The Baddest Lawman You Never Heard Of: Bass Reeves

DjangoDoes the name, Bass Reeves, ring a bell? If it doesn’t, it should. I set out to write a story on “the real Django,” Bass Reeves, the inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s film, Django Unchained. But the more I researched, the more confused I became. An online search for information on Bass Reeves led to articles about both “the real Django” and “the real Lone Ranger!” Huh? Gather round the campfire because, today, I’m going to tell you about Bass Reeves, or, as I like to think of him, the Lone Django!

The Real Bass Reeves

Bass Reeves was born into slavery, in 1838. Some sources say he was born in Arkansas, while other list his place of birth as Paris, Texas. But no matter where he was born, all sources agree that both he and his enslaved family were living in Texas, by 1846.

His “master,” William S. Reeves, was a farmer and politician. Bass worked as a water boy by the time he was big enough to handle to task, and later he worked as a field laborer. It was grueling work, and he did it alongside his parents, who were also field hands. Bass, however, was not destined to remain in the fields. He was a mannerly fellow, and was known for having a good sense of humor. A guy like that stands out in a crowd, and William Reeves noticed Bass’s exceptional qualities. Mr. Reeves offered Bass to his son, George Reeves, as a personal companion and servant.

On the outset, Bass might have thought that becoming a personal companion sounded like a “promotion” from field work. And, under normal circumstances, that might have even been true. But the Civil War broke out and George Reeves enlisted with the Confederacy. Hmmm . . . Bass, the personal companion, accompanied George Reeves into battle. Fieldwork might have been looking pretty good to him, right about then.

The Fugitive

At some point during the Civil War, Bass ran off from George Reeves. No one is sure what led up to Bass’s dash for freedom. Some folks say that Bass beat up George after a card game went awry. Others say he was prompted to leave after hearing stories about slaves being freed. I’d say that I don’t really blame him one bit, regardless of his motivation!

Bass was on the lam for quite a while when he landed in Oklahoma Territory. There he lived among the Creek and Seminole Indians. It might surprise you to learn that the Oklahoma Territory was a popular location for run away slaves and outlaws to hide at that time. While hiding out in Oklahoma, Bass learned how to ride, shoot and track, and he also became fluent in five Native American languages.

After the war, Bass became the first African American settler in Van Buren, Arkansas. There he married a lady named Nellie Jennie, he built an eight-room house, raised ten children and worked the land. But life had far more in store for Bass Reeves than a simple country life.

Lay Down the Law

Bass ReevesDo you remember those outlaws that had settled in Indian Territory? They were still there. It was estimated that, of the 22,000 Caucasians living in Indian Territory, 17,000 of them were criminals! Tribal courts tried crimes committed by Native Americans, but the residents who were not citizens of the Indian nations had to be tried in Fort Smith, Arkansas or Paris, Texas, a good distance away.

Judge Parker
Judge Parker

When Isaac C. Parker was made a federal judge, he vowed to get tough on crime. He wasn’t known as the “Hanging Judge” for nothing! Judge Parker appointed a Confederate Army General, James Fagan, as a U.S. Marshal and told him to hire 200 deputies to clean up the territory.

Oklahoma and Indian TerritoryFagan knew of Bass Reeve’s ability to speak Native American languages and his knowledge of the area and culture. So in 1875, Bass was hired on as the first black Deputy Marshal west of the Mississippi. Judge Parker and his U.S. Marshals were based in Fort Smith, Arkansas, but the deputies were charged with covering an area of more than 74,000 square miles. They rode for months on end, looking for wanted criminals to haul in to justice at Fort Smith or Paris.

Bass Reeves

Bass Pro

Since Reeves had grown up as a slave, he had never learned to read and write, but it didn’t affect his job performance. He had an almost photographic memory and was able to remember long lists of criminals, along with their crimes and descriptions, and he was known for getting his man.

Bass ReevesAt a time when the average American man stood at about 5’7”, Reeves’s 6’2”, muscular frame made quite a statement! He was one “good guy” who wore a black hat and carried twin .45 Colt Peacemakers. Some folks say that outlaws would turn themselves in, rather than face an altercation with Bass Reeves! And this next part sounds to me like the stuff of which legends are made. . .instead of a silver bullet, Reeves’s calling card was a silver dollar.

During the 32 years he served as Deputy Marshal, Reeves arrested more than 3,000 people—once bringing in 17 men at one time. It is notable that Reeves’s arrests included men, women, whites, blacks and Native Americans. Of those arrests, one stands out from the rest. It was the arrest of Bennie Reeves, Bass’s own son. Bennie was arrested in 1902 for the murder of his wife, who was reportedly having an affair. Bennie was sentenced to life in Leavenworth, but was released after ten years, for good behavior.

The Lone Ranger Unchained

The real DjangoHe developed quite a reputation among both law abiders and lawbreakers. In all of his years on the job, not a single bullet ever touched Reeves, though a contemporary said that he had, “his belt shot in two, a button shot off his coat, his hat brim shot off, and the bridle reins, which he held in his hands, cut by a bullet.” He earned his nickname, “The Invincible Marshal.”

Bass Reeves was the final Marshal from Judge Parker’s 200 hires to remain in that position until Oklahoma’s statehood, in 1907. An Oklahoma City newspaper paid tribute by writing:

“Eighty miles west of Fort Smith was known as “the dead line,” and whenever a deputy marshal from Fort Smith or Paris, Texas, crossed the Missouri, Kansas & Texas track he took his own life in his hands and he knew it. On nearly every trail would be found posted by outlaws a small card warning certain deputies that if they ever crossed the dead line they would be killed. Reeves has a dozen of these cards which were posted for his special benefit. And in those days such a notice was no idle boast, and many an outlaw has bitten the dust trying to ambush a deputy on these trails.”

Following his retirement as a Marshal, Reeves took a job with the Muskogee, Oklahoma Police Department. He held that position until his death in 1920, at the age of 81 or 82.

Django UnchainedSo, what do you think? Does it sound like Bass Reeves might have been “the real Django”? What about “the real Lone Ranger?” It’s not difficult to see how he might have been the inspiration for a Hollywood movie or two. But I think Bass Reeves deserves to be known by his own name. He was certainly a man of epic proportions, and the baddest lawman I never heard of!

Happy Trails, y’all!
Anita Lequoia

The Vicktory Dogs: A Happy Ending

Vicktory DogsI’ve never really understood the question, “Are you a dog person?” Of course, I’m a dog person! I’m also a cat person and a horse person. If I had access to them, I have no doubt that I would be a bonobo person, too. In short, I am an animal person. Going out on a limb, I’m going to guess that you’re an animal person, as well!  How do I know that? Well, animal people tend to gravitate to each other. We’re the ones who have to fight the urge to go after animal abusers with flaming pitchforks. And we’re the ones who always tear up over happy animal stories.

Today’s edition of The Campfire Chronicle contains both of those elements, the flaming pitchforks and the happy tears. It showcases both the worst and the best of human nature and the absolute resilience of dogs and their willingness to forgive. Today we’re going to talk about the Vicktory Dogs, those who survived Michael Vick’s dog fighting operation, and where they are today.

The Part with the Flaming Pitchforks

“I believe in integrity. Dogs have it. Humans are sometimes lacking it.” ~ Cesar Millan

The compoundIt has been almost seven years since the nation was shocked and sickened to learn about NFL quarterback, Michael Vick’s involvement in dog fighting. Sure, people make mistakes, but this wasn’t a case of a slight lapse in judgment. This was a meticulously planned operation of dog cruelty that rivaled that of Cruella de Vil’s plan to make a coat out of Dalmatian puppies.

For five years, Vick and his cronies had become progressively more involved in the despicable act of operating an interstate dog fighting ring. Land had been purchased for Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels. (Anytime “news” is spelled with a “z,” I suspect that someone is up to no good!) American Pit Bull Terriers were purchased and “tested”. Those animals that didn’t prove to be good fighters were destroyed, and not in a humane way.

Michael Vick, Lawrence WoodwardAfter being less than forthcoming to authorities, Vick and his two co-defendants were sentenced to prison. Vick served 21 months in prison, followed by two months of home confinement, and paid nearly one million dollars in fines. I’ll leave the debate about Vick’s rehabilitation to someone else. I would rather focus on the rehabilitation of the dogs he left behind.

The Part with the Happy Tears

“If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.” ~ Woodrow Wilson

Best Friends Animal SanctuaryIn 2007, the dogs of Bad Newz Kennels were finally in for some good news. While some people were arguing that the animals should be euthanized due to their killer instincts, some organizations stepped in to argue in favor of rehabilitation. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, gained custody of 22 of the most traumatized dogs. These 22 dogs, whose lives had been unspeakably horrific up to that point (some had been fighters and some had been used as bait dogs), were about to step forward into a new dimension … one filled with love and trust.

Vicktory DogsThis elite band of canines became known as the Vicktory Dogs. Right from the start of their time at Best Friends, each of the Vicktory Dogs had to be treated as an individual, with special needs that were quite different from those of the other animals . . . there could be no cookie cutter rehabilitation for any of these dogs.

Vicktory DogsTwelve of the dogs were rehabilitated and adopted into families. Each adoptive family was carefully screened and home visits were performed. And trainers worked with the families throughout the adjustment period. The homes were all just as unique as were the dogs. Some had small children. Some had other dogs or cats. But all offered the stability and love that the dogs so desperately needed. Some of the Victory Dogs remain at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary due to a court order that required them to pass the Canine Good Citizen test before they could be adopted. They are making progress, but that process cannot be rushed. The dogs must understand that no one is going to hurt them. In the meantime, they interact with other dogs, spend time with volunteers and hang out in staff offices.

Meryl
Meryl
Lucas
Lucas

Two of the dogs, Lucas and Meryl, found their permanent home at the sanctuary, per court orders. Their abuse and history as fighters rendered them “unadoptable.” But rather than being a sad ending for Meryl and Lucas, the battle-scarred dogs found a loving refuge. Lucas died last year due to multiple health issues. Prior to that, he was so popular among the visitors that the staff had to limit his visits to prevent him from becoming overwhelmed emotionally. He was actually known as the “most social and well-behaved” around people. Meryl continues to enjoy spending time at the sanctuary’s dog park, exercising, and riding in golf carts. Meryl will receive a lifetime of love and support from people who are fully dedicated to their work at the nation’s largest no-kill sanctuary.

100% Vicktorious

“Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the center of their universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made.” ~ Roger A. Caras

  • Oscar
    Oscar
  • Mel
    Mel
  • Little Red
    Little Red
  • Halle
    Halle
  • Handsome Dan
    Handsome Dan
  • Cherry Garcia
    Cherry Garcia

Though the Vicktory Dogs and their adoptive humans do not all live near each other geographically, they have formed an extended family. Adopting a Vicktory Dog means acceptance into a very special club. The owners support each other through the high points and through the challenges of owning one of these special dogs. Last year, six of the dogs traveled with their humans for a reunion at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary: Cherry Garcia, Handsome Dan, Halle, Little Red, Mel and Oscar took turns taking center stage with their owners. More than 150 fans showed up to meet the dogs who can teach us all about overcoming hardships. Each family told of how a Vicktory Dog has changed their lives as much as the family has changed the life of their dog. For all of their struggles, they have proven themselves to be 100% Vicktorious!

Vicktory Dogs

So, am I a dog person? You betcha! Dogs are some of the greatest people I know! So, let’s revel in the happy ending, shall we? Watch a little video about the Vicktory Dogs, meet their loving owners and see how happy and fulfilled their lives are today!

Happy Trails y’all!
Anita Lequoia

Lyndon Baines Johnson: The Legacy

LBJLyndon B. Johnson isn’t traditionally a name that gets bandied about much, as far as U.S. Presidents go. Many people only think of him as the man who stood next to a grief-stricken Jackie Kennedy to be sworn in as President following the assassination of John F. Kennedy. We tend to think about him as often as we do President William Henry Harrison, who died of pneumonia a mere thirty-two days after taking office. And, while I don’t have much to say on the subject of Harrison (other than he really should have worn a raincoat and galoshes during his inauguration), I have plenty to say on the topic of LBJ.

Texas Born and Bred

“Education is not a problem. Education is an opportunity.” ~LBJ

LBJ as a childLyndon Johnson was born in Stonewall, Texas, in 1908. The Johnson family lived a hop, skip and a jump from Johnson City, Texas. The town name was no coincidence. The Johnsons were well respected throughout the area. Young Lyndon’s father was both a rancher and a politician, although he must have been better at politics than he was at raising cattle.

As a youngster, LBJ already demonstrated an independent spirit. He was a chronic runaway! He might not have run far, but he did run away repeatedly …to the schoolhouse. He did that so often that his mother convinced the teacher to enroll him in school, when he was only four-years-old! That might have curbed things for a while, but at the age of fifteen, LBJ ran all the way to California, where he briefly worked as a grape picker and auto mechanic. He always had a larger vision, though. As a child, he often told his friends, “Someday, I’m going to be President of the United States.”

LBJFollowing a less-than-stellar school career, Johnson went on to Southwest Texas State Teachers College. He was active in debate and campus politics. After graduation, he taught school. His teaching career was brief, but it is safe to say that LBJ’s experience of teaching minority children in South Texas contributed greatly to forming his opinions concerning civil rights.

Long Tall Texan

“I have learned that only two things are necessary to keep one’s wife happy. First, let her think she’s having her own way. And second, let her have it. “ ~ LBJ

Lady Bird JohnsonWhen LBJ saw something he wanted, he didn’t waste time in getting it. So, when he met Claudia Alra (aka, Lady Bird), he proposed two days later. Of course she said, “Yes!” It was probably her $2.50 wedding ring he purchased at Sears that sealed the deal! Of course, maybe she just liked tall guys. If the White House had a doorjamb to show the heights of the U.S. Presidents, at 6’3”, LBJ’s pencil marks would be just under those of Abraham Lincoln! Lady Bird stood by her husband’s side throughout his entire political career, and became one of his closest political confidants and strategists.

Lady Bird and LyndonLBJ narrowly lost his first race for the U.S. Senate, but he did draw large crowds on the campaign trail by becoming the first candidate to travel by helicopter. Folks turned out just to see the helicopter! He joined the military, during WWII, and was awarded the Silver Star after the Japanese attacked his plane. By 1948, he made his second attempt at a seat in the Senate…and finally, success! He won by the nation’s smallest margin ever —87 votes! But after years of hard work, dedication and blustery political maneuvering, he gained the respect of his peers and his constituents, and was named Leader of the Senate.

LBJAnd, of course, then there was the campaign with John F. Kennedy, which secured his position as Vice President of the United States. That position got him a whole lot more than he ever bargained for.

Number 36

“There are no favorites in my office. I treat them all with the same general inconsideration.” ~LBJ

LBJWhile the nation mourned its beloved, 35th president, LBJ had to adjust to a new job title. As charming and charismatic as many people had found JFK, they did not see those same qualities in LBJ. He could be crass and rude, and he used language that could have made a sailor blush. He seemed to prefer making people squirm to putting them at ease.  He was known to insist that people accompany him to the bathroom to conduct political conversations while he conducted his own business. He used these unique qualities to his advantage, again and again, to convince people of his ideas and maybe even coerce agreement, and to then push legislation through into law. The man got things done.

LBJ

LBJ made the Oval Office his own personal territory. He liked to drink Fresca, so a Fresca vending machine was installed in the Oval Office for his convenience, and his enterrtainment.

LBJHe liked women, and the way he liked them best was horizontal, so an emergency buzzer was installed that notified him when his wife was about to pay a visit. He really, really liked helicopters, so, instead of a regal, presidential leather desk chair, he used an actual helicopter seat behind his desk in the Oval Office.

LBJ10He was a man who knew what he wanted and he knew how to get it…and he marked his territory like any dominant male pack leader would.

The Race Race & Social Reform

“Until justice is blind to color, until education is unaware of race, until opportunity is unconcerned with the color of men’s skins, emancipation will be a proclamation, but not a fact.” ~ LBJ

LBJ had a real passion for social reform. In 1964, he declared war on poverty. It was under the LBJ administration that the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and Medicare were signed into law. Head Start? That was his. Medicaid? His again.

LBJ and MLKWith the passing of the Civil Rights Act, he accomplished what JFK has been unable to accomplish. Segregation officially ended and, all across the country, “White Only” and “Colored Only” signs came down from businesses, restrooms and drinking fountains. Give the man credit, folks…he changed this country for the better, and not in a small way.

Hey! Hey! LBJ!

“The guns and the bombs, the rockets and the warships, are all symbols of human failure.”~ LBJ

Vietnam protestsHis success in the War on Poverty was overshadowed by the war in Vietnam. It was a war we could not win. In 1968, more than 500,000 American troops were in Vietnam, fighting a war that was vehemently protested on U.S. soil. I must point out that hindsight has skewed the history books a bit. In reality, a 1968 Gallup poll showed that 46% of Americans did approve of Johnson’s handling of the war.

LBJOne protest cry haunted LBJ like no other: “Hey! Hey! LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?” He agonized over Vietnam. He once said, “Being president is like being a jackass in a hailstorm. There’s nothing to do but to stand there and take it.” But that didn’t mean that he had to stand there indefinitely. LBJ shocked the nation when, in 1968, he announced that he would not seek reelection. Johnson died near Johnson City, Texas, four years after leaving office.

The LBJ Legacy

“If the American people don’t love me, their descendants will.” ~LBJ

LBJIt is possible that LBJ may get his wish to be loved by the descendants of those who protested during his presidency. Just last month, Breaking Bad star, Bryan Cranston, began starring on Broadway, in the role of LBJ. The play, All the Way, does not only focus on the horrors of Vietnam . . . it also focuses on LBJ as a champion for race relations and social reform.

If you’re ever in Austin, I recommend that you pay a visit to the LBJ Library. If you want to learn more about William Henry Harrison, you’re on your own!

Take a few minutes to watch this short video about LBJ and his legacy…I think that you’ll enjoy it!

Happy Trails, Y’all!
Anita Lequoia

Donaldina Cameron: The Angel of Chinatown

Donaldina CameronIt’s not uncommon for the ugly side of a society to get swept under the rug. But sometimes there’s a unique individual with the drive to take that rug outside, sling it over the clothesline and beat the ever-lovin’ tar out of it, while watching the particles of dust fly out into the light of day.

Donaldina Cameron was that kind of person. She jumped right into the very worst the West had to offer and devoted her life to cleaning up what others were all too happy to ignore. What did Donaldina Cameron do? She worked to end the “yellow slave trade” in San Francisco.

Somewhere Out There

Donaldina CameronDonaldina Cameron and her family emigrated from New Zealand in 1869. She was only two at the time her family settled in California. When she was just five-years-old her mother died, leaving her father to raise six children alone. During that time, shocking things were going on in the world . . . things that young Donaldina could not begin to understand.

Occidental Mission HouseIn 1873, a group of Protestant women began working to rescue Chinese women and girls from prostitution, sweatshops, and “domestic service” . . . all of which seemed a lot like slavery. They opened a refuge for these abused women, the Occidental Mission House, in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown. They sure had their work cut out for them!

Gold Rush workersIn 1882, there were over 100,000 Chinese Gold Rush workers living in the San Francisco area. Yet the U.S. government established the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited Chinese men from sending for their wives and families and it prohibited them from marrying a non-Chinese woman. This created an environment in which prostitution and slavery could thrive. But, Donaldina knew nothing of those things. She was, after all, just a child, from a poor but respectable family.

When Donaldina was nineteen, she became engaged to marry, but for whatever reasons, the wedding never happened. One year later, in 1895, a family friend suggested that she spend a year working as a missionary at the Presbyterian Mission House, formerly known as the Occidental Mission House. She agreed to give it a whirl. What did she have to lose? The adventurous Donaldina packed her bags and set off to teach sewing to the residents at the Mission House. It was quite a proper position for a young woman. But it did not take long for Donaldina to see all that was improper about the plight of the women residents.

A Stitch in Time Saved Thousands

Chinatown in the 1800sChinatown in the late 1800s wasn’t exactly a picture-postcard tourist destination. It was dirty. It was crowded. And it was a veritable petri dish for communicable diseases. And there was Donaldina, teaching sewing classes to girls and women who had seen the seedier side of that life. She must have felt quite out of place.

Indentured servantsHow did it happen, she wondered…so many women and girls, abandoned and abused? She came to discover that in an effort to be reunited with their husbands, many Chinese women agreed to come to the U.S. as indentured servants. Most had naively believed that they would work for a few years, doing laundry or other household tasks, and then would be released. In reality, they had unknowingly signed thirty-year contracts. Given the hardships of their living conditions in this country, the odds of them even surviving for the duration of their contracts were slim.

Indentured servantsOther women and girls had been kidnapped from what was then Canton, China. These girls would work as unpaid house servants until adolescence, at which time they were sold into prostitution. Most of these “yellow slaves” survived only five years after being enslaved.

While the goal of the Mission House was to rescue these women and girls and to give them the skills needed to survive, it did not take Donaldina long to realize that she needed to do more than just teach them how to sew. Donaldina quickly became involved in rescuing them.

She became a Woman on a Mission

Donaldina CameronBy day Donaldina taught sewing and by night she became a 19th Century superhero. She went out with police officers to the ugly underbelly of Chinatown, in search of slave girls and prostitutes. They searched brothels and homes hoping to find the unfortunate “yellow slaves”. The ruthless owners would often hide their slaves in coal tunnels and secret rooms, to prevent their rescue. Donaldina responded by hiding the people she rescued in safe locations. The “owners” of the females were allowed by law to reclaim their “property”, if they could find them. But Donaldina and the people working with her knew that people couldn’t reclaim what they couldn’t find!

Donaldina CameronAs you might imagine, Donaldina and the Mission House made many powerful enemies. Chinese gangsters regularly threatened the Mission and its workers. Many young women in her position might have chosen to run back to their poor but respectable lives. But not Donaldina! When her year of service at the Mission House was completed, she agreed to stay on.

The Angel of Chinatown

In 1900, Donaldina became the superintendent of the Mission House. She was lauded as both a savior and a villain, depending upon which side of the fence you occupied. To the girls she rescued, she was “Lo Ma,” meaning Little Mother. To the Chinese gangsters and slave owners, she was “Fahn Quai,” meaning White Devil.

Great San Francisco EarthquakeIn 1906 disaster struck in the form of the Great San Francisco Earthquake, and the Mission House was destroyed by fire. When others were running for their lives, Donaldina was running back into the fire to rescue the records that proved her guardianship of the girls in her care. The home was rebuilt in 1908. It used bricks salvaged from the original building, but it was given a new and very appropriate name: Cameron House.

Cameron House

Donaldina CameronDonaldina worked at Cameron House until her retirement in 1934. Congress did not repeal the Chinese Exclusionary Acts until 1943. Ironically, that was the same year that anyone in the U.S. of Japanese ancestry was sent to internment camps. Social justice is a process, and Donaldina understood that. She also understood that when enough individuals joined together for a common goal, they could expedite that process. Donaldina is credited with saving nearly 3000 girls and women. She died in Palo Alto, California, in 1968, when she was 98-years-old.

Cameron House still exists today, and they continue Donaldina’s mission to help Asian immigrants. They provide youth programs and offer counseling, crisis intervention and food distribution to those struggling in the community. Isn’t it good to know there are still people who are not afraid to get out there and beat a few rugs?

Here’s a great little video about her life that I think you’ll enjoy!

Happy Trails, y’all!
Anita Lequoia