U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves meets Morgan Freeman

Legendary U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves — portrayed by Baridi Nkokheli of Fort Smith — visited Saturday (April 3) with legendary and Academy Award winning actor Morgan Freeman about the plans to build a Bass Reeves statue in Fort Smith.

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.

Nkokheli and wife Tonya, and Craig Pair met with Freeman for a 10-15 minute visit at the Central Flying Service terminal at the Little Rock National Airport. Tonya Nkokheli and Pair are board members of the Bass Reeves Legacy Initiative working to raise money for a large Reeves statute to be placed in Pendergraft Park in downtown Fort Smith. The tentative schedule for placing the statue, of which Harold Holden has been commissioned to create, is May 2011.

The only goal of the meeting was to ensure that Freeman is aware that business and civic leaders in the Fort Smith area are serious about recognizing Bass Reeves and firmly connecting his accomplishments to a city that is also home to the planned U.S. Marshals Museum, said Pair, who serves as board chairman of the Initiative.

Reeves was the most feared marshal of his time under U.S. Federal Judge Isaac C. Parker. Reeves was born a slave in Texas in 1838 and died in Muskogee, Okla., on Jan. 12, 1910.

Even though Reeves was an African-American and illiterate, he brought in more outlaws 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.

Nkokheli, director of the Fort Smith Department of Sanitation, has depicted Marshal Bass Reeves since 2007 on behalf of the city of Fort Smith. He also supports fundraising with the Bass Reeves Legacy Initiative for the Reeves statue.

Freeman was in Little Rock to accept an award from the Oxford American magazine. Knowing this, Sebastian County Circuit Court Judge Jim Spears worked through Mississippi attorney Bill Luckett to arrange a meeting between Freeman and Initiative-project members. Luckett serves as one of Freeman’s attorneys, and has also announced he will run as a Democrat in the 2011 Mississippi gubernatorial election.

After several letters and e-mails between Spears, Baridi and Luckett, a brief meeting was arranged.

Nkokheli, dressed as Bass Reeves, wasted no time when Freeman entered the terminal, explaining quickly the statute project, the planned U.S. Marshals Museum and how the Fort Smith area is a dominant part of Reeves’ life history. Nkokheli said his work in sharing Bass Reeves with area civic groups, elementary school students and other interested parties is focused on educating them about one of the first — if not THE first — blacks to be commissioned a U.S. Marshal and the role of blacks in American history.

“The two of us are trying to do the same thing,” Freeman responded.

Freeman not only listened to the presentation, but even quizzed Nkokheli about the name of Reeve’s favorite horse.

“Blaze,” Freeman said, answering his own question.

Nkokheli also told Luckett that U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., is aware of the Reeves statue project and that she passed along her thanks to Luckett and Freeman for their providing time to members of the Initiative.

The Fort Smith group presented Freeman with Bass Reeves’ commemorative badges, coins and posters of the statue and Reeves.


“I’ll admit I was nervous,” Baridi said after Freeman and his small entourage departed. “But I think he was interested in what we had to say, even providing the tidbit about (Reeves’) horse. ... And the fact that he knew of the history and has been there (Judge Parker’s court) tells me that he has a passion for this.”

Following is a short video (a little more than two minutes) of portions of the meeting with Freeman.

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Baridi is a Great representative for Fort Smith and Bass Reeves! Keep up the great work. You make us proud.

Who cares

With all the unemployment and higher than heck taxes in Fort Smith...why is this important...this will end up just being another project with upkeep that the citizens of Fort Smith will be asked to bear the cost of.

Well said. Focus should be

Well said. Focus should be on the Fort Smith economy. Some additional Bass Reeves Legacy Initiative trivia: which one of the board members has either layed off or lost nearly half his employees in the last year?

Forging the Fort

The perspective here is that we have a group of individuals working TOWARDS something. They are doing nothing more than volunteering their time to raise money for something they BELIEVE in. I would venture to guess Mr. Nkokheli gave selfishly of his Saturday to travel to North Little Rock for this presentation. I would venture to guess dressing in costume isn't Mr. Nkokheli free time hobby of choice. He is doing it for us. The total cost of the statue is only $100,000 and I'm certain the hidden intent of the visit was to coax Mr. Freeman into a contribution. The project fits ties in perfectly with the Marshal museum and into Fort Smith's historical tourism, embraces our heritage and our complex ethnicity, and generates public art. To me, that is about our economy, but even still, there should be many irons in the fire if we are ever going to forge a better Fort Smith.
The perspective here is that we have a group of individuals working TOWARDS something. They are doing nothing more than volunteering their time to raise money for something they BELIEVE in. I would venture to guess Mr. Nkokheli gave selfishly of his Saturday to travel to North Little Rock for this presentation. I would venture to guess dressing in costume isn't Mr. Nkokheli free time hobby of choice. He is doing it for us. The total cost of the statue is only $100,000 and I'm certain the hidden intent of the visit was to coax Mr. Freeman into a contribution. The project fits ties in perfectly with the Marshal museum and into Fort Smith's historical ...>> Read the entire comment.

Indians, too

And for the record, when they are done raising the money to go forward, I would like to see them raise enough money to erect a tribute to the Native American guides, who often led the way into the frontier, in front of the statue. I'll personally join that effort. Who is with me?


Wouldn't Morgan Freeman be a great narrator for a movie about Bass? I suggest Baridi for the starring role!

Great project

Wow how cool was that. Great job Baridi, Morgan Freeman is one of my most favorite actors. Would love to see and learn more of Bass Reeves. A full length movie of his life would be awesome,shot right here in Fort Smith would be a too cool.

economic development

Can the people that say we need to concentrate on economic development please describe what they mean specifically? An answer like "create more jobs!" doesn't do a whole lot. What specifically would you do to create 5 jobs that last at least a year and pay more than minimum wage?

Establish an economic

Establish an economic environment that promotes private sector growth by, among other things, reducing the tax burdens on those that create the jobs.

Anonymous, you did just what

Anonymous, you did just what I thought you would do, which is speak in generalities. "create an economic environment..." How? "Among other things..." What other things? "Lower the tax burden on those that create jobs". Which taxes? What do you cut to pay for taxes? (Please don't say "eliminate waste". Come up with a specific waste you want eliminated). I have not found anything specific in your response. People act on specifics and talk in generalities. Maybe if you had something specific we could act on it. The statue is specific. It commemorates a person that was a part of what made this area habitable. Bass was a remarkable story. Just like a single brush stroke does not make an entire painting, neither is this statue the entire story, but a piece of the story about our past. I do not expect that very many people will come to Fort Smith just to see a statue. I do expect that once all of the pieces are in place, people will come to Fort Smith because they will see our town has a unique cultural heritage and they want to know more about it. The statue is just a highlight. It lets people know that Bass was here. He was born in Van Buren, moved away, but eventually moved back there and worked out of Fort Smith. He raised his kids here. This is where people that want to know more about Bass will come to. This where they can look at the landscape, look at the jail, look at the courthouse and eventually look at a museum that not only tells his story but the story of the entire Marshall’s service. There is only one place that can offer all of that, and that is Fort Smith. We have already had one set of visitors that came to Fort Smith for this very reason. This guy and his girlfriend were from Minnesota and came all the way down here just to here Baridi speak. It is not much economic development, but it is some. What could happen when all of this is in place? More visitors might mean that somebody sees an opportunity for a new hotel or two to hold the visitors that come in every summer. If we have that many visitors, somebody might see an opportunity and open a new restaurant or souvenir shop. With the added traffic, somebody might put in a new entertainment venue somewhere. The statue is not going to do all of this by itself; it is just a brush stroke, helping to paint the entire picture. Tourism in itself is not the entire economic development picture either. I understand that you need to try to address all aspects of the economy in order for all of them to survive. Look what happened to the US economy when the banking industry had trouble. It affected everything from housing to manufacturing. We need a rounded approach to economic development. Just because a project does not stir your passions, it does not mean it is not worth doing. At least we are doing something, specific.

bigguy, you did just what I

bigguy, you did just what I thought you would do, which is take a one-sentence City Wire comment personally and draft a 500+ word response. Perhaps if you guys spent as much time contributing to the GDP as you do trolling comments about your statue, our economy would be in better shape.

Bass Reeves topic of recent student created VFT.

So thrilled to learn that Mr. Nkokheli was given the opportunity to speak to Mr. Morgan Freeman about the Bass Reeves Legacy Initiative. In February of this year, my 8th grade students at Howe Public Schools in Howe, OK, presented a student created virtual field trip on the topic of Bass Reeves. Mr. Nkokheli also presented during the field trip on site at the Fort Smith Museum of History. The group connected to 5th grade students in Stamford, NY via Tandberg videoconferencing equipment to share "one of the greatest stories ever told." You can visit our student created wiki at http://bassreeves.wikispaces.com/ The project was part of an international contest "Kids Creating Community Content - KC3." Project winners will be announced later this month. After learning about Bass Reeves in the Dec/Jan issue of Entertainment Fort Smith, we knew we had found the topic for this year's KC3 project that met their mission to "tell a story others want to hear." Bass Reeves' story is amazing, and my students and I were honored to share it! Tammy G. Parks, Teacher, Howe Public Schools

You can delete comments, but

You can delete comments, but it doesn't change the fact Morgan Freeman was accused of having an affair with his step-granddaughter. I don't see how that's any different than including the tidbit about Dick Morris and the prostitute in another story.

Apples and oranges. One was

Apples and oranges. One was proven when the person involved resigned a high-profile job. The other has not been proven.

Fruit? Are you kidding

Fruit? Are you kidding me? Apples and oranges is to show difference such as this topic on Reeves and Freeman versus another topic Dick Morris. ^ on topic Below not so on topic The comment you responded with the fruit, IMO was someone trying to understand comment deletion process. Why one comment may be a little tasteless and leave other tasteless comments alone? How is that so different as your fruit? Since you went off topic a little, Care to provide information on who Dick was working for in that high profile job? And how is that as bad as his boss, with cigars, stained dress. Talk about tasteless and kinky. But, let's just turn our heads to those things. apples and oranges right? Read this, hurry.... It's probably going to get deleted.



Bass Reeves Statue

A lot of Arkansas folks are wondering why an Oklahoma artist was chosen instead of one of our excellent ones in Arkansas for an Arkansas Marshall!!...

Why would Arkansas folks

Why would Arkansas folks question a man who spent most of his time in the indian (Oklahoma being a large portion) territory? Eddie Murphy resembles some of Reeves pictures.

Artist Selection

When the concept for a statue was first conceived, the first thing we did was have a “Call for Quotation”. We sent out packets to several dozen artists around Arkansas and around the US. The packet described what the project was. What our concept was, and provided the artist with some background information about Bass Reeves. The artist where instructed to submit portfolios if they were interested in the project. I had personally visited with an artist from the Little Rock area, who gave me a very impassioned plea about not making it about the lowest cost bidder. He made sense. His take, was to look at the artistic value of the work and not just go with the person who could make a representation of Bass Reeves. This made it a very subjective decision. Once we received the portfolios, we, as a group, set down and looked at what was submitted. This decision was based on a subjective feel that we, as a group, had for the work presented in their portfolio. Each member of the group graded each artist privately, and when tallied, we took the top four and asked them to submit a budgetary cost and sample contract. From here the field was narrowed down to two, one in Arkansas and one in Oklahoma. We then brought these two artists to Fort Smith for a person to person meeting. They both brought samples of their work. I can honestly say it was a very tough decision. Both artist were very worthy, both guys were very passionate. In the end, the depth of Mr. Holden’s work and the passion he showed for the project, as well as his, and his wife’s experience with funding a project like this, made him the choice. One of the toughest conversations I have had in the last five years was calling the other artist and telling him that Mr. Holden was awarded the contract. Personally, I liked the guy. We had talked numerous times and I felt like I knew him somewhat. I was pulling for him, but Mr. Holden seemed to be the better candidate. His assistance to our group and his work to date has proved that he was more than capable of getting this done. You should look at some of his other work. His website is www.hholden.com He has won numerous awards and is very gifted. We went through the best process of selecting the artist that we knew how. I believe we made the right decision. If you look at the maquette, you can see the talent that went into creating it. The decision wasn’t made on where he lived; the decision was made on his past achievements and his passion for the project. H Holden seemed to us, to be the guy, which could bring us the best artistic value to our project. I hope this answers your question.

This is fascinating and

This is fascinating and timely. My name is Craig Rainey www.craigrainey.com I portray the infamous outlaw, and Bass Reeves' arch nemesis, Bob Dozier, in the new Bass Reeves Movie, due out this Summer. You can see the trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tctDbuOrQLk&feature=player_embedded