Street Fighter, Part Seventeen
In 1759, the French philosopher, Voltaire, published his satirical novel, Candide. "Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her; but once they are in hand, he or she alone must play the cards in order to win the game."
Bass Reeves was a Manhunter who had been in many a tight spot over the years but had always managed somehow to come out alive. Rangy and rawboned, his strong will and gritty determination wouldn't let him die without a fight. Bass put beaucoup importance on dignity, self-sufficiency, hardiness, self-respect and honor. The foundation stone to which he was moored was family, horses and guns.
Bass held warrants on two desperados who had reputations for ruthless brutality having killed several men during numerous robberies. Bass had tracked them to an abandoned cabin that had probably been built by a prospector.
As he laid peering out behind a log trying to figure out his next move a rifle bullet smacked off the top spraying splinters into his face. Moments later Bass crouched on the cabin's steps. One of the desperados unwisely moved into the doorway. Bass shot him in the middle of his forehead, the bullet taking out most of the back of his head. When he fell his feet became entangled with the feet of the second desperado. This second desperado stumbled as blood from half his jaw, which Bass had shot away, spurted down the front of his shirt. In the aftermath dried blood smeared the walls and stained the wooden porch. The sting of spent black powder on the drifting smoke hung heavy in the humid air as the rampage of seething violence escalated from scary to terminally scary.
Who was Bass Reeves?
Bass Reeves was the first black deputy US marshal appointed by Isaac Parker, the "Hanging Judge," out of Fort Smith, Arkansas, the Indian Territory. Bass walked through "the valley of death" for thirty-two years and never blinked. He had on his record more than 3,000 arrests of dangerous criminals and shot and killed 14 of them in self-defense. He may have been one of our greatest law enforcement officers. One of the reasons that made Bass special was the fact he had lived his early life as a slave. Bass found a niche for himself as a LEO by virtue of his intelligence, his abilities as a tracker, his language skills, his facility with both Winchester and Colt and his deadly effectiveness as a Manhunter. He never invested the energy into trying to be someone he wasn't. Bass came from a humble beginning and refused to be ordinary, instead he chose to be extraordinary.
Bass could never be mistaken for a cowboy, cowboys mend fences. Bass was a gunslinger who stood in the middle of the street and shot it out with desperados. During the Civil War Bass lived among the Cherokee in the Indian Territory where he learned their language. Whereas today's LEOs are well versed in computer skills, Bass was taught by the Cherokee to be a Manhunter. Bass knew when someone moved across ground, they left signs. Footprints disturbed leaves, stones, broken twigs and torn vegetation. Similar to sniping a desperado hidden in the brush, when stalking Bass would first look before moving onto the trail so as not to disturb sign. He would look for inconsistencies that would tell him what he was seeing wasn't natural. A leaf that had been turned over would be damper on the bottom than the top, so it looks a little darker
As Bass walked the cow town streets his sensory responses were overwhelmed with the rankest stench of putridness from the garbage strewn in the open sewers, coupled with the lingering factor of disease and death. The pathways were a nauseating honeycomb of dreary networks connected by alleyways where murderous games were a nightly phenomenon. As Bass patrolled his eyes were wide with watchfulness knowing full well what he couldn't see could still kill him. He had the genius of an eye that could see the threat coming before it happened. To be quick and not dead. Routine breeds predictability, and predictability leads to vulnerabilities. Unlike some of our corny Hollywood westerns Bass never whined or felt culpable in taking a life. He realized if he became frazzled or chafed at pulling the trigger, he would be shot dead. In the face of dying with his boots on he remained casehardened
Bass pioneered undercover roles. Oftentimes posing as a cowboy, a tramp, a farmer, a gunslinger or a desperado. The tales of his exploits in the Indian Territory are legendary, filled with fascination and daredevilry. While undercover, Bass was able to avoid the twitch of uncertainty when he grasped what is real and what is false is irrelevant. It is what appears to be true is what matters and credibility is all about confidence.
Bass never second-guessed himself. He knew the most effective self-defense required an expression of force that would either incapacitate his foe or make it very clear that further aggression would be more trouble than it was worth. Bass didn't stop until the threat surrendered, was neutralized or dead.
Bass knew early on gunfights are won in three seconds or less. Bass understood the naked truth the vanquisher is the one who puts bullets into meat first. Life or death violence was a part of his everyday existence. His trigger response time to a threat was as quick as from a thunderbolt. A primal need to continue to draw the breath of life Bass trained his subconscious to handle enormous amounts of stress, allowing him to remain calm and focused like the curse of Cain. Adrenalin and a desire to live fused into a power packed mixture.
Fear worked for Bass by energizing his body, making it resilient to pain, stimulating his reflexes but not permitting it to escalate into panic. Panic would most likely result in a trip to boot hill. On the other hand, calmness in the face of danger would make a life-threatening situation manageable. To Bass fear was like a tool he could pick up and put down. Fear can become a proverbial vicious cycle, for fear breeds fear causing foolish blunders. Protracted fear compels the mind to overcharge thus impeding rational thought
Bass received an urgent telegram from Judge Isaac Parker informing him three desperados were planning to rob a high stakes poker game near Fort Gibson. It was near midday when Bass set out for Fort Gibson. There was hardly a cloud in the sky. The desert stretched out all the way to the mountains. The sun stayed high overhead, basting the arid landscape with woozy waves of heat radiating up from the ground. There was nary a breath of wind with no prospect of any change for the rest of the afternoon. Bass had already finished half his canteen and although what was left was tepid it was wet and helped to slake his thirst and wash away the dust in his mouth. Bass chuckled to himself, "eat when you can, sleep when you die."
As a gray man Bass was the last to be gazed at in a room. When he entered a saloon, nobody turned to look at him. If he stood next to you, you would not recall his face. He only spoke when he had something worthwhile to say. Ignored, underrated, and at times ridiculed, he always had a smile. Bass could be your best or worst surprise
When Bass walked into the saloon, he heard rough talk and raucous laughter, the clatter of coins flipped onto tables as gamblers wagered in a card game, the clink of whiskey bottles against shot glasses. A couple of dim lamps lit the windowless den of iniquity. Bass forced his eyes to adjust to the air that was thick with smoke and foreboding shadows. Bass stood waiting in a darkened corner of the bawdyhouse. He stiffened when he saw three outlaws enter, sweep aside rough-grained coats and grab for their blasters. Bass was quicker, not rushed. He drew and triggered one of his two Remington Model 1875 Single Action Army revolvers in 44-40 Winchester. He shot the closest threat first, twice in the gut, knocking him back against the bar. Bass shot the second gunman in the throat causing him to make a half-turn. Blood from severed arteries squirted across a card table. Bass shot the third outlaw in the face, the big 44-40 slug furrowed into his brain tumbling him over a chair.
Throughout his life Bass had been a non-conformist and depended on his conscious to guide him between right and wrong. Bass believed he was put on earth for a unique purpose. At a young age if he saw in another person a quality trait he admired he never hesitated to integrate it into his life but then he went on to live life his way. Bass was a man of honor. His word was his bond. He said what he meant and meant what he said. He lived his life with distinction, integrity and an unflinching dedication to his own code of ethics. He never let anyone control his mind or emotions, always staying calm and thinking rationally. Bass trained himself to defend against any attack but yet he retained a compassionate heart towards the innocent
Although well past his prime, Bass never stopped being a Manhunter since an old mountain lion is still a mountain lion. Even though a mountain lion may age and may lose some teeth and a few claws he is still to be feared. Bass understood as part of growing old he had reached a point in his life his reflexes had slowed but he knew his limits and adapted. Being a Manhunter Bass realized it would be foolish to rely solely on his reputation and it would be fatal if he judged himself to be safe because of something he felt or did a dozen or more years ago.
Bass knew that everyone was going to die, but ignorance meant that the unavoidable could be processed as an abstract concept. His career as a Manhunter made him more familiar than most about the certainty of death and he had been un astonished about the possibility that his might end with a bullet. He could put his skills against those desperados seeking to punch his ticket to Valhalla, but he couldn't fight nephritis, the deadly killer that had crept into his body. Bass died on 13 January 1910.
There is a bronze statue of Bass Reeves in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The statue stands 25 feet tall, including the horse he's riding and the monument's stone pedestal. His faithful dog is mid-stride alongside him. Bass grips the reins in one hand and holds a rifle with the other. A couple of hundred yards behind the statue is the federal courthouse of Judge Isaac C. Parker who hung 75 desperados on the nearby gallows.
30 April 2022