The Legend of Bass Reeves: Being the True and Fictional Account of the Most Valiant Marshal in the West
Born into slavery, Bass Reeves became the most successful US Marshal of the Wild West. Many "heroic lawmen" of the Wild West, familiar to us through television and film, were actually violent scoundrels and outlaws themselves. But of all the sheriffs of the frontier, one man stands out as a true hero: Bass Reeves. He was the most successful Federal Marshal in the US in his day. True to the mythical code of the West, he never drew his gun first. He brought hundreds of fugitives to justice, was shot at countless times, and never hit. Bass Reeves was a black man, born into slavery. And though the laws of his country enslaved him and his mother, when he became a free man he served the law, with such courage and honor that he became a legend.
The curriculet is being added to your library
Consider the subtitle of this book-- "Being the True and Fictional Account of the Most Valiant Marshal in the West." How can a story be both true and fictional?
Below is an image of Wyatt Earp. Have you heard of him before? Have you heard of any of the people Paulsen mentions? (This annotation contains an image)
Name three ways the reputations of these Western legends don't match up with reality.
Below is a photo of Bass. (This annotation contains an image)
This helps us understand the title of the book and how a story can be fictional and true at the same time.
With horns like these, you can see why the boy is waiting for the right moment to rope the cow. (This annotation contains an image)
The highlighted section tells us that the boy's mammy is a __________ person.
The highlighted sentence is an example of a type of figurative language called simile. Watch the video below to learn more about similes and their close cousins, metaphors. (This annotation contains a video)
The highlighted phrase is an example of a
This a pivotal moment for young Bass Reeves. Pay attention to how the meaning of the phrase becomes clearer to Bass as he grows up.
The Comanches were hunter-gatherers with a horse culture. They were the dominant tribe on the Southern Plains and often took captives from weaker tribes during warfare, selling them as slaves to the Spanish. They also took thousands of captives from the Spanish, Mexican, and American settlers. Pictured below is one of the tribe's well-known chiefs, Quanah Parker. (This annotation contains an image)
What have we learned so far about the setting of the story?
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently. Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
Because Bass is telling the story, what information do readers learn that would not be shared if his master were telling the tale?
It's difficult to read about fellow human beings being treated so poorly. Why do you think Gary Paulsen decided to include this detail in his story? What purpose does it serve?
How can words be "round" and "roll through his mind"?
Note the change in date. Bass was ten years old when the story started.
A javelina pig (pictured below) is not actually a pig at all, but a peccary. A peccary is a medium-sized animal with a strong resemblance to pigs. Like pigs, it has a snout ending in a disc made of cartilage and eyes that are small relative to its head. Also like pigs, it uses only the middle two digits for walking, although, unlike pigs, the other toes may be altogether absent. Peccaries are social animals and often form herds. (This annotation contains an image)
Notice how Bass thinks that freedom is a place. He's never been exposed to the idea before.
This is an example of a literary technique called foreshadowing. Watch the video to learn more about how authors use foreshadowing to create suspense. (This annotation contains a video)
Why does the author put each of these sentences in their own paragraphs?
The highlighted phrase is an example of which type of figurative language?
Percussion cap muzzleloaders use a percussion cap mounted on the side of the barrel to ignite the main charge loaded in the rear of the barrel. The hammer is drawn back into the cocked position. When the trigger is squeezed, the hammer is released and falls, striking the percussion cap. This ignites a small charge in the cap which travels through a small hole in the nipple, into the rear of the barrel where it ignites the main charge and discharges the projectile. The firing powder and shot are stuffed into the gun through the open end of the barrel. (This annotation contains an image)
What steps do the characters take to prepare for a possible Comanche attack?
"Chirrun" is a Southern dialect word for "children."
The Texas Rangers originated in the 1820's as a volunteer corps to prevent Native American Indian attacks. Later the Rangers became lawmen; their exploits have become legendary. In 1835, the year before the Republic of Texas was born, the rangers became an official, full-time corps that was paid to defend the frontier. Have you ever heard of the Lone Ranger?
The Battle of the Alamo was a pivotal event in the Texas Revolution. Texian troops had driven out all the Mexican troops from Mexican Texas to claim the land for their own. In return, Mexican troops under President General Antonio López de Santa Anna launched an assault on the Alamo Mission near San Antonio, killing all of the Texian defenders. Santa Anna's cruelty during the battle inspired many Texians—both Texas settlers and adventurers from the United States—to join the Texian Army. Wanting revenge, the Texians defeated the Mexican Army at the Battle of San Jacinto, ending the revolution. (This annotation contains an image)
Why doesn't Bass take a horse?
Scalping is the act of removing a portion of the scalp from a body as a trophy of battle or proof of a warrior's bravery. This is a gruesome detail to read about, and it helps us realize how dangerous it was to be living on the frontier at this time in history.
Why does Mammy threaten to hit Bass with a skillet?
The sign of the cross is a ritual blessing made by members of many branches of Christianity. This blessing is made by the tracing of an upright cross or + across the body with the right hand. (This annotation contains an image)
What is unusual about the Master's behavior as they ride to the Garnett's homestead?
The following passage contains more gruesome details. Prepare yourself.
How does the Master show courage in dealing with the situation at the Garnett's?
The idea of "courage" is a central theme in this novel. Watch the video below to learn more about themes in literature. (This annotation contains a video)
These fancy apartments were probably brothels and the women most likely prostitutes.
Why is Bass "stunned"?
Notice how the mister treats Bass differently when other white people are around.
Below is a historical photo of Paris, Texas. (This annotation contains an image)
Name three things Bass sees in Paris that are new to him.
Below is an image of a recreated dry goods store like Bass would have seen. (This annotation contains an image)
What was in the sack the mister gave Bass?
"Yellow" was a label given at the time to people of mixed race. There is a legend that when Mexican General Santa Anna conquered Texian troops at the Alamo, he was struck by the beauty of a mixed race Texian woman, Emily West, and decided to take her with him. Supposedly she distracted Santa Anna so much that Texian troops were able to beat the Mexican soldiers at the battle of San Jacinto in only 18 minutes and secure Texas' independence from Mexico.
Notice how Bass is wrestling with the ideas of freedom and slavery. This will be an important theme in the story.
Why does the mister want to leave so early?
Bass is probably seeing Indians on the Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears is a name given to the forced relocation of Native American nations from southeastern parts of the United States following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The removal included many members of the Cherokee, Muskogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations, who did not wish to become American citizens, from their homelands to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. Many Native Americans suffered from exposure, disease and starvation on the route to their destinations. Many died, thus leading to the name Trail of Tears. The dark green areas on map below show where the tribes originated, while the light yellow section indicates the Indian Territory where they were all forced to live. (This annotation contains an image)
List four ways Bass has changed since the start of the story.
A Roman nose is a muzzle with a outwardly rounded profile, as seen in the image below. This trait likely plays a role in warming air as it is inhaled. (This annotation contains an image)
What important lesson does Bass learn from playing poker with Mister?
Between Mammy's warning and Mister's drinking and gambling, the tension around Bass playing poker is increasing.
What skill is Bass learning that could help him as a U.S. Marshal?
Notice how resentful the mister is getting of Bass' care of the ranch.
Why would the idea of Mister just taking back the money make him so angry?
Bass is willing to confront the mister about his cheating because
Do you think Mammy will be safe, or is she just trying to make Bass feel better?
Here is a more detailed map of the land that used to be known as Indian Territory. (This annotation contains an image)
What characteristics of a civilized society did the Native American tribes have?
These three items grown together were called the Three Sisters. Corn provides a natural pole for bean vines to climb. Beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the overall fertility of the plot by providing nitrogen to the following year's corn. Bean vines also help stabilize the corn plants, making them less vulnerable to blowing over in the wind. Shallow-rooted squash vines become a living mulch, shading emerging weeds and preventing soil moisture from evaporating, thereby improving the overall crops chances of survival in dry years. Spiny squash plants also help discourage predators from approaching the corn and beans. Corn, beans and squash also complement each other nutritionally. Corn provides carbohydrates, the dried beans are rich in protein, balancing the lack of necessary amino acids found in corn. Finally, squash yields both vitamins from the fruit and healthful, delicious oil from the seeds. (This annotation contains an image)
These groups are also known as "lighthorse" police, because their horses could move with great agility. The Chickasaw nation recently re-established their Lighthorse Police Department to better serve their tribe and support other local law enforcement agencies. You can visit their website using the link below. (This annotation contains a link)
Notice how the author is signalling his transition from historical fact to his narrative about Bass.
The highlighted phrase is an example of which type of figurative language?
Bass experiences fending for himself are an example of the theme of
Follow the link below to a website where you can hear an excerpt of the book. Then answer the question that follows. (This annotation contains a link)
How did hearing the audio version of the beginning of this chapter affect your understanding of the events in the story? Did you picture anything differently than when you read the words on your own?
Notice how much thought Bass has put into his plan. He is patient and careful.
What does the highlighted phrase mean?
Below is an image of what rasping a horse's hoof looks like. That's quite a nail file! (This annotation contains an image)
The highlighted phrase is an example of a type of figurative language known as personification. Watch the video below to learn more. (This annotation contains a video)
What does Bass mean when he says he learned "a lesson from the Comanche warrior with the spear"?
The highlighted phrase is an example of
This is a biblical reference to Moses, who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to wander in the desert for forty years before finding the Promised Land, or modern-day Israel.
Be aware that more gruesome details are coming up.
The best synonym for the word bluff in this context is
Paulson is using foreshadowing again here in this last sentence.
The phrase "going hell for leather" is an idiom, or culturally specific figure of speech, which means going as fast as possible.
Why would oblivion be described as "blessed"?
This is actually a method of closing a wound called cauterization.
The Creek nation took up most of Georgia and Alabama before they were forced to move.
What was Bass waiting for?
Is it really childish to miss home?
Corncobs were often used before toilet paper was available. Ouch!
How do we know that Peter will not turn Bass in for being a runaway slave?
Note how the author has switched back to historical facts.
What challenges did Judge Parker face in bringing law and order to Indian Territory?
What do you think made Bass keep going even though the job was so dangerous?
Disguise was a common technique used by Bass Reeves. In fact, many people believe that Bass is the model for the Lone Ranger, who also used disguises to catch criminals. The article below runs through the evidence used to support that claim. (This annotation contains a link)
For how long had Bass been hunting Bob Dozier?
The highlighted word is considered offensive to many people. Why do you think Gary Paulsen chose to include it in the story about the first African American U.S. Marshal?
Based on the men's reactions to Bass, you can infer that at this point in his life, he is
Notice how the events of his boyhood had a big impact on who Bass became as a man.
Bass facing these dangerous criminals is an example of the theme of
Remember that back in these days, the average life span was around only 40 years. Bass had been living the hard, dangerous life of a U.S. Marshal for the past 20 years.
How does the author increase the suspense of the situation in the highlighted paragraphs?
Do you remember the first time Bass shot a gun with the mister? He had good aim even then.
Why does Bass have two extra horses with him?
Do you think Bass' strategy will be effective? A man can't run as fast as a horse, after all.
This action indicates that Webb holds Reeves in high regard.
Why would the court say that the shooting was just an accident and let Bass go?
Below is one photo of Fort Smith. If you visit the link, you can take a virtual tour and see other parts of the historic site. (This annotation contains a link)
What does Bass' reaction to the news of his son tell us about him?
We can see Bass' passion for honesty and justice by his ability to put aside his personal feelings and focus on the job he chose to do.
List four things that have changed in Bass Reeves' life since he heard the witch dog speak to him as a child.
Notice how Bass appreciates the fact that freedom goes hand in hand with responsibility.
Follow the link below to read a brief biography of Bass Reeves. Then answer the question that follows. (This annotation contains a link)
What factual differences do you see between this Gary Paulsen narrative and the museum site biography?