Fort Smith National Historic Site on the Arkansas-Oklahoma border contains the remnants of two forts that helped keep the peace on the rough and lawless frontier.

Fort Smith National Historic Site
©National Park Service
In the courthouse at Fort Smith, Judge Isaac Parker, the
"Hanging Judge," tried 13,000 cases.

The first Fort Smith was built in 1817 to maintain peace between the local Osage Indians and the newly arriving Cherokees, who were being pushed into Osage territory from their homelands in the Southeast. The only remains of this fort are the foundations, which were discovered in 1963.

The fort was abandoned in 1824 and a second Fort Smith built in 1838 to protect white settlers and as a base for possible military operations against Indian uprisings. The enlisted men's barracks and the stone commissary are still standing, but the two officers' quarters and the wall that surrounded the fort are gone.

The fear of Indian uprisings was replaced by fear of general lawlessness, so the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas moved into the fort. Judge Isaac C. Parker presided over the court at Fort Smith from 1875 to 1896. During this time, the "Hanging Judge" tried 13,000 cases and had 79 men hanged.

The courthouse where Judge Parker heard trials still stands. The basement became a primitive jail, which was referred to as "Hell on the Border." The reproduction of the 1886 gallows, which could hang up to 12 men at a time, is a powerful reminder of those turbulent times.

Fort Smith National Historic Site Information

Address: One block west of 4th Street and Garland
Fort Smith, AR 72902
Phone: 501/783-3961
Hours of Operation: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Christmas and New Year's Day
Admission: $4; children 17 and under, free

Learn more about these other national historic sites:

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic SiteClara Barton National Historic Site
Fort Larned National Historic Site
Grant Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site
Pennsylvania Avenue National Historic Site
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site
Adams National Historic Site
Edgar Allen Poe National Historic SiteFort Raleigh National Historic SiteHampton National Historic SiteLincoln Home National Historic SitePuukohola Heiau National Historic SiteTheodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site
Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic SiteEdison National Historic SiteFort Scott National Historic SiteHarry S. Truman National Historic SiteLongfellow National Historic SiteSagamore Hill National Historic SiteThomas Stone National Historic Site
Andrew Johnson National Historic Site Eisenhower National Historic Site Fort Smith National Historic Site Herbert Hoover National Historic Site Maggie L. Walker National Historic SiteSaint Paul's Church National Historic SiteThomas Stone National Historic Site
Boston African -American National Historic Site Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic SiteFort Vancouver National Historic SiteHome of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic SiteManzanar National Historic Site

Saint-
Gaudens National Historic Site

Touro Synagogue National Historic Site
Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site Eugene O'Neill National Historic SiteFrederick Douglass National Historic SiteHopewell Furnace National Historic SiteMartin Van Buren National Historic SiteSalem Maritime National Historic SiteUlysses S. Grant National Historic Site
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site Ford's Theater National Historic SiteFrederick Law Olmsted National Historic SiteHubbell Trading Post National Historic SiteMary McLeod Bethune House National Historic Site Saugus Iron Works National Historic SiteWeir Farm National Historic Site
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Chicago Portage National Historic Site
Fort Davis National Historic SiteGloria Dei Church National Historic SiteJimmy Carter National Historic SiteNinety Six National Historic Site Springfield Armory National Historic SiteWilliam Howard Taft National Historic Site
Christiansted National Historic SiteFort Laramie National Historic SiteGolden Spike National Historic SiteJohn Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic SitePalo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site Steamtown National Historic Site

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Eric Peterson is a Denver-based freelance writer who has contributed to numerous guidebooks about the Western United States.