Deputy U.S. Marshal Robert Fortune was born in Bowling Green, Virginia, on June 15, 1865. There is little account of Fortune's early life activities between 1865 and 1895. When Federal Western District Judge Isaac C. Parker was appointed to the court in Fort Smith, Arkansas, in 1875, one of his first acts was to employ two hundred deputy U.S. marshals, including blacks, to enforce the law in the Indian Territory. Fortune was given his first regular field deputy commission to the court on May 1, 1895, and was reappointed on July 1, 1896. The Annual Reports of the Attorney General of the United States from 1898 to 1907 prove that he was an effective and active field deputy. In 1900 Fortune was reassigned to Wilburton, Indian Territory. He kept law and order in the rowdy mining area until his resignation in 1907.
Fortune exchanged his badge for law books in 1912 and was admitted to the Oklahoma Bar. From his law practice in Chickasha, opened in 1917, he developed a reputation as a civil rights activist. The attorney had broad interests: he was on the Grady County Council for Defense, belonged to the Oklahoma Union League of Freedom and Justice, and served as the assistant city registrar. During World War I he lobbied for better treatment for blacks in the armed forces and petitioned the governor to support antilynching laws. In 1920 he gave up his law practice and moved to Phoenix, Arizona, to save the health of his wife, Birdie Fortune. There he continued his civil rights activism. By 1938 Fortune had been in practice for over twenty-six years in Oklahoma, Arizona, and the West. He died on July 31, 1938, while on a business trip to Los Angeles, California, and was buried in Phoenix, Arizona.
SEE ALSO: AFRICAN AMERICANS, RUFUS CANNON, FEDERAL DISTRICT COURT FOR WESTERN ARKANSAS, FREEDMEN, GRANT JOHNSON, INDIAN TERRITORY, LAW ENFORCEMENT, ZEKE MILLER, OUTLAWS, ISAAC PARKER, BASS REEVES, SEGREGATION
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Annual Report of the Attorney General of the United States (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1898-1907). Jimmie Lewis Franklin, Journey Toward Hope: A History of Blacks in Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982). Fred Harrington, The Hanging Judge (Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers, Ltd., 1951). The Indian Pioneer Papers, Archives and Manuscripts Division, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City. Glen Shirley, Law West of Fort Smith: A History of Frontier Justice in the Indian Territory, 1834-1896 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1968). Nudie E. Williams, "Black Men Who Wore the Star," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 59 (Spring 1981).
Nudie E. Williams
© Oklahoma Historical Society