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Young Bass Reeves by Fred Staff

Young Bass Reeves: The Life and Legion of Bass Reeves - Fred Staff

Follow the historic figure of Bass Reeves from boyhood, growing up as a slave, to his service in the Civil War, and his time spent with the Native Americans. He is eventually inducted into the Marshal Service.

I enjoy books set in the Southwest as it has a rich history. While much of this book is not set in the desert Southwest, Bass Reeves eventually becomes an important figure in its history. The reader experiences Bass’s life through his eyes, growing up a slave he and his mother both live and work on the Reeves family plantation & farm. It is only through a series of events, including the Civil War, that Bass comes to see that there are other possibilities for a life.

The author strived to capture the slave dialect of the time. Part of me enjoyed this as it added to the reading experience of being transported to another time and place. On the other hand, it was sometimes clunky to read and therefore, it slowed down my reading in some parts. Most of Bass’s interactions are with Whites or Native Americans, so we get only a small taste of Black slave culture at that time. It’s a small criticism, but I would have liked to know more about what went on behind the closed doors of the slave quarters once the Whites had retired for the evening.

This was a very interesting book showing a spectrum of how slaves in the Mississippi area were treated. Bass’s owner, Mr. Reeves, was fairly decent for his time and culture, and yet still held to the belief that slavery was the way the world worked. We also see several instances of other Whites interacting with Bass, showing the crudest, lowest level of racism all the way to folks who believed in freedom for all people. I really liked the various ways the author showed this spectrum, painting a picture of just how complicated the slavery issue was at the time of the Civil War.

I especially liked Bass’s time with the Native Americans of a few different tribes. Most of these characters had Anglicized names and I am not sure if that was the norm for the time. We meet and see most of the Native Americans on reservations, and when no Whites are around. So, once again I wanted to see more of the Native American culture as it existed when Whites weren’t standing around criticizing or documenting the ‘life of the native’. Still, it was great to see how Bass’s friendship with these characters influenced his decisions later.

There is some gun play and a few deaths through out the book. I’m not a particularly squeamish person, but if you are, no worries with this book. I will also say that there are few female characters in this tale. They are mothers, wives, or sexual interests. Basically, they are backdrop to be kept safe or rescued. They were interchangeable with no real individual character traits. While Bass’s mother has some influence on him, especially when it comes to his faith, we learn little else about her.

There are two more books in this series and I look forward to reading them because Bass himself is a complex character and his story is a new one to me.