Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves
By Darienne Stewart,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Lively biography of brave Black marshal in the Old West.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Kids will learn about an honest, brave, respected African American marshal in the Old West. 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.
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
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.
Strong positive portrayal of African American Bass Reeves as smart, honest, hardworking, and brave. Addresses racism and U.S. policy toward Native Americans in Indian Territory during the late 1800s.
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Violence & Scariness
Nothing unexpected in a book: 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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Reeves' daughter-in-law is described as being "untrue."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, 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. Escaped from slavery, Reeves carved out a remarkable career as a U.S. marshal, 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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What's the Story?
BAD NEWS FOR OUTLAWS: THE REMARKABLE LIFE OF BASS REEVES traces the life of the longest-serving deputy U.S. marshal in Indian Territory. In over 32 years, the formerly enslaved Reeves 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?
This lively biography 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 "Western" expressions, such as dry-gulch, shooting irons, and tumbleweed wagon. Less patient readers might struggle with the unfamiliar expressions, but most kids will be drawn in by the sense of adventure. Author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson 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 in Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves. 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?
- Author: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson
- Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie
- Genre: Biography
- Book type: Non-Fiction
- Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
- Publication date: November 1, 2009
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 12
- Number of pages: 40
- Award: Coretta Scott King Medal and Honors
- Last updated: November 3, 2021
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