The surprisingly large crowd gathered in the Wednesday (May 16) afternoon heat in downtown Fort Smith erupted into simultaneous applause as the long-awaited and large statue of Bass Reeves came into view on the bridge from Oklahoma into downtown Fort Smith.
“It was smooth sailing,” said Brandon Wheeler, a passenger in the vehicle that transported the statue from Norman, Okla., to Fort Smith. “But we got started at 4 a.m.”
Brandon’s father, Brad, drove the vehicle, with Brandon’s mother, Cindy, also a passenger. The vehicle used to transport the statue belongs to Stephens Productions.
The convoy traveled to Roland, Okla., where they stopped to uncover the statue for the remaining few miles into Fort Smith.
The larger-than-life monument, appropriately titled “Into the Territory,” depicts Reeves on horseback, rifle in hand. Western artist and sculptor Harold T. Holden’s creation was the result of more than four years of fundraising by the Bass Reeves Legacy Initiative. The group raised around $300,000 to make the project a reality.
Reeves began his career as a deputy U.S. Marshal during the term of U.S. District Judge Isaac Parker. Reeves was a marshal between 1875 and 1910. Even though he was an African-American and illiterate, he brought in more outlaws from eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas than anyone else. He was able to memorize the warrants for every suspect he was to arrest and bring to trial.
“Superb,” said Richard Davies, executive director of the Arkansas Parks & Tourism Department, when asked his thoughts of seeing the statue.
The Arkansas Parks & Tourism Commission is meeting Thursday in Fort Smith — a meeting coordinated to take advantage of the Bass Reeves statue.
Once erected, the Reeves statue will be the largest equestrian statue in Arkansas, and will face travelers as the enter Arkansas from Oklahoma.
THE REEVES CELEBRATION
A 10-day celebration surrounding the unveiling of the monument has been scheduled to take place in Fort Smith May 17-27.
Between May 13-18, the Fort Smith National Historic Site will display markers honoring each of the lawmen who died in the line of duty while working for the federal court for the Western District of Arkansas during the years 1872 to 1896.
At 9 a.m. on May 18, the Harold T. Holden Artistic Grit Art Exhibition will open in the Fort Smith Convention Center rotunda and north lobby. Harold T. Holden is the Western artist who created the Bass Reeves monument. A one-week art exhibition of both paintings and sculptures will be available for public viewing.
A welcome party will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. May 24 at the Fort Smith Museum of History with a cookout in the museum parking lot. Tickets are $10 per person.
At 11:30. a.m on May 25, the fifth annual Book Lovers' Luncheon will take place at the Fort Smith Convention Center theatre lobby. Tickets are $25, with proceeds benefiting the Fort Smith Public Library Endowment and Trust and the Friends of the Library. Featured author is Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, the award-winning author of Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, U.S. Deputy Marshal.
The real party starts at 6 p.m. May 25 with a Thank You Awards Gala at The MovieLounge on Rogers Avenue. The event features a red carpet entrance and cocktail party with paparazzi-style pictures taken by Bedford’s Camera and Video as you enter via the red carpet. There will be an awards recognition dinner at 7 p.m. prepared by executive chef Will Greenwood, who worked in the administrations of Presidents Clinton and President George W. Bush. Partygoers can take in a dinner movie and dance beginning at 9 p.m. Tickets are $100 per person or $850 for a table of 10.
Unveiling festivities begin at 10 a.m., on May 26 with day-long activities at each of the historic sites including Pendergraft Park’s grounds, the Fort Smith National Historic Site, the Fort Smith Museum of History, The Clayton House, the site of the U.S. Marshals Museum, The Park at West End and the Downtown Restaurant & Pub Association. The Farmer's Market will also be open to the public. The trolley will make 20 minute cycles to each of the historic sites.
The week’s activities will wind down May 27 with the Clayton Conversations “The Badge and the Boots.” Dave Ross will interview T. Baridi Nkokheli on what it has been like to portray Bass Reeves for the past five years. Then at 3 p.m., noted scholar Art T. Burton and a panel of other experts on Reeves will present “From Hero to Icon” at the Fort Smith Main Library Community Room. The presentation reviews the life and legacy of U.S. Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves.