|Fort Smith, Arkansas - Wikipedia
Fort Smith is the second-largest city in Arkansas and
one of the two county seats of Sebastian County. As of the 2010 Census,
the population was 86,209. With an estimated population of 87,443 in 2012,
it is the principal city of the Fort Smith, Arkansas-Oklahoma Metropolitan
Statistical Area, a region of 298,592 residents that encompasses the Arkansas
counties of Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian and the Oklahoma counties
Le Flore and Sequoyah.
Fort Smith has a sister city relationship with Cisterna,
Italy, site of the World War II Battle of Cisterna, fought by United States
Army Rangers commanded by Fort Smith native William O. Darby.
Fort Smith lies on the Arkansas-Oklahoma state border,
situated at the junction of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers, also known
as Belle Point. The city began as a western frontier military post in 1817
and would later become well known for its role in the settling of the "Wild
West" and its law enforcement heritage.
In 2007, Fort Smith was selected by the United States
Department of the Interior to be the location of the new United States
Marshals Service National Museum.
The site of Fort Smith became part of the United States
in the Louisiana Purchase (1803). Soon after, the Pike Expedition (1806)
explored the Arkansas River. Fort Smith was founded in 1817 as a military
post. Around the fort a small settlement began forming, but the Army abandoned
the first Fort Smith in 1824 and moved 80 miles further west to Fort Gibson.
Army sutler and land speculator John Rogers (who some genealogists claim
to be an ancestor to 20th-century Oklahoma comedian Will Rogers) bought
up former government-owned lands and promoted growth of the new civilian
town of Fort Smith, eventually influencing the federal government to re-establish
a strong military presence at Fort Smith during the era of Indian Removal
and the Mexican War.
Fort Smith's name comes from General Thomas Adams Smith
(1781–1844), who commanded the United States Army Rifle Regiment in 1817,
headquartered near St. Louis. General Smith had ordered Army topographical
engineer Stephen H. Long (1784–1864) to find a suitable site on the Arkansas
River for a fort. General Smith never visited the town or forts that bore
In 1838 the Army moved back into the old military post
near Belle Point, and expanded the base as part of the federal policy of
removing Cherokees and Choctaws from their ancestral homelands in the Southeast
and resettling the survivors in the nearby Indian Territory. Many displaced
Native Americans settled down in Fort Smith and Van Buren, while Sebastian
county was formed in 1851, separated from Crawford County north of the
Arkansas River. In 1858, Fort Smith became a Division Center of the Butterfield
Overland Mail's 7th Division route across Indian Territory from Fort Smith
to Texas and a junction with the mail route from Memphis, Tennessee.
The fort was occupied by the Confederate Army during the
early years of the U.S. Civil War. Union troops under General Steele took
control of Fort Smith on September 1, 1863. A small fight occurred there
on July 31, 1864, but the Union army maintained command in the area until
the war ended in 1865. The town became a haven for runaway slaves, orphans,
Southern Unionists, and other victims of the ferocious guerrilla warfare
then raging in the Border States. Federal troops abandoned the post of
Fort Smith for the last time in 1871. The town continued to thrive despite
the absence of federal troops.
Two of Fort Smith's most notable historic figures were
Judge Isaac Parker and William Henry Harrison Clayton, sometimes referred
to as W.H.H. Clayton. In 1874, William Henry Harrison Clayton was appointed
United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas by President
Ulysses S. Grant. Fort Smith was a bustling community full of brothels,
saloons and outlaws, just across the river from Indian Territory. William
Clayton realized a strong judge would be necessary to bring law and order
to the region. He knew of a strong judge in Isaac Parker. But there was
a problem. Judge Parker had been appointed Chief Justice of Utah Territory
and confirmed by the US Senate. With the help of President Grant and US
Senator Powell Clayton, former governor of Arkansas, William Clayton was
able to undo that appointment and redirect Judge Parker to Fort Smith.
Judge Isaac Parker served as U.S. District Judge 1875–1896.
He was nicknamed the "Hanging Judge" because in his first term after assuming
his post he tried 18 people for murder, convicted 15 of them, sentenced
eight of those to die, and hanged six of them on one day. Over the course
of his career in Fort Smith, Parker sentenced 160 people to hang. Of those,
79 actually were executed on the gallows. Judge Parker represented the
only real law in the rough-and-tumble Indian Territory. His courthouse
is now a National Historic Site where "More men were put to death by the
U.S. Government... than in any other place in American history."
William Clayton was appointed US Attorney by four different
presidents and later served as Chief Justice of Indian Territory. He was
instrumental in achieving statehood for Oklahoma and together with Territorial
Governor Frank Frantz, carried the Oklahoma Constitution to President Teddy
Roosevelt after that state was admitted in 1907. Governor Frantz and Judge
Clayton both lost their territorial positions when Oklahoma was admitted
to the Union.
The Army returned to Fort Smith in 1941 with the establishment
of the Fort Chaffee Military Reservation east of the city.
On April 21, 1996, a large tornado destroyed and heavily
damaged much of historic downtown Fort Smith around the Garrison Avenue
Bridge. The storm left 4 people dead in western Arkansas. Channel 5 KFSM-TV
in Fort Smith covered the tornado and produced a documentary of the event
shortly after called "Sunday's Fury". Days later, the Eads Brothers Furniture
Building was destroyed by one of largest fires in Fort Smith's history.
Fort Smith Regional Art Museum opened to the public on
January 19, 2013. Fort Smith's first art museum will be equipped to facilitate
nationally and internationally recognized traveling exhibits. The museum
will also offer educational programs and special events for adults and
Fort Smith Museum of History, almost adjacent to the National
Historic Site the museum contains numerous exhibits, displays and artifacts
that tell the story of Fort Smith's history—from the first fort in 1817,
through the westward expansion, and on to the Civil War, the Gay Nineties,
Fort Chaffee, and the emergence of a modern city.
Fort Smith Trolley Museum is a railroad
museum which displays a number of antique trolleys and related items.
Fort Smith Air Museum is dedicated
to preserving the history of the development of aviation in Western Arkansas
and Eastern Oklahoma.
National U.S. Marshals Museum: The
U.S. Marshals Museum.
The Clayton House Museum The Clayton
House Museum is the original home of William H.H. Clayton. It is open for
tours and rentals for weddings, meetings, events, and much more. The house
holds many Clayton artifacts, and boldly tells the history of Mr. Clayton
as well as the western frontier.
Spirit of the American Doughboy
Fort Smith National Historic Site, the most prominent
landmark, which includes the remains of the original 1817 fort on the Arkansas
River. Inside is the restored courtroom of the famed "Hangin' Judge" Isaac
C. Parker, and the dingy frontier jail aptly named "Hell on the Border."
Eventually, this would become the unofficial nickname for all of Fort Smith.
Belle Grove Historic District, a 22-block area in downtown
Fort Smith comprised nearly 25 restored homes that span 130 years of varying
Miss Laura's Social Club, a former brothel and the only
remaining building from the Row, is home to the city's Convention and Visitors
Bureau and the only former house of prostitution on the National Register
of Historic Places.
Fort Chaffee, primarily used as a training facility by
regional National Guard and Reserve Corps units as well as active military
units from other installations. In 1958, the entertainer Elvis Presley
stopped off at Fort Chaffee en route to his basic training in Texas. It
was here that the public information officer John J. Mawn told a news conference
that Presley would receive the standard "G.I. haircut" and would resemble
a "peeled onion".
Old Fort Days Rodeo - Fort Smith's annual Old Fort Days
Rodeo and Barrel-Racing Futurity offers nearly ten days of Wild West activities.
It has been held every May since the mid-1930s and is now rated as one
of the top all around rodeos in the country.
Hanging Judge Border Feud High School Rodeo - the rodeo
is held every March or April schedule permitting. This event is held at
Kay Rodgers Park, and includes all of your usual rodeo events as well as
the spring livestock show. The events are open to any high school students.
Fort Smith Riverfront Blues Fest - since it began in 1991,
the Riverfront Blues Festival has become one of the biggest, hottest and
jazziest annual June events in western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma, attracting
jazz aficionados from a wide area of the blues-rich south, and "name" blues
artists and performers from all over. The two-day event makes for a delightful
music-filled weekend in Fort Smith, hearing blues, blues, blues on the
banks of the Arkansas River.
Arkansas-Oklahoma State Fair - One of the largest bi-state
fairs in the nation, Fort Smith's Arkansas-Oklahoma State Fair attracts
thousands of fair-goers during its ten-day run in late September. They
come to see exhibitor competition in everything from arts and crafts to
livestock, and enjoy carnival rides, the midway excitement, nightly big-name
grandstand entertainment, and plenty of good food.
Fort Smith Airshow - sponsored by the 188th Fighter Wing
of the Arkansas Air National Guard, the spectacular Fort Smith Airshow
occurs bi-annually every other spring or fall.
Fort Smith Juneteenth Community Festival - Juneteenth
is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery
in the United States.