Bass Reeves Statue Arrives in Fort Smith


Bass Reeves statue arrives in Fort Smith. Photo by Z. Clift.

A monument to celebrate deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves has arrived in Fort Smith. The statue traveled from Oklahoma to Arkansas and was placed at Pendergraft Park this week (May 16). A motorcade of police escorted the statue to the park. Awaiting the arrival was a large crowd that included Oklahoma sculptor Harold Holden who was commissioned to craft the statue and
Bass Reeves re-enactor Baridi Nkokheli.

The official dedication ceremony for the statue is May 26 at 10 a.m. at the park.

The 25-foot statue recognizes the accomplishments of Arkansas native Bass Reeves and the U.S. Marshal organization. Reeves was one of the Western frontier’s greatest lawmen. The monument, titled “Into the Territory,” shows Reeves on horseback, rifle in hand. A faithful dog is at his side. The creation was the result of more than four years of fundraising by the Bass Reeves Legacy Initiative.


Reeves (1824-1910) was a legendary U.S. Marshal in Indian Territory. He 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 also the first African-American inducted into the Great Westerners Hall of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.

A famous Reeves arrest was Belle Starr, the “Bandit Queen of Dallas.” During her sixteen-year career as an outlaw, Reeves was the only lawman to ever successfully apprehend her. She turned herself in when she found out Reeves had a warrant for her arrest.

According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas,  ‘during his law enforcement career, Reeves stood 6’2″ and weighed 180 pounds. He could shoot a pistol or rifle accurately with his right or left hand; settlers said Reeves could whip any two men with his bare hands. Reeves became a legend during his lifetime for his ability to catch criminals under trying circumstances.’

 According to Lynn Wasson in her editorial column of Entertainment Fort Smith, ‘Reeves was chosen by a few citizens here who wanted to erect a monument and he was picked particularly because he was a lesser-known ( for almost 100 years) and relatively unsung lawman.’ She added he was ‘also chosen for his personal integrity. He adhered to his own code of ethics even at a time when his experience of citizenship was less than second-class.’

Sculptor Harold Holden has said of his work on the statue: ” I just hope I got is somewhat right. I wouldn’t want Bass Reeves after me.”
Photo by Z. Clift

A 10-day celebration surrounding the unveiling of the monument takes place through the 27th of this month in the city, which is also set to be home-base to a U.S. Marshals Museum.

Some of the many activities scheduled for the week include A “Thank You Awards Gala” at
The MovieLounge on Rogers Avenue on May 25th. Celebrity guest appearances include James Pickens Jr. from Grey’s Anatomy.

 The unveiling ( since it’s arrival the statue has been covered again so it can be revealed during the dedication) of the statue is May 26. Festivities begin at 10 a.m. 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, and The Clayton House. The Farmer’s Market will also be open to the public.

Included are some shots I snapped from the statue’s Wednesday afternoon arrival at the park. The crowd was filled with many representatives from the community and many folks who have worked hard to make the statue’s arrival in the city a reality. Among them is Bass Reeves re-renactor Baridi Nkokheli, who is pictured in the photo above in front of the statue and whose wife is the vice president of the Bass Reeves Legacy Initiative.
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