Legacy of a Lawman: A Western Story
Most Americans have probably heard of the African-American cavalry troop or soldiers known as "Buffalo" soldiers and, perhaps having seen black cowboys in the movies and TV, assume some existed. Of course, those of us familiar with the history of the American West know the significant role and contribution African-Americans made on taming and settling of the West. And, living on the Kansas/Oklahoma border I'm familiar with Fort Smith, Hanging Judge Isaac C. Parker, and the 75,000 square miles Oklahoma/Indian Territory (statehood in 1907). However, until some years ago, I wasn't aware of Oklahoma's "Black" lawmen until I read Bill Burchardt's 1981 novel, Black Marshal . It's inspiration for the fictional "Gar Rutherford" character was based on the real "black" deputy marshal, Bass Reeves (1838-1910). Judge Parker hoped black lawmen would be more effective in dealing with the Native Americans and half white inhabitants. Unfortunately, he also underestimated the racial hostility of the whites.
Veteran novelist (20 novels since 2000) and Spur Award winner Johnny D. Boggs has dramatically put flesh, emotions and personality to this fascinating frontier character. Told through the recollections of sidekick and fellow "white" deputy marshal Dave Adams (real person), this historical novel is structured with alternating real time and regressive or flashback chapters. Thus, there is the fictional plot of Bass and the posse trailing the notorious Cherokee Bob and his outlaw gang through the Arbuckle hills of south central Oklahoma. This plot is further complicated with a warrant for Bass's son, who, wanted for the murder of his wife, was, by chance, picked up by the gang. The second story line mines and fleshes out Bass Reeves's historical life and legacy based on past accounts of fact and legend over a 35 year span as a lawman (over 3,000 arrests). This "time shifting" maintains and does enhance both the novel's tension and reader's anxiety and encouragement to keep turning the pages. One of this author's strengths has always been his ability to convincingly describe a gunfight or action scene with clarity, detail and authenticity. Although the shootouts actually only last a couple of minutes, they are slowed, sharply drawn and portrayed from various viewpoints.
Readers wishing the gun play narrative to continue is a complement to the writer. Being in close geographic proximity to the novel's setting, the ACHS collection has maintained a decent shelf of relevant titles including the author's earlier "Killstraight" Native American policeman series also set in the Oklahoma Territory . I'd recommend Glenn Shirley's West Of Hell's Fringe (1977) and Law West Of Fort Smith (1957) and Fort Supply Indian Territory (1970) by Robert C. Carriker. Pertaining to the African-American participation and experience on the frontier, The Negro Cowboys (1965) by Durham & Jones is the old standard. I agree with Mr. Boggs in recommending Art C. Burton's Black, Red, And Deadly: Black And Indian Gunfighters Of The Indian Territory, 1870-1907 (1991) and Black , Buckskin, And Blue: African-American Scouts And Soldiers On The Western Frontier (1999). Every biography section should also have Bill Pickett: Bull Dogger (1977) by Hanes. For books pertaining to Bass Reeves, besides the Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life And legend Of frontier Marshal Bass Reeves (2008) by Burton and The Black Badge: Deputy United States marshal Bass Reeves From slave To Heroic Lawman (2005) by Paul L. Brady, there are even children's and YA titles such as Bad news For Outlaws: The Remarkable Life Of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal (2009) by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson & illustrator R. Gregory Christie, and The Legend Of Bass Reeves (2008) by popular YA author, Gary Paulsen.
Yes, I need to warn everyone that some characters display racist attitudes and use of the "N" word is right there in print. Obviously, the author chose to not succumb to phony dialog or historical revisionism. Remember, this is a historically researched, realistic novel set in the late 1800s and early 1900s attempting to convey what obstacles confronted a black law officer a hundred years ago. Men who survived and even succeeded in spite of such challenges were often referred by Westerners as individuals "who got sand". Or, as said of another tough hombre, he had TRUE GRIT! 218 pages. Recommended by Robert L. Hicks, High School Librarian, Arkansas City, Kansas USA