The Heritage Rough Rider Pays a Sixgun Tribute to Bass Reeves

by Tommy Grant

The first African American deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi River, Bass Reeves made remarkable contributions to law enforcement during the late 19th century. For this reason, Heritage Manufacturing pays tribute to the legendary lawman with its Rough Rider series. Chambered in .22 LR, the limited-edition revolver is crafted with precision and attention to detail. As a result, it is sure to be a true collector’s item.

Heritage Pays a Sixgun Tribute to Bass Reeves with Its Rough Rider Series

Not all U.S. Deputy Marshals in the IT were like Rooster Cogburn in the film True Grit. A notable exception was a former slave from Arkansas named Bass Reeves. Reeves and his family were farmers, but in 1875, when Issac Parker became judge, he appointed James Fagan as U.S. Marshal and directed him to hire 200 deputy marshals.

Fagan had heard about Reeves, who was familiar with the Territory and could speak several native languages. At the time, Reeves was 37 years old and became the first black deputy appointed west of the Mississippi River.

Bass Reeves spent some 32 years as a federal peace officer. During that time, he served under seven marshals, all of whom were more than satisfied with his performance. In 1893, he transferred to the Eastern District of Texas. However, in 1897, he was transferred back to the Indian/Oklahoma Territory (IT) to work for the newly founded Muskogee Federal Court.

During his career, Reeves developed keen detective skills and was an accomplished marksman with both rifle and revolver. In addition, by some accounts, Reeves made around 3,000 arrests, many of them for felonies. Records indicate that he killed 14 outlaws in the performance of his duties.

In all the shootouts he was involved in, he had many narrow escapes. Specifically, at different times, a button was shot off his coat, his belt was shot in two, his horse’s bridle reins were shot off, and a bullet struck his hat brim.

In all these conflicts, he was never the first to shoot. Reeves was so devoted to duty that he arrested his own son, who was wanted for murdering his wife!

Form Meets Function

Paramount+ recently released a new streaming TV series titled Lawmen: Bass Reeves. The series is the impetus for a new version of Heritage Manufacturing’s Rough Rider .22 RF sixgun, honoring this legendary lawman.

The Heritage Bass Reeves Rough Rider sixgun; the Zinc alloy frame has a simulated color case-hardened finish.

These Rough Rider single-action revolvers resemble reduced-sized Colt Peacemakers and are made in the USA. This limited-edition Bass Reeves commemorative comes in a special box with Reeves on the lid. Likewise, Reeves’ likeness is laser-etched into both sides of the walnut grip panels.

The Zinc alloy frame is embellished with simulated color case-hardening. Similarly, the steel barrel, cylinder, and Zinc alloy grip frame have a black oxide finish. Additionally, a much-improved hammer is left “in the white” and has a checkered spur.

In addition, the six-shot cylinder is chambered for .22 LR cartridges, and a .22 Magnum cylinder is available for purchase. My test gun had a 4.75-inch barrel, and a 6.5-inch barrel is also available as an option. The sights consist of a fixed rear notch in the top strap and a blade front sight.

The Bass Reeves legacy Heritage SA Rough Rider revolver comes in a special cardboard box with color Bass Reeves artwork on the lid.

The Rough Rider in Hand

Like the Colt SAA, the Heritage Rough Rider has those four distinct “clicks” as you bring the hammer back to full cock. The hammer must be placed in the half-cock position to allow the cylinder to turn for loading and ejecting spent brass. Empty cases are ejected one at a time using the ejection rod contained in a housing on the right side of the barrel. A loading gate in the right recoil shield opens, exposing the rear of the cylinder and chambers.

Unlike the original Colt Model P, the Rough Rider has a frame-mounted firing pin. In addition, it has an unusual feature—a safety built into the left recoil shield. With the safety in the “up/safe” position, the hammer is blocked from contacting the firing pin.

The hammer is placed on half-cock and the loading gate opened to expose the back of the cylinder and chamber (left); an unusual feature for a SA revolver is this safety lever built into the left recoil shield (right).

In this position, the sixgun can be carried safely with all six chambers loaded. This is despite the stamped-in warning on the left side of the barrel. Flipped into the “down/off-safe” position, a red dot is exposed, and the gun is ready to fire.

Heritage Rough Riders are strictly budget-priced handguns. So, don’t expect the fit and finish of revolvers costing five times as much. Nevertheless, I found the little gun attractive and “manly-looking” despite its less-than-perfect fit and finish.

The single-action lockup was tight, and the trigger pull was crisp, with a 3.18-pound pull weight, and little over-travel. Cylinder removal for cleaning is easily accomplished by putting the hammer on half-cock. Then press in on the spring-loaded cylinder latch (located on the left side of the frame), and simultaneously pull out the cylinder pin.

With the loading gate open, the cylinder can now be rolled out of its window in the frame. Correspondingly, replacement of the cylinder is done in reverse order.

Feeding the Bass Reeves Rough Rider

I looked forward to doing some shooting with the Bass Reeves commemorative and decided to use three different .22 LR loads from CCI.

The first was the company’s Green Tag Competition standard velocity (1070 FPS) cartridge. It has a 40 gr. lead round nose bullet, dark charcoal colored with a wax coating.

Shooting from a sandbag rest at 30 feet, the author shot this 1.58” 5-shot group, using CCI Clean-22 Hyper Velocity loads; note the 31 gr. purple-coated bullets.

Next was the Clean-22. It’s a high velocity (1235 FPS) load with a 40 gr. round nose bullet that has a red polymer coating.

Lastly was the Clean-22 Hyper Velocity (1550 FPS) cartridge utilizing a 31 gr. round nose bullet with a purple poly-coat. Of course, the factory velocity figures were measured using a rifle-length barrel. So, I didn’t expect the same velocities from a 4.75-inch barrel six-shooter.

As you can see in the performance chart (below), there is a significant difference.

Shooting the Heritage Revolver

Due to inclement weather that seems to bring out all my aches and pains, my test-shooting was done at an indoor range facility. I brought my own sandbag and stool, so it was just like shooting from a bench-rest position. Shooting was done at a distance of 30 feet, and I shot three 5-shot groups with each .22 LR load.

For fun and to test the rapid-fire capability of the Heritage Bass Reeves Rough Rider sixgun, the author shot this “gunslinger” target positioned at 21 feet, standing.

My best 5-shot group measured 1.58 inches and was made using the Clean-22 Hyper Velocity load. Similarly, the best 3-group average of 1.73 inches was made with the CCI Green Tag ammo. Finally, the largest 3-shot group average of 2.04 inches came using the CCI Clean-22 with the red poly-coated bullet.

I had one misfire with this load and one bullet key-holed with the Clean-22 Hyper Velocity round. It tended to shoot low with its 31 gr. bullet. However, the other two loads shot very close point-of-aim/point-of-impact-wise.

For fun, I sent a “bad cowboy” reduced-size silhouette target down-range to the 7-yard line. This Truglo target makes a nice lime-green halo around the bullet hole that is easy to see. From an isosceles stance, using a two-handed grip, I shot ten rounds of each CCI .22 LR load at the target, using a center hold.

You can see the results of the author’s shoot-out with the bad guy, all 30 shots in the scoring zone, using all three varieties of the CCI .22 LR ammunition.

The shooting was done as fast as I could cock the hammer, line up the sights, and press the trigger. All 30 of my shots stayed within the area of the scoring rings. Overall, the light-bullet hypervelocity load shot low. So, then I over-compensated and shot some of them high.

Twenty of the thirty shots were in the 9, 10, and X-rings. As recoil was practically non-existent, rapid fire was easy-peasy. This will make a great sixgun for practice or for your little buckeroos and buckerettes.

The End of a Legend

In 1907, two things happened—Oklahoma became a state, and Bass Reeves turned in his U.S. Deputy Marshal badge. Not quite ready to give up lawman work, at the age of 68, he became an officer with the Muskogee Police Department. Failing health took its toll, and he retired after two years. A headline in the Muskogee Phoenix newspaper dated January 13, 1910, announced: “Bass Reeves is Dead.”

A subhead stated, “Man of the Old Days Gone – Deputy Marshal for 32 Years.”

Some say he was the basis for the Lone Ranger character. At any rate, his courage and dedication deserve to be memorialized in this new little sixgun from Heritage Manufacturing. As such, the Bass Reeves Rough Rider is a fitting tribute.

For more information, please visit HeritageMfg.com.

Located in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, this bronze statue memorializes legendary lawman Bass Reeves, who served as a Deputy U.S. Marshal for 32 years.

Heritage Bass Reeves Rough Rider Revolver Specs

Mechanism Single action only
Caliber .22 LR
Capacity 6 cartridges
Barrel 4.75 in., 1:14 RH twist, 6 grooves
Overall Length 10.03 in.
Empty Weight 30.10 oz.
Sights Fixed notch rear, blade front
Finish Simulated color case-hardening, black oxide
Stocks Walnut with Bass Reeves etched image
MSRP $169.99

Performance

Cartridge Ave. Velocity Best Group Average Group
CCI Green Tag 40 gr. Lead Round Nose Std. Velocity 831 FPS 1.71” 1.73”
CCI Clean-22 40 gr. Round Nose Red Poly-Coat High Velocity  978 FPS 1.68” 2.04”
CCI Clean-22 31 gr. Round Nose Purple Poly-Coat Hyper Velocity 1075 FPS 1.58” 1.91”

NOTE:  Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity in feet per second 10 ft. from the muzzle by an Oehler Model 35P chronograph, and accuracy in inches for three 5-shot groups at 30 feet.

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