contributed by Joy E. Cressler
Fort Smith business leaders proudly combine the history of the Old West with the easy charm of the antebellum South, offering residents and visitors glimpses into the city’s distinctive past through restorations, attractions, museums and festivals that make Fort Smith history meaningful and exciting.
During frontier times, Fort Smith was the last law-and-order stop on the way out West. Knowing that history is an important component of a promising future, Fort Smith continues to be a community that relishes its past.
Fort Smith’s most historic claim to fame is “Hanging Judge” Isaac C. Parker, who presided over Fort Smith and the Indian Territory in the late 1800s. He sent more than 80 convicted criminals to the nearby gallows during his tenure. The gallows still remain as part of the attraction at the Fort Smith National Historic site.
The Fort Smith National Historic site includes the remains of two frontier forts dating back to the early 1800s. Visitors are invited to “walk where soldiers drilled and stand where justice was served and carried out.”
Other important historic sites to see include:
- The U.S. Marshals Service, the nation’s oldest law enforcement organization, selected Fort Smith as home to its national museum after conducting a highly competitive nationwide search for a city worthy to showcase its 220 years of history. Members of the site selection committee repeatedly said, “When you experience Fort Smith, you love Fort Smith.”
- Miss Laura’s Social Club, a former bordello that was the first to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- A portion of the Trail of Tears, which was designated as a national historic site in 1960. Visitors are invited to reflect along the Trail of Tears overlook in the Fort Smith National Historic site.
- Numerous other sites to visit, historic and otherwise. An extensive list can be found at the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.