, though, but that weren't no problem. Some of 'em had sizable re-wards on they dodgers."
About how many felony warrants did you serve?
"Near as I recollect, 'round 3000 or so in my 32 years of service. Most of 'em was sent to the Detroit Federal Correctional Institute in Michigan."
Did you have to kill any during the process?
"Fourteen of 'em chose to not accept the warrant an' I interduced 'em to their first day in Hell…Never kilt nobody what didn't need it."
Were you ever wounded?
"Gots my reins shot in two once, hat shot off several times and a button shot off'n my vest." Bass glanced around. "Did git shot in the thigh, jest a flesh wound, mind you, an' swore the doc to secrecy."
Why was that?
"It was all about reputation. The papers of the day called me "The Invincible Marshal". Hated to put 'ny taint on that on account they was several malefactors what turned theyselves in when they heard it was me what was a carryin' paper on 'em…includin' Myra Mabelle Shirley."
"Yessir, that's her. Tol' Marshal Bud Ledbetter in Muscogee she didn't want Bass Reeves on her tail…Haw! Saved me a lot a trouble sometimes."
I've heard that you can't read or write.
"Purty much. My massa, George Reeves, wouldn't allow 'ny of his slaves to learn to read er write."
How were you able to serve those 3000 warrants? Did you ever make a mistake?
"Never did…Figured it was 'bout like follerin' sign. Ever name looked different, see. I'd have somebody, Fagan er my partner Jack to read the warrants to me while I looked at the paper. Kindly had a knack of 'memberin' whatever I seen er heard an' them names was jest like a pitchur to me er a horse's hoof…they all different." Bass paused. "Used it to my advantage onct. Was servin' warrants on these three brothers, but they ambushed me on the road. They was standin' there in the trail with they shooters on me an' made me get off'n my horse an' tol' me to say my prayers. I steps down an' tol' 'em I couldn't read ner write an' eased a folded paper outta my pocket an' would one of 'em write the date on the paper. They asks what fer an' I tol' 'em I needed to put down what day I arrested 'em er kilt 'em…their choice. Wellsir, they goes to laughin' an' punchin' one another. Whilst they was doin' that, I draws one of my pistols an' shoots the oldest, slapped the next upside his head with my gun an' the youngest throwed up his hands a yellin', I give, I give."