Fort Smith National Historic Site
The park visitor center is now located in the old Barracks/Courthouse/Jail building. Exhibits in the visitor center focus on Fort Smith’s military history from 1817–1871, western expansion, Judge Isaac Parker and the federal court’s impact on Indian Territory, U.S. Deputy Marshals and outlaws, Federal Indian policy, and Indian Removal including the Trail of Tears. Located on the grounds are the foundation remains of the first Fort Smith (1817–1824), the commissary building (c. 1838) and a reconstruction of the gallows used by the federal court. A walking trail along the Arkansas River includes wayside exhibits on the Trail of Tears. This was also one of the areas Bonnie and Clyde stopped at and they were killed after leaving. Land on the Oklahoma bank of the Arkansas River was authorized to be included in the National Historic Site to preserve a historic viewshed, but has not been acquired.
The site was established in 1861 in order to protect the remains of two 19th-century U.S. military forts, including a building which once housed the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas. Fort Smith was also notable as a major stop along the “Trail of Tears.” It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961.
The original fort itself was settled on December 25, 1817 by Major William Bradford to maintain harmony between the local Cherokee and Osage Indians. This time would later be historical referenced as the “First Fort”, which ends in 1824 when the U.S. Army abandons Fort Smith after settling Fort Gibson further west.
As a result of the increased tension between the local settlers and the Indians following the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the U.S. Army created a second Fort Smith near the original’s ruins in 1838. This is the beginning of the historical “Second Fort” period. During General Zachary Taylor’s command of the fort in the 1840s, it became a supply depot for other forts within the Indian Territory until its capture during the Civil War in 1863 by Union troops. It remained a supply depot to other forts in the region until it was no longer occupied in an official capacity by 1871; historically the end of the “Second Fort” era.
A small city grew around the fort, eventually becoming the seat of the U.S. Court for the Western District of Arkansas which presided over the western half of Arkansas and Indian Territory. Its first judge was a man named Isaac C. Parker who took charge of the court from 1875 to 1896.
- List of National Historic Landmarks in Arkansas
- National Register of Historic Places listings in Sebastian County, Arkansas
- “Fort Smith”. National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. 2007-09-26. Archived from the original on 2007-03-01.
- National Park Service, Fort Smith National Historic Site. Click “View Park Map” to see existing park boundary.
- Frank B. Sarls, Jr. (December 10, 1958) National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings: Fort Smith (First and Second Sites) and Judge Parker Courtroom, National Park Service and Accompanying 4 photos, exterior, from 1940 and undated.
- “Fort Smith National Historic Site”. World Book Advanced. 2018.