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The story of a U.S. deputy marshal’s most difficult arrest in 1902

Bass Reeves, a U.S. deputy marshal in the western district of Indian Territory, took a warrant to arrest his son after he shot and killed his wife

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Bass Reeves, an American hero.

Photo/Dan Marcou

In 1902, Bass Reeves was serving as a U.S. deputy marshal in the western district of Indian Territory. He was based out of Muskogee in Oklahoma Territory. In his lifetime, he had accomplished much more than can be expected of most men. He had freed himself from slavery, fought in the Civil War, became an expert marksman and tracker, and was fluent in the multiple Native American languages of the tribes that occupied what was known as the Indian Territory.

Reeves had also been appointed as a U.S. deputy marshal by Judge Isaac Parker – becoming his most trusted, valued and longest-serving deputy marshal by tracking down and bringing to justice thousands of dangerous murderers, robbers, rapists and thieves. During the carrying out of his duties, he had found it necessary to shoot 14 armed and dangerous men to death in pitched gun battles.

By the turn of the century, Reeves was a living, breathing legend. However, it would not be until 1902 that Reeves would be required to make the most emotionally difficult arrest any law enforcement officer could make.

Cassie’s murder

By 1902, Reeves’ son, Bennie, had established himself as the hard-working husband of Cassie Reeves. He was devoted to his wife’s need for comfort and worked multiple jobs to achieve those ends. His work ethic kept him away from home a great deal and, in his absence, Cassie took a lover.

On one occasion, Bennie came home unexpectedly and interrupted an illicit affair in progress. He showed great restraint during this shocking discovery after which he even forgave his wife. In this incident’s aftermath, Bennie ventured to make every effort to be more attentive to his wife than he was to his work, hoping he could save his faltering marriage.

As time passed, according to a family member’s retelling, Bennie came to doubt his wife’s fidelity once again. He would later describe the climactic moment of this marriage as follows:

“On the morning of June 7, 1902, at 11 a.m., I called upon my wife at her cousin’s home in Muskogee and asked her if it was true that she was having or did have improper relations with John Wadly. She answered me that she thought more of his little finger than she did of my whole body. By constant worry over her actions and the breaking up of my home, and receiving such an answer, I lost all control.”

Taking a step back a bit, to all on scene that day at Cassie’s cousin’s home, when Bennie first arrived, he appeared calm, showing no evidence of what was about to transpire. The two met and appeared to be peacefully working through whatever problems they had as they quietly talked with each other. As Cassie rose, apparently finished with the conversation, Bennie suddenly pulled out a concealed 45 caliber revolver and shot Cassie once directly into her beautiful face and followed up with a second shot, which proved to be overkill for the first shot had killed his wife instantly.

With that done, Bennie put the revolver to his head and pulled the trigger. He must have flinched because the bullet barely grazed him.

After this successful homicide and failed suicide, Bennie fled the scene.

Bass Reeves takes the warrant

A warrant for murder was issued for the arrest of Bennie. With warrant in hand, Chief Marshal Leo Bennett and his deputies faced a quandary. There was such a reverence for Bass Reeves so no one wanted to be the one to have to arrest his son and quite possibly kill him if Bennie resisted.

Reeves resolved the ethical struggle his fellow lawmen faced by demonstrating he was as true a servant to the law as any man or woman who has ever pinned on a badge. He took the warrant from the hand of the hesitant Marshal Bennett and went into pursuit of his son.

As often is the case with the historical record, there are varying accounts of what happened next.

One account has Bennie fleeing, armed and desperate on horseback into the wilds of Indian Territory. Bass followed and after a long track located his son and took him into custody.

Another account has Reeves finding his son at his son’s home, where a tense standoff ensued. Bass finally called out shouting, “You can come out with your hands up or your whole body will be down.” Those words inspired Bennie to surrender.

Another story has Bennie on his way, on foot, to turn himself in when he is spotted and arrested by his father.

In each of these varied accounts, the one constant was that Bass Reeves was the lone lawman who took his son into custody to face justice. Bennie would be tried, convicted and sentenced to life in Leavenworth.


Bennie was released early, for he was deemed by prison officials to have been a model prisoner worthy of a second chance.

Bennie proved them right, becoming one of Muskogee’s most prominent citizens. He opened a barber shop, re-married, and lived a long and fruitful life, never committing another crime.

Sadly, Bass would not live to see his son’s release and rehabilitation. In 1910, the seemingly immortal lawman surrendered for the first time in his life to Bright’s disease (now called Nephritis).

Reeves would in time be forgotten, but in recent years his legend has been rightfully resurrected. Some historians even believe him to be the inspiration for the character of the Lone Ranger.

Thanks to author Art T. Burton shining light once again on this Great American Law Dog, a statue befitting Reeves’ well-lived life has been erected in his memory a short distance from Judge Isaac Parker’s Court House in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Burton has described Reeves with ample justification to be “probably the greatest frontier hero in American history.”

Burton AT. Black Gun Silver Star. The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves.
Marcou D. Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History.
Soodalter R. Duty Above All Else. American Cowboy, February 14, 2011.

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou’s awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. Additional awards Lt. Marcou received were 15 departmental citations (his department’s highest award), two Chief’s Superior Achievement Awards and the Distinguished Service Medal for his response to an active shooter. He is a co-author of “Street Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,” which is now available. His novels, “The Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,” “SWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,” “Nobody’s Heroes” and Destiny of Heroes,” as well as his latest non-fiction offering, “Law Dogs, Great Cops in American History,” are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.