Unveiling of Reeves statue to draw national spotlight

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FORT SMITH — James Pickens Jr., the actor who portrays Dr. Richard Webber on the ABC-TV drama series Grey’s Anatomy, is scheduled to participate in a weekend celebrating the long-awaited unveiling of the Bass Reeves Legacy Monument.

Pickens, a horseback riding enthusiast and fan of western history, has the option for the movie rights to one of the most comprehensive books about Reeves, Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves by Art T. Burton, said Tonya Nkokheli, an organizer of the The Bass Reeves Monument Dedication Weekend.

The unveiling of the about $300,000 statue project was first announced Nov. 22 by the Bass Reeves Legacy Initiative.

“It’s bigger than any of us anticipated,” Nkokheli said Monday (March 19), trying to catch her breath in between phone calls about the affair. “This is going to cast a national spotlight on Fort Smith.”

The TV doctor is said to have a strong interest in Reeves, an African-American born into slavery in Arkansas and reared in Texas before fleeing into Indian territory in the early 1860s. The language and tracking skills he learned living among the Indians later helped land him a job as one of 200 hand-picked U.S. deputy marshals sent to tame the lawless Indian territory. He finished out his career as a police officer in Muskogee, Okla.

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 Inc.

Nkokheli (pronounced No-ko-kay-lee) expects to hear from more celebrities like Pickens and dignitaries who plan to attend at least one or more of the weekend’s events, slated for May 25-27. Invitees include the governors of Arkansas and Oklahoma, U.S. Marshals Service Director Stacia Hylton and more.

Events across the city of Fort Smith will take place Memorial Day weekend, highlighted by the unveiling of the Bass Reeves Legacy Monument at 10 a.m. May 26 at Ross Pendergraft Park on Garrison Avenue.