epic road trip along US Highway 71 from the Louisiana border to the Missouri State Line. This morning was all about history.
This site preserves almost 80 years of history, from the establishment of the first Fort Smith on December 25, 1817, to the final days of Judge Isaac C. Parker's jurisdiction over Indian Territory in 1896, It's operated by the National Parks Service and admission to the building is $6 for adults. Touring the grounds on your own is free.
This memorial built of the original stones marks the location of the fort erected in 1838-1842 for protection against the Indians. The wall was 12 feet high and two feet thick with portholes about four feet apart. The main buildings in the enclosure were the commissary, two officers' headquarters, the quarter-master's headquarters and the soldiers' barracks. Afterward, the United States Court presided over by Judge I.C. Parker of the Western district. Erected in 1930 by the Martha Baker Thurman chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, dedicated 1936.
It was the French that gave the name to the corner in the Arkansas River where the Poteau River cuts in "Belle Point" back in the early part of the 18th century. But it would take another hundred years before a fort would be placed on the land. In 1817, that fort was built right along the river... or at leas, where the river lies today. Before the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System was put into effect, the Arkansas River wasn't the big fat rolling river it is today. At times it was shallow enough to cross on foot.
The fort was built as a military fort, but it was abandoned in 1824 with the establishment of Fort Gibson upstream. The fort was reoccupied and expanded in 1838 and was a key area in the removal and resettlement of Native Americans. It was later taken over by the United States Court and became one of the most famous courtrooms in the American West.
This particular exhibit includes a rogues gallery on Fort Smith criminal, including the legendary Belle Starr, the Bandit Queen.
There are other exhibits that chronicle the different changes at the site, along with a section on the Trail of Tears.
There are a lot of neat things to check out at the Fort Smith National Historic Site. It's open every day except Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year's from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I do suggest dropping by Miss Laura's Visitors Center first.
Other places to visit while you're in Fort Smith:
Fort Smith Museum of History
Chaffee Barbershop Museum
Enchanted Doll Museum
Miss Laura's Visitors Center
To check out all the neat things we did on our trip, click here.