Fort Smith, Arkansas Friday Nov. 1
It is too bad our memories are so fickle. Otherwise at the end of this year we would have a treasure trove of interesting information. Unfortunately, we can only remember portions. Fort Smith National Historic Site will be adding a goodly number of tidbits to our memories. It covered a number of interesting themes and the displays and docent tour were well done.
Fort Smith’s first role was to keep the peace among Indian tribes. The native Osage Indians were being challenged by the newly arriving Cherokees. The U.S., in its great wisdom, abrogated (not for the first or last time) earlier treaties with Indian tribes in the Southeast. This first fort was built in 1817.
Pres. Andrew Jackson ignored laws and was instrumental in forcing Indian tribes from the Southeast (Cree, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole) into “Indian Territory”. This original Indian Territory was the land of the Louisiana Purchase-which just happened to already be occupied by other Indian tribes. “Indian Territory” shrunk to become the Oklahoma Territory which also eventually was divided up and mainly given to settlers.
The Indian tribes were forcibly relocated and their march to Indian Territory became called the Trail of Tears. However, this is not the first trail of tears we have encountered. This first Fort Smith completed its job and its role was taken over by other forts further west.
A second Fort Smith was built in the late 1830s as people in this area played up a fear of Indian attack from the Indian Territory just across the river. It was deemed unnecessary by the military but built anyway with massive stone walls that were never needed. The second fort was used more as a supply depot during the Mexican War, the Gold Rush, and while trying to control settlers surging into Indian lands.
After the Civil War, the fort played an important role in the ongoing relations with Indian tribes. During the war, the Indians were as divided between North and South as U.S. citizens. The United States decided to take the stance of considering all Indian tribes as part of the defeated Confederacy. This resulted in new treaties that once again further eroded tribal rights and land.
During the next decades, Indian tribes were able to police their own citizens. However any actions involving non-Indians were handled by the federal government. The Fort Smith facility became the center for the federal courts from 1872 to 1896.
During this period, the federal courts here were charged with prosecuting all civil and criminal cases involving U.S. settlers in the Indian territories as well as this portion of Arkansas. The U.S. Marshall and his deputies were active, there was a great deal of lawlessness at the time. Some of it included fraud and corruption by the federal employees.
A Judge Parker, sometimes known as the Hanging Judge, cleaned up the court system. He was responsible for more hangings than any other judge but served longer than most and headed the most active court. He was responsible for cleaning up the court corruption and also was active in criminal rehabilitation efforts and in improving relations with Indian nations. Media attention to infamous trials and hangings of criminals gave him the hanging judge moniker. Not unlike many people in history that get tagged with one facet of their lives.
After spending time at the historic site, we visited a location of additional history. This was a row house along the river, one of the few left standing after a major flood. This was Miss Laura’s house, where very proper senior men and women gave a tour of Miss Laura’s house of prostitution. Prostitution was legal in the late 1800s here and the “inmates” (as the ladies were called) had monthly health checks and a license issued.
Education efforts completed, we were off for more scenery. We drove along Mount Magazine Scenic Byway to the state park almost at the top of Signal Hill, the highest point in Arkansas at 2,753 feet above sea level. We took a hike with a ranger but chose not to wait for dinner to be served at their restaurant with fabulous views. The sun is setting earlier and it reduces our driving time. We had to pass up the Pig Trail Scenic Byway too.
Ed and Chris Nov. 2 10 am