Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves Book Poster Image
Lively profile of a brave man living in a dangerous time.

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This is a rugged look at life in the Indian Territory in the late 1800s, rich with historical context. There’s a “Western Words” glossary in the back, along with a timeline, research notes, and suggestions for further reading.

Positive Messages

Respect for the law and civilized behavior and the rewards of dedicated work run through this account of Reeves’ life. Reeves took pains to avoid gunning down those he pursued, and cultivated a reputation that prompted many to turn themselves in without challenge. Outlaws are not romanticized.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Bass Reeves is presented as a clever, hardworking, and righteous man with a deep respect for the law. He even arrested his own son on murder charges. He commanded respect by being extremely good at his work, and often tried to convince his prisoners to mend their ways.


Nothing unexpected in a book on a marshal in Old West: It opens with a strong image looking down the barrel of a gun and Bass reluctantly killing an outlaw, and goes on to address slavery, racism, murder, and plenty of outlaws. One spread shows an empty rope hanging as the hero carries away a man who was about to be lynched.


Reeves' daughter-in-law is described as being "untrue."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know this is an unflinching portrait of a tough man living in a tough time and place. Bass Reeves is presented as an honorable man, but violence and racism inform much of his life story. An escaped slave, Reeves carved out a remarkable career arresting thousands of outlaws in a notoriously difficult region. Racism, violence, and gunplay are integral to the story, but are presented somberly.

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Parent of a 9, 10, and 12-year-old Written bydbatura June 25, 2010

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What's the story?

Bass Reeves was the longest-serving deputy U.S. marshal in Indian Territory. In over 32 years, the former slave arrested more than 3,000 outlaws -- and killed only 14. He earned a reputation for being honest, fearless, a crack shot, and clever.

Is it any good?

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson brings Bass Reeves' story to light with vibrant writing, a wealth of resources, and a strong sense of time and place. Reeves had a long, successful career as a renowned lawman, but his story is overshadowed by such contemporaries as Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok. A glossary explains some of the “Western” expressions, such as dry-gulch, shooting irons, and tumbleweed wagon; less patient readers might struggle with the unfamiliar expressions, but more likely kids will be drawn in by the sense of adventure. Micheaux doesn't romanticize the Old West, instead giving a gritty account of the hard realities of the late 19th century.

Strong strokes in the colorful paintings by R. Gregory Christie underscore Reeves’ tough, larger-than-life presence.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about honesty. Reeves had a reputation for being “honest as the day is long,” but he donned disguises to deceive outlaws and capture them. What do you think of his ruses? Were they fair? Do you still consider him an honest man?

  • Reeves couldn’t read, yet he still succeeded in bringing in thousands of outlaws. Do you think he was smart?

  • Reeves’ family -- a wife and 11 children -- are briefly mentioned, but the author doesn’t discuss his family life much. How do you think they felt about his job and lifestyle?

  • Why do you think Reeves took on such a dangerous, difficult career? What do you think appealed to him?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love biographies and great African American books

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