Fort Smith was established in 1817 to help reduce tensions between the native Osage and the Cherokee who were being forcibly removed into the new “Indian Territory.” The fort later served as a supply depot during the U.S.-Mexico War and the western migration. As shown in the exhibit below, the fort sits on the Arkansas River. When I visit on May 1, it stormed heavily the night before and continued raining, and the grounds were wet and the river high. Last night’s news showed flooding throughout Ft. Smith from the storms that continue to batter the central U.S..
The oldest remaining building is the Commissary built in the 1830s, to house supplies for the western army throughout the middle of the century.
The barracks were constructed in 1850s and converted into the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas in 1871. This was the western frontier and the Fort has been featured in many movies. The courtroom has been refurbished to look as it did when “Hanging Judge” Issac Parker presided for over 21 years, hearing 13,000 criminal cases for Arkansas and the Indian Territory. Although he opposed the death penalty, it was a mandatory sentence for federal murder and rape cases, and he sentenced 160 men to death. The jail below the courthouse was a dismal cell with no plumbing or ventilation, and held up to 50 prisoners.
The former barracks now serves as the National Historic Site visitor center. Across the Arkansas River is the state of Oklahoma. Fortunately, the bridge was open when I visited, so I was able to cross over and visit my 50th state. What a stunning vista. Perhaps the flooding has moved the litter downstream.