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Wild West

David Oyelowo stars as a legendary frontier figure in Lawmen: Bass Reeve

People make history every day, but there can only ever be one “first.” To be the first of something is no small feat as it often requires a massive cultural shift, a significant change in circumstance or — if you believe in such things — a miracle.
Lawmen: Bass Reeves tells the story of the first Black U.S. marshal west of the Mississippi River. And while Reeves’ story may not be new to some viewers, it certainly is a piece of history steeped in cultural shifts, hard work and seemingly miraculous moments.
This true tale of Bass Reeves is just the first of several Lawmen chronicles to come. A new addition to Academy Award-nominated writer, filmmaker and actor Taylor Sheridan’s western franchise — which includes Yellowstone, 1883 and 1923, Lawmen is a new anthology series that plans to feature the life and work of a new legendary lawman (or possibly woman) as well as their affiliated outlaws each season. Releasing with two episodes right off the bat, Lawmen: Bass Reeves is an eight-episode season starring David Oyelowo (See How They Run) in the titular role.
While Sheridan is attached as an executive producer, the series is created by Texan writer/producer Chad Feehan, whose other projects include Ray Donovan, Banshee and Southland.
Per the real-life marshal’s own obituary (printed in the Muldrow Press on Jan. 21, 1910), Reeves “killed [14] men, but nothing more true could be said of him than that he did his duty, and the Federal officers and ex-Federal officers in Eastern Oklahoma mourn the death of old Bass Reeves.
The commemoration goes on to note Reeves’ contribution to ensuring law and order within the United States, including his “mind that knew not how to quail” and his “intensity of purpose that led him to follow criminals day and night.” Further to that end, the obit remarked that each of his 14 kills were committed out of self-defence and indicated a moral code and sense of honour unmatched by many of his contemporaries.
Born into slavery in Crawford County, Ark., in July 1838, Reeves led a dreadfully difficult and unjust life throughout his entire childhood and into his adult years. Kept in bondage and servitude by the wealthy and powerful Reeves family — first in Arkansas, then later in Texas — the then-slave was forced to follow his “owner,” George Reeves, into the Confederate Army when he enlisted at the beginning of the American Civil War.
Despite plenty of hardship and chaos, Bass Reeves (who took his name from his captors, as many slaves of the time did) eventually escaped and made his way to so-called “Indian Territory,” land occupied by Native Americans who held original Indian Title (also called Aboriginal Title) and governed the area as a sovereign and independent state. It presumed that Reeves lived among the local Indigenous people until he gained his freedom in 1865-’66 when slavery was abolished and ratified across the United States.
Nearly a decade later, in 1875, Judge Isaac C. Parker took over the Fort Smith federal court and appointed Reeves as a deputy U.S. marshal. This — believe it or not — is where the Lawmen part of the story truly begins.

Oyelowo is no stranger to a complicated and meaty historical role
on screen. Perhaps best known for starring as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

in the 2014 film Selma, Oyelowo lends a necessary gravity to the character of Reeves, a man who arrested more than “3,000 outlaws during the course of his career” (per the show’s official press release).
Despite his successful career, the same news release also notes some of the difficulties Reeves faced, drawing particular attention to the fact that “the weight of the badge was heavy, and he wrestled with its moral and spiritual cost to his beloved family.” This central theme of the premiere season is one that’s expected to continue across the entirety of the Lawmen series.
Joining Oyelowo are Dennis Quaid (The Day After Tomorrow), Bill Dawes (Alaska Daily), Joaquina Kalukango (One Night in Miami), Grantham Coleman (Black Bear), Lonnie Chavis (This Is Us), Margot Bingham (She’s Gotta Have It), Mo Brings Plenty (Yellowstone), Tosin Morohunfola (Run the World), Dale Dickey (Hell or High Water), Rob Morgan (Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty), Ryan O’Nan (Big Sky) and Justin Hurtt-Dunkley (Mare of Easttown) in recurring roles.

Well-known actors Shea Whigham (Perry Mason), Donald Sutherland (M*A*S*H) and Garrett Hedlund (Tulsa King) also appear in the series, as George Reeves, Judge Parker and posse man Garrett Montgomery, respectively. ■

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