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Review of Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves

by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Review by Elon C.


Bad News for Outlaws was written for children age 9-12. Vaunda Micheaux Nelson has done an excellent job of weaving an exciting and educational tale about a real man whose story seems larger than life. Bass Reeves was an escaped slave turned deputy U.S. Marshal in the late 1800s. Over the course of his career he captured over three thousand criminals and served longer than any marshal in U.S. history.

Nelson begins the story with a fast paced gun battle between deputy Bass and a criminal named Jim Webb. Then we flash back to Bass's childhood as a slave in Arkansas, Texas and his escape to the west. While living in what is now the state of Oklahoma, he learned several native languages and became a top marksman. Bass was invited to become a deputy marshal after Judge Isaac C. Parker heard of his skill and knowledge.

The gun slinging story lines and illustrations are exciting but PG-rated. Even though many criminals were wanted "dead or alive," Bass did his best to capture even the most violent criminals so that they could face justice in American courts instead of killing them on the spot.

Author Vaunda Nelson fills Bass's story with interesting vignettes and fun old-fashioned vocabulary. For those not well versed in old-timey terminology, there is a list of "western words" and their definitions in the back of the book. There is also a timeline of related historic events, and a list of books for readers interested in learning more about the Old West, Bass Reeves or the U.S. Marshals.

Listen to author Vaunda Nelson talk about why she decided to write about Bass Reeves and read the first page of her book:

U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves