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Every Cowboy Hat Tells a Story: “Bass Reeves” Hat

Every cowboy hat tells a story. From the quality of the materials to the customized crease, to the width of the brim, to the sweat and other stains, each hat reveals something about WHO is or was under the hat.

Independent filmmaker Nick Jones (b. 1945) wore this hat while making and starring in the documentary Bass Reeves. His 2004 film, The Exodusters, was based on his 2003 book of the same title. Like he did in Bass Reeves, Jones wrote The Exodusters script, directed, produced, and starred in the made-for-television Western.

Legendary lawman Bass Reeves (1838-1910) was one of the first African American deputy U.S. Marshals commissioned west of the Mississippi. Born into slavery in Arkansas, and reared in Lamar and Grayson counties, Texas, he escaped north into Indian Territory during the Civil War. Reeves may have lived among the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), and Seminole, and is believed to have served with the Union Indian Home Guard during the Civil War.

After the war Reeves farmed near Van Buren, Arkansas, and served as a guide, tracker, and scout, into Indian Territory for deputy U.S. Marshals from the federal court at Fort Smith. In 1875 Judge Isaac C. Parker commissioned Reeves a deputy U.S. Marshal, a position he held for 32 years until Oklahoma statehood in 1907. With a jurisdiction covering 72,000 square miles, Reeves apprehended over 3,000 people who violated federal laws from bootlegging to murder.

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