Greetings Loyal Airmen, we’re going to kick off this week’s Flight Log with a look at Paramount Plus’ new streaming western series from Taylor Sheridan telling the amazing story of the greatest lawman who ever lived in the era of America’s Wild West, US Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves.
We first of Bass over twenty years ago when working on a western comic project it. Intrigued by what we’d heard, we began researching him and discovered Prof. Art Burton’s extensive biography, “Black Gun – Silver Star.” It was absolutely fascinating. We also discovered other books on Bass, including the one by his own relative Gary Paulsen. It seemed after years of obscurity, people were finally begin to learn who this great man was and his role in the taming of the west.
At 16 Bass, a slave, ran away from the Texas ranch he was living on to live with Indians in the Oklahoma territories that made up the Five Civilized Tribes. After the Civil War, Reeves married, built his own horse ranch and started raising a family. When Federal Judge Isaac Parker arrived in Fort Smith to establish a federal circuit court, he soon realized he had a major problem; his white marshals were unable to operate in remote townships settled by freed blacks, native Americans or established as outlaw sanctuaries. In the end the only solution was to deputize black men; one of the first of these being Bass Reeves.
During his thirty odd year career as a marshal, Reeves brought in over 3,000 felons even though he was illiterate and couldn’t even read the writs he handed out. But due to his time with the Indian tribes, he was a skilled hunter-tracker, familiar with the territory and an expert in firearms, both pistols and rifles. He also learned to disguise himself as a vagabond when needing to infiltrate an outlaw camp and find his man. He was in fourteen major gun battles but never wounded once.
In the end, Reeves even hunted down his eldest son who had, in a moment of rage, shot his wife upon finding her with another man. None of the other marshals, in deference to Reeves, would accept the writ. When Reeves learned of the crime, he requested it and rode out to bring in his son. Young Reeves was convicted and sentenced to a life in the Yuma Federal Prison. Reeves retired shortly thereafter, the incident having been the one sour note to an otherwise amazing, and proud career as a lawman. After his death at the age of 70, friends and public officials petitioned the Arizona governor and his son’s sentence was commuted. Here was a story even Hollywood couldn’t make up. But no one had ever had the courage to do anything with this incredible story.
Out of sheer frustration, artist Rob Davis and the Air Chief attempted to write a comic graphic novel based on his life. Above are Rob’s sketches of Bass from his youth to manhood. The Air Chief even wrote out the first eleven pages, which Rob penciled, inked and lettered. And guess what? We couldn’t find a single publisher will to take it on. Finally after years of getting nowhere, we opted to go a different route in making Bass Reeves a household name. We decided we’d create a series of anthologies featuring stories of his fictional exploits.
In the past eight years we’ve produced five volumes featuring some of the finest western writers working today; all of which are available at Amazon. In the meantime more and more people were starting projects including Oscar winner Morgan Freeman who was behind the push to do a Bass Reeves series for HBO. Sadly it died in pre-production.
Then other TV series began having Reeves pop up in cameos. One was a time travel series, wherein he shows up when the time travelers need help catching Jesse James. There were also several B-movies rushed into production, none of them very good. Then as if to add insult to injury, some people began spreading the lie that Bass Reeves was the inspiration for the TV cowboy, the Lone Ranger. All of which came about because one of the biographers, in hopes of selling more books, suggested the possibility. Of course it was totally a lie, though as always, lies have a way of spreading like wildflower. Finally, old time radio historian, Martin Gram was so fed up with the falsehood, he went and wrote an essay debunking it and had it published on Amazon.
The Lone Ranger series was produced for WXYZ in Detroit and neither the owner, George W. Trendel, nor the writer/creator of the Lone Ranger, Frank Striker, had ever head of Bass Reeves. Like the rest of the country. The best guess as to a true inspiration for the character might have been Zane Grey’s hero in a book called “The Lone Star Ranger.”
And finally we come to this brand new iteration, Paramount’s big budget, full out western mini-series, “Lawmen – BASS REEVES” starring David Oyelowo as Reeves. Having viewed the first episodes, we enjoyed this retelling a great deal. Are there inaccuracies? Of course there are. Small pieces that could be debated ala did Reeves ever fight in a Civil War battle? It is doubtful. Whereas there is no mention of his mother or younger sister, both of whom were also slaves on George Reeves ranch. Reeves fled to the Indian Nations as a teenager and did not marry until after war. He was never a farmer, as shown in the show, but raised horses. And his first born was a son, Bennie, not a girl as shown in this version. See what we mean? Still, despite these differences, in the end we applaud what we’ve seen thus far. The chief selling point being David Oyelowo’s wonderful portrayal of Reeves. He gives Reeves the nobility and a strength of his character merited. It was said Bass Reeves loved the law and equal justice for all men, which is how he served the badge on his chest. All that is in Oyelowo’s approach. With fingers crossed, the show will only get better. We can’t wait. It’s been a long-long time since this great American hero was given his due. Amen.
BEYOND THE STARS # 3
Artist Andrea Bormida shows these finished pencil pages for 18 & 19. All getting closer to the book’s finish being Pg 22. So happy to see this rolling along.
A FEW BIRTHDAY GIFTS
Last Sunday the Air Chief turned 77 years old. How that happened, we have absolutely no clue. Still, the family threw me a wonderful little birthday party and gifted me with a bunch of Amazon cards which the Air Chief will certainly put to good use. At the same time, granddaughter Cora and her husband, Calvin, surprised me with two really unique items. The first (above left) is a very heavy, diecast Millennium Falcon pen holder and the book it is set on, “Dining With The Saints” by Father Leo Patalinghug and Michael P. Foley. It deals with two of the Air Chief’s favorite things, faith and good food.
And there you have it for this week, Loyal Airmen. As ever thanks for stopping by. We’ll see you back here next Friday morning. Till then, God bless.
Ron – Over & Out!