The effort to raise funds for a Bass Reeves statue in downtown Fort Smith will soon shift into a higher gear.
Also, statue promoters are hoping the efforts of U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., — Congressional Record submission and a letter to Academy-award winning actor Morgan Freeman — will help generate publicity.
Tonya Nkokheli said Wednesday the Bass Reeves Legacy Initiative has raised a little more than $100,000 toward the $300,000 goal to fund construction and maintenance of a large statue of Reeves in Pendergraft Park. The tentative schedule for placing the statue, of which Harold Holden has been commissioned to create, is May 2011.
Nkokheli, an Initiative board member, said within the next few weeks the Initiative plans to launch a campaign to raise $100,000 in 100 days. Several “teams” around the area will conduct fundraisers on behalf of the statue project, Nkokheli explained.
Even though Reeves was an African-American and illiterate, he brought in more outlaws from eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas than anyone else, according to the book, “Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves,” written by Art Burton. He was able to memorize the warrants for every law breaker he was to arrest and bring to trial.
Reeves was an expert tracker and detective, both respected and hated, but mostly feared. Reeves was not the first African-American appointed to serve Judge Isaac C. Parker's federal court as a deputy U.S. Marshal, but he was the most famous Marshal in his day. He was the first African-American inducted into the Great Westerners Hall of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City in 1992.
Lincoln on Wednesday (June 30) submitted comments to the Congressional Record on behalf of Reeves and the effort to recognize him with a statue.
A portion of Lincoln’s official remarks included: “He arrested some of the most dangerous criminals of the time, repeatedly demonstrating honor and integrity. He had to stand trial himself and was imprisoned for five months on a false accusation of murder. Following acquittal, he returned to tracking down and arresting criminals.
“Bass served the federal courts in the Indian Territory for 32 years, from 1875 until 1907 when Oklahoma became a state. At age 68 he became a member of the Muskogee, Oklahoma, police department and served until his death from Bright’s Disease on January 12, 1910.
“M. President, I recognize Deputy United States Marshal Bass Reeves as a real American hero.”
Lincoln noted in a press statement that she hopes the Congressional Record submission “will help bring attention to their efforts.”
Lincoln also wrote a private letter to Freeman thanking him for his interest in Reeves and noting the efforts in Fort Smith to build a Reeves statue. Lincoln’s office would not release the letter to Freeman, saying it was private correspondence.
Freeman, who has appeared in movies such as “Driving Miss Daisy,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” and “Unforgiven,” has been on record as saying he would like to do a movie based on the life and times of Bass Reeves.
On April 3, Baridi Nkokheli, Tonya Nkokheli, and Initiative board member Craig Pair met with Freeman for a 15-minute visit at the Central Flying Service terminal at the Little Rock National Airport. Baridi, director of the Fort Smith Department of Sanitation, has depicted Marshal Bass Reeves since 2007 on behalf of the city of Fort Smith.