Portrayal Of Deputy Marshall Bud Ledbetter Helps People Learn Arkansas, Oklahoma History

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FORT SMITH (KFSM)– Saturday (Jan. 16) was an opportunity to step back in time at the Fort Smith National Historic Site and learn a little about a man who has been called one of the greatest law enforcement officers of all time.

Ray Shelley is a retired chief of police… but on Saturday he was James Franklin Bud Ledbetter, who first got into law enforcement as the town marshal of Coal Hill.

“A guy could get off of work, go in the saloon, have a drink without having a fight, so i kind of cleaned that town up,” Shelley said in character.

Ledbetter eventually went on to be the chief of police in several towns in Oklahoma, including Vinita, Okmulgee and Muskogee.

“Right after Oklahoma became a state, I became the sheriff of Muskogee,” Shelley said in character.

Shelley said even though he was an officer himself, he wouldn’t have lasted very long in the Wild West.

“If I got in trouble, I could pick up a microphone, and say, ‘Hey, give me some back up,”’ Shelley said. “If they got in trouble, there was no mic on their saddle horn. They had to figure it out themselves.”

Sandy Rye, who came for the portrayal, actually grew up in Johnson County where Ledbetter started his career.

“I found it very interesting that a lot of what I heard growing up and knew about, he talked about,” Rye said.

Rye said she even has some historical figures in her family.

My family are the Parkers, and so I asked questions about Judge Parker, and so I just wanted to see what family background might actually be correct,” Rye said.

Shelley said getting people interested in their genealogy and the towns they grew up in is what it’s all about.

“My hope is just that little thing might get them interested in the history, especially if you live in this area,” Shelley said. “There’s so much history in this area.”

For more information on other portrayals you can see at the Fort Smith National Historic Site, you can find a calendar of events here.