TV

Lawmen: Bass Reeves – The Truth Behind the Real Life Legend


Taylor Sheridan’s latest series is based on the life of a legendary lawman. But what is fact and what is fiction about Bass Reeves?

David Oyelowo as Bass Reeves in Lawmen: Bass Reeves, episode 2, season 1, streaming on Paramount+, 2023.
Photo: Lauren Smith | Paramount+

This article contains no spoilers for Lawmen: Bass Reeves but does discuss details of the real Bass Reeve’s story.

While audiences have fallen in love with Yellowstone (and perhaps a little out of love since the delay in production due to the myriad of Hollywood strikes and behind-the-scenes drama of the show), its storytelling universe has grown exponentially. With all the proposed spinoffs and pre-existing prequels, fans are now looking at nearly half a dozen shows within this amazing world that reminds Americans about their bearish beginnings and how the West was really formed. Yet none of the cowboy inspired chaos and horse-driven drama is grounded in reality as much as the newly-released Lawmen: Bass Reeves, which is produced by Yellowstone‘s Taylor Sheridan and created by Chad Feehan.

While Bass Reeves is no longer categorized as a spinoff to the fictional 1883 that Sheridan created, it’s interesting to note that internationally (specifically in Canada), the show is still being advertised as “1883: The Bass Reeves Story”, which was even one of the original drafts for the title of the show. Bass Reeves (played by David Oyelowo in the series) is a part of Americana that very few people know about, and that’s always been a major part of Sheridan’s charm. His shows shine a light on the dark corners of the American dream, and dramatizes real life history, and if much of the recorded history of Reeves is correct, then Sheridan and Feehan barely had to stretch to fabricate drama.

Reeves was born a slave in 1838 in Crawford County Arkansas as the “property” of farmer and politician William Reeves. Bass, named after his grandfather, would eventually work beside his parents in the field. Bass became a favorite of the slave owner Reeves, as he was always well-mannered and had a great sense of humor. The Reeves plantation eventually moved to Texas, and when the Civil War broke out, George Reeves (William’s oldest son) went into battle with Bass by his side. 

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