Bad News for Outlaws

The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal

  • Interest Level: Grade 3 - Grade 6
  • Reading Level: Grade 4

Coretta Scott King Author Award

Read about the fascinating life of Bass Reeves, who escaped slavery to become the first African American Deputy US Marshal west of the Mississippi.

Sitting tall in the saddle, with a wide-brimmed black hat and twin Colt pistols on his belt, Bass Reeves seemed bigger than life. Outlaws feared him. Law-abiding citizens respected him. As a peace officer, he was cunning and fearless. When a lawbreaker heard Bass Reeves had his warrant, he knew it was the end of the trail, because Bass always got his man, dead or alive. He achieved all this in spite of whites who didn’t like the notion of a Black lawman.

Born into slavery in 1838, Bass had a hard and violent life, but he also had a strong sense of right and wrong that others admired. When Judge Isaac Parker tried to bring law and order to the lawless Indian Territories, he chose Bass to be a Deputy US Marshal. Bass would quickly prove a smart choice. For three decades, Bass was the most feared and respected lawman in the territories. He made more than 3,000 arrests, and though he was a crack shot and a quick draw, he only killed fourteen men in the line of duty. The story of Bass Reeves is the story of a remarkable African American and a remarkable hero of the Old West.

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Interest Level Grade 3 - Grade 6
Reading Level Grade 4
Genre Picture Books, Social Studies
Category 5 Kinds of Nonfiction, 5KN: Narrative Nonfiction, Diverse Books: #OwnVoices, Diverse Books: Race & Ethnicity, Diversity
Copyright 2009
Publisher Lerner Publishing Group
Imprint Carolrhoda Books ®
Language English
Number of Pages 40
Publication Date 2009-08-01
Reading Counts! Level 5.6
Text Type Narrative Nonfiction
BISACS JNF007050, JNF018010, JNF025200
Dewey 363.28'2092
Graphics 1-color illustrations
Dimensions 9.25 x 11.75
Lexile 860
Guided Reading Level T
ATOS Reading Level 5.2
Accelerated Reader® Quiz 131426
Accelerated Reader® Points 0.5
Features Author/Illustrator biography, Author/Illustrator note, Awards, Bibliography/further reading, Glossary, Primary source quotations/images, Reviewed, Source notes, Starred Reviews, and Timeline

Author: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson is the author of The Book Itch, as well as three Coretta Scott King Award-winning books: No Crystal Stair, Bad News for Outlaws, and Almost to Freedom. She is a former youth services librarian in New Mexico. Visit her online at

Illustrator: R. Gregory Christie

R. Gregory Christie's illustrations have earned him many awards, including a Caldecott Honor, many Coretta Scott King Honors, and multiple spots on the New York Times' annual Best Illustrated Children's Books lists. He has been a guest speaker at conferences and libraries and teaches after school art programs all over the world. He lives in Georgia.


  • National Endowment for the Humanities Nonfiction Booklist for Young Readers, Winner, 2016
  • Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Awards, Winner, 2012
  • Virginia Readers' Choice Award Reading List Selection, Long-listed, 2011
  • Pennsylvania Young Reader's Choice Awards Master List, Long-listed, 2011
  • ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Silver Award, Runner-up, 2010
  • SCBWI Golden Kite Award Honor, Commended, 2009
  • Western Writers of America Spur Awards Finalist, Commended, 2009
  • ALA Notable Children's Books, Winner, 2009
  • Carter G. Woodson Book Award Honor, Commended, 2009
  • NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People, Winner, 2009
  • Capitol Choices: Noteworthy Books for Children, Winner, 2009
  • New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, Winner, 2009
  • Bluestem Award Nominee, Nominated, 2009
  • Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC) Choices, Winner, 2009
  • Coretta Scott King Author Award, Winner, 2009
  • ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award Finalist, Short-listed, 2009
  • Notable Books for a Global Society Notable Book, Winner, 2009


The Horn Book Magazine

“Accentuated with a palette knife, Christie’s sharply textured paintings create an impressionist background of an unformed land as well as detailed portraits of this multi-dimensional individual, his bold black hat conveying unmistakable authority.”
The Horn Book Magazine


“An exciting subject captured with narrative panache and visual swagger, Bass Reeves stands to finally gain his share of adulation from kids drawn to the rough-and-tumble Old West.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Nelson’s well-researched biography reads much like a tall tale or frontier legend – as well it should: ‘Outlaws learned that when Marshal Reeves had your warrant, you were as good as got. . . ’ Christie’s bold full-page paintings echo the heroic spirit. . . children can saddle up with a genuine Western hero in a narrative that hits the bull’s-eye.”
Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly

“With lively language and anecdotes, Nelson (Juneteenth) chronicles the life of African-American lawman Bass Reeves in a biography that elevates him to folk hero. . . It’s an arresting portrait of a man who rose from escaped slave in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) to become a federal marshal who made thousands of arrests, including his own son, but killed only 14 men.”
Publishers Weekly

School Library Journal

“Christie’s memorable paintings convey Reeves’s determination and caring, while rugged brushstrokes form the frontier terrain. Youngsters will find much to admire here.”
School Library Journal