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.
©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
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:
- National Monuments: Learn more about America's national monuments.
- National Memorials: Discover national memorials in the U.S.
- National Historic Sites: Read about American national historic sites.
- Arkansas State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Arkansas as well as other recreational activities.
- Oklahoma State Guide: Learn about Mobil Travel Guide-rated hotels and restaurants in Oklahoma as well as other recreational activities.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Eric Peterson is a Denver-based freelance writer who has contributed to numerous guidebooks about the Western United States.