When Durham, N.C. resident T. Baridi Nkokheli accepted the job as director of the Fort Smith sanitation department in 2005, he knew so little about the state he recalls telling the person on the other end of the line, “I look forward to seeing you in Fort Smith, Arizona.”
Since then, he’s gone from newcomer to local hero.
As fate would have it, Baridi shares an uncanny resemblance to the 19th-century U.S. marshal and Fort Smith legend Bass Reeves, a fact that has made him the go-to Reeves impersonator, complete with mustache, period vests, bowties, coats, suspenders and badge.
Reeves is such a legend in Fort Smith, in fact, that the city unveiled a 25-foot tall bronze statue of the hero in 2012, and is in the works to build a U.S. Marshals Museum to commemorate the city’s Old West role as a gateway to Indian Territory.
Ask the modern-day Bass Reeves what he likes about Fort Smith, and he’ll list two things: the people and nature.
“I can’t say enough about how friendly the people are and how united the community seems to be,” he says.