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  • Written by Gary Paulsen
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  • The Legend of Bass Reeves
  • Written by Gary Paulsen
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307513793
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On Sale: December 30, 2008
Pages: 160 | ISBN: 978-0-307-51379-3
Published by : Laurel Leaf RH Childrens Books
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Born into slavery, Bass Reeves became the most successful US Marshal of the Wild West.
Many "heroic lawmen" of the Wild West, familiar to us through television and film, were actually violent scoundrels and outlaws themselves. But of all the sheriffs of the frontier, one man stands out as a true hero: Bass Reeves.

He was the most successful Federal Marshal in the US in his day. True to the mythical code of the West, he never drew his gun first. He brought hundreds of fugitives to justice, was shot at countless times, and never hit.

Bass Reeves was a black man, born into slavery. And though the laws of his country enslaved him and his mother, when he became a free man he served the law, with such courage and honor that he became a legend.

From the Hardcover edition.


Spring 1834

The Witch Dog

The boy lay under a mesquite bush to get shade from the Texas sun and watched the cow intently.

She was a longhorn with horns a full five feet across. He'd seen horns that size cut men and kill horses, so he waited. She was about to go into labor, what he called getting calf sick, and when she was actually having the calf she couldn't attack him. Then he would run up, drop a noose around her head and dance back before one of those horns could catch him. The rope was twenty feet long and tied to a four-foot piece of log about five inches in diameter. When the cow tried to run, the log would tangle in the mesquite and rocks and stop her so she could be captured, branded and added to the mister's herd to sell and make him rich.

The cow moved and he studied her with a knowing eye. She was huge for a cow, with flat sides and many scars from running through brush and fighting other cows.

It would be another half hour, at least, before labor. She wasn't even hunched yet.

"You take the rope and the log," the mister had told him. The boy never thought of him as the master, though legally he was, like all white men who owned slaves. The boy's mammy had told him: "Your name is Bass, and ain't no man your master. Not now. Not ever. We got to do what we got to do 'cause of the white man's law. But that don't make no man your master in God's eyes."

Bass studied the horns. They came around so fast, and sharp, sometimes you almost couldn't see them move. Once he moved in too close on an old brindle cow and just the tip of a horn caught his trousers. Cut them open like a knife.

"Zzzzzttt!" The cloth almost sang. They were no-'count pants anyway, handed down from the mister, all patches and held up with a piece of tow over his shoulder. He knew his mammy would sew them up, but he didn't like the feel of the horn swinging by that close.

Another inch and I'd have been looking at my guts, he thought, squinting in the sun. Pulled out on a horn like wet rope. He'd seen cow and pig guts when they slaughtered, horse guts once when a bull hooked a mare that wasn't paying attention. He did not want to see his own.

Now he heard movement in the mesquite off to the right and waited. Might be the mister sneaking to see if he was working. Make sure he was doing.

No need at all, he thought. I work all the time. Not for the mister. I work because it makes the time pass.

It was two coyotes, low on their bellies. They knew there would soon be afterbirth for them to eat.

Bass watched them. They did not know he was there, back in the shady hole where he'd had to scare out a rattlesnake. The snake had buzzed some and then left when he pushed it with a stick. He didn't like snakes. He wasn't afraid of them-how could you be scared of something that couldn't crawl faster than a slow walk?-but they were always mad. Seems like they bit just to be mean. His mammy told him of one that crawled in a cradle and bit a baby and killed it. Why? Baby wasn't doing a thing. Sometimes Bass killed snakes, especially around the house where they could get a dog or cat or baby pig or a chicken. But when he was out in the mesquite or down at the creek bottom, he let them be. If, he thought, they let me be. He didn't like killing things without a good reason.

The mister, now, would take his percussion pistol and shoot anything. Lizards off a rock, songbirds off a rail. Or try to. Whenever he got hold of a whiskey jug, he couldn't hit the ground, let alone a bird on a fence.

Now, it was something, how the coyotes knew when a cow was ready. Maybe the smell, Bass thought, or they might be witch dogs. His mammy told him that, back in New Orleans where she was from, there were witch dogs that could tell you things if you knew how to understand them. She didn't know how to talk to the dogs but her mammy could do it, could give a witch dog molasses, and when it wrinkled its lips to lick the molasses off its tongue, she could tell if someone was going to die or when they would have a baby, and was it a boy or a girl.

"Mammy said the power skips," Bass's mammy told him. "Didn't come to me, but maybe to you, to read the witch dogs. Mostly women have it, but I didn't have a girl and won't be no more chirrun. So if it happens, it will have to be you."

Bass was seven when his mammy told him that, better than three years ago come fall. He had lifted a jug of blackstrap molasses from the pump house and tried it on one of the mister's old tick hounds. He tried it so often the dog took a liking to it and followed him around all day, waiting to have his tongue wiped with molasses.

Problem was, Bass remembered now as he watched the coyotes move toward the cow, problem was it gave the hound the black skoots. Dog messed the yard and the pump house and all over the porch, and Bass had to quit because the mister said he was going to shoot the hound if he didn't stop messing.

Bass never learned anything from the hound but that it liked molasses and had a straight pipe for a gut. It was a good dog and Bass felt bad when one day a snake cooling itself by the pump house bit it between the eyes. Killed that hound. After that, whenever Bass saw a snake in the yard, he would get a hoe and chop it and feed it to the pigs.

There. The cow hunched. Her labor was starting. Bass gathered the rope and the log. The coyotes saw him and one looked straight into Bass's eyes and moved its lips.

At first he couldn't believe what he saw. The coyotes were thirty-five yards away, just past the head of the cow, but when Bass shook his head, the coyote was still looking at him, straight up into his eyes. And the animal's lips moved.

Things will change.

Bass wasn't sure if he heard it or felt it like a touch on his skin, but the phrase was there. In his head. As clear as if somebody had said it aloud. And it came from the coyote.

Things will change.

"What will change?"

He said it so loud that the coyotes both jumped and the cow started and turned to see him for the first time, though she didn't move, couldn't move now that her labor had begun.

The coyotes didn't answer him, either aloud or in his head, but they didn't run. Instead they stood, one looking at the cow, the other staring directly at Bass.

"Are you a witch dog?" Bass said.

From the Hardcover edition.
Gary Paulsen

About Gary Paulsen

Gary Paulsen - The Legend of Bass Reeves

Photo © Tim Keating

“We have been passive. We have been stupid. We have been lazy. We have done all the things we could do to destroy ourselves. If there is any hope at all for the human race, it has to come from young people. Not from adults.”—Gary Paulsen

A three-time Newbery Honor winner, Gary Paulsen is also winner of the 1997 Margaret A. Edwards Award, which honors an author’s lifetime contribution to writing books for teenagers.


Writing is so much a part of the way I live . . .

Writing is so much a part of the way I live that I would be lost without the discipline and routine. I write every day—every day—and it gives me balance and focus. Every day I wake up, usually at 4:30 a.m., with the sole purpose of sitting down to write with a cup of hot tea and a computer or a laptop or a pad of paper—it doesn’t matter. I’ve written whole books in my office, in a dog kennel with a headlamp, on more airplanes than I can remember, on the trampoline of my catamaran off the shores of Fiji—it never matters where I write, just where the writing takes me.

Everything else I do is just a path to get me to that moment when I start to work. Sometimes I’m lucky and the living part of life gets folded into the writing part, like with Dogsong and the Brian books and Caught by the Sea and How Angel Peterson Got His Name. Those books were based on personal inspection at zero altitude, I took experiences that I had and turned them into books. I’ve spent a great deal of time in the outdoors, but not with the specific goal of writing about it later. I’ll be honest, though, and tell you that I enjoyed writing about those times as much as, if not more than, I enjoyed living through those times in the first place. I didn’t start writing until I was 26 years old. I look back now and wonder what I thought I was supposed to be doing with my time before that.

I’ve experimented with different voices and styles . . .
Sometimes the way to tell a story is even more important than the story itself. I’ve experimented with different voices and styles and genres over the years. The Glass Café and Harris and Me were born of the voices of people I could not get out of my head. Tony was a boy I knew back when I lived in Hollywood and Harris was a cousin from my childhood. To honor their voices, I wrote the books in very different styles. Tony had a fast-paced, breathless speaking style and I had fun trying to capture that on paper. And the best way to paint a picture of Harris was to detail all those crazy stunts of his.

Nightjohn and Soldier’s Heart were the result of studying history. Sarny came from the research I did in the National Archives when I stumbled across the Slave Narratives. And I discovered Charley Goddard when reading a book about the Minnesota First Volunteers. I hadn’t expected to find characters for books of my own when I started reading, but I could not shake them until I tried to figure out on paper what their lives must have been like.

I am still amazed by the gifts that writing gives to me . . .
Even after all these years, I am still amazed by the gifts that writing gives to me. There is not only the satisfaction from the hard work—and even after all this time and all these books, it is still very hard work for me to make a book—and the way the hair rises on the back of my neck when a story works for me, but also the relationships I have made with the people who read my books.

The one true measure of success for me has always been the readers . . .
People ask me about the kind of money I make and how many awards I’ve received, but the one true measure of success for me
has always been the readers. I give the checks to my wife and my agent keeps the awards for me. The only thing I have in my office, other than junk and work and research, is a framed letter from one of my readers. That means more to me than just about anything else, the letters
I get from the people who read my books.

Thank you for reading my books and for writing to me. Read like a wolf eats. Read.


Born May 17, 1939, Gary Paulsen is one of America’s most popular writers for young people. Although he was never a dedicated student, Paulsen developed a passion for reading at an early age. After a librarian gave him a book to read—along with his own library card—he was hooked. He began spending hours alone in the basement of his apartment building, reading one book after another.

Running away from home at the age of 14 and traveling with a carnival, Paulsen acquired a taste for adventure. A youthful summer of rigorous chores on a farm; jobs as an engineer, construction worker, ranch hand, truck driver, and sailor; and two rounds of the 1,180-mile Alaskan dogsled race, the Iditarod; have provided ample material from which he creates his powerful stories.

Paulsen’s realization that he would become a writer came suddenly when he was working as a satellite technician for an aerospace firm in California. One night he walked off the job, never to return. He spent the next year in Hollywood as a magazine proofreader, working on his own writing every night. Then he left California and drove to northern Minnesota where he rented a cabin on a lake; by the end of the winter, he had completed his first novel.

Living in the remote Minnesota woods, Paulsen eventually turned to the sport of dogsled racing, and entered the 1983 Iditarod. In 1985, after running the Iditarod for the second time, he suffered an attack of angina and was forced to give up his dogs. “I started to focus on writing with the same energies and efforts that I was using with dogs. So we’re talking 18-, 19-, 20-hour days completely committed to work. Totally, viciously, obsessively committed to work, the way I’d run dogs. . . . I still work that way, completely, all the time. I just work. I don’t drink, I don’t fool around, I’m just this way. . . . The end result is there’s a lot of books out there.”

It is Paulsen’s overwhelming belief in young people that drives him to write. His intense desire to tap deeply into the human spirit and to encourage readers to observe and care about the world around them has brought him both enormous popularity with young people and critical acclaim from the children’s book community. Paulsen is a master storyteller who has written more than 175 books and some 200 articles and short stories for children and adults. He is one of the most important writers of young adult literature today, and three of his novels—Hatchet, Dogsong, and The Winter Room—are Newbery Honor Books. His books frequently appear on the best books lists of the American Library Association.

Paulsen has received many letters from readers (as many as 200 a day) telling him they felt Brian Robeson’s story in Hatchet was left unfinished by his early rescue, before the winter came and made things really tough. They wanted to know what would happen if Brian were not rescued, if he had to survive in the winter. Paulsen says, “I researched and wrote Brian’s Winter, showing what could and perhaps would have happened had Brian not been rescued.”

In Paulsen’s book, Guts: The True Stories Behind Hatchet and the Brian Books, Paulsen shares his own adventures in the wild, which are often hilarious and always amazing: moose attacks, heart attacks, near-misses in planes, and looking death in the eye.

Paulsen has written a time-travel novel, The Transall Saga, which was named an ALA Quick Pick. And in the heartwrenching story Soldier’s Heart, Paulsen brings the Civil War to life battle by battle, as readers see the horror of combat and its devastating results through the eyes of 15-year-old Charley Goddard.

Paulsen and his wife Ruth Wright Paulsen, an artist who has illustrated several of his books, divide their time between a home in New Mexico and a boat in the Pacific. For more information about Gary Paulsen, visit www.garypaulsen.com


“Readers will want to savor this stirring book.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews

“The ultimate coming-of-age story. . . . Exceptional and so heartbreakingly real.”—Starred, Booklist

“Paulsen crafts a companion/sequel to Hatchet containing many of its same pleasures. . . . Read together, the two books make his finest tale of survival yet.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews

“These episodes will not only keep young readers, of both sexes, in stitches, they’re made to order for reading aloud.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews

“Superb characterizations, splendidly evoked setting, and thrill-a-minute plot make this book a joy to gallop through.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

“A treat to make Paulsen fans sit up and beg for more. . . . His writing percolates with energetic love.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

A Life Remembered
“A satisfying sequel. . . . It is a great read, with characters both to hate and to cherish, and a rich sense of what it really was like then.”—Starred, Booklist

“The novel’s spare, simple language and vivid visual images of brutality and death on the battlefield make it accessible and memorable to young people.”—Starred, Booklist

“A riveting science fiction adventure. . . . Captivating.”—Starred, Booklist


“Paulsen’s telling is rich in both vivid and gory historical detail, from scalping, branding and burying to hunting, butchering and animal care. Completely captivating–begs to be made into a movie.”–Kirkus Reviews, Starred

“A stirring tale of adventure.”–Booklist, Starred

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