Fort Smith National Historic Site

Audio Available:

Quick Overview

This is the audio-only described version of Fort Smith National Historic Site’s official print brochure. Side one of the brochure gives an overview of the park’s history from 1817 to 1896. Most of the text is in the center of the page while images line the edges. The background is a light brown parchment paper texture. Side two, titled “Visiting Fort Smith,” has images, text and a map highlighting different areas of the park.

↑ back to top

IMAGE and TEXT: Fort Smith: A Brief Introduction

Image description: An artist's rendition shows at center a wooden keelboat arriving at a rocky river shoreline. The background depicts a landscape of leafless trees and yellow brown grasses. The commanding officer stands at the bow of the boat in front of two dozen soldiers in gray uniforms standing on the deck. The soldiers are waving at two riflemen in green frock coats with yellow trim and white trousers welcoming their arrival. Pale blue skies reflect the calm water as eight white water fowl take flight in the distance.

Image caption: A US Rifle Regiment company approaches the shore of the Arkansas River, they built the first Fort Smith in 1817. 

Text: Shaped by a diverse cast of colorful characters, soldiers, Indians, outlaws, and lawmen, Fort Smith National Historic Site evokes 80 years of turbulent history on the western frontier. Explore remnants of two frontier forts, the tragic Trail of Tears, and the historic jail and federal courthouse of Judge Isaac C. Parker.

Image description: An artist's drawing of a soldier wearing a high collar bright navy blue coat and gray trousers. Two white straps cross his chest holding his black leather ammunition box. He wears a tall black leather shako hat with a white plume. He is standing casually with his hands resting on the barrel of his flintlock musket and the butt is near his feet.

Image caption: Soldier from the 7th Infantry Regiment, which took over in 1822. 

↑ back to top

TEXT and MAP: Stronghold of Law and Order

In a bold, black ornate font the words "Stronghold of law and order" are presented. Below that text reads: The 1803 Louisiana Purchase launched Fort Smith’s history. President Thomas Jefferson wanted southeastern American Indians to move west of the Mississippi River, opening their lands to white settlement. This flawed notion assumed western lands were vacant, even though they were already occupied by other native tribes. Jefferson thought it would take 1,000 years for whites to settle the West. In fact, it took just 50 years.

Map description: A simple drawing of the United States. State boundaries east of the Mississippi River are indicated. A red outlined area spans most of the middle section of the map from north to south with the exception of what would become Texas. It is the Louisiana Purchase area labeled as “Indian Territory.” Most of the remaining western land is labeled as "Spain."

Map caption: In 1817 most of the Louisiana Purchase was, by US policy, “Indian Territory.” Fort Smith was on the eastern boundary of the Indian Territory by 1825.

↑ back to top

TEXT and IMAGES: First Fort Smith 1817 – 1824

Text: First Fort Smith was built in 1817 to keep peace in the Arkansas River Valley between the native Osage and newly arriving Cherokee. Built of logs and stone, the first fort sat above the Po toe and Arkansas rivers, a spot known by French trappers as Belle Point. By 1824 the frontier had pushed further west. The Army followed to keep peace, and Fort Smith was abandoned.

The Army returned, (1833 to 1834), to the fort temporarily to work with Indian Department Agents. Soldiers arrested those who entered Indian Territory to sell whiskey and take advantage of the Choctaw who were forcibly relocated from their homeland.

Over time the fort’s logs rotted and the soil claimed its stones, but the problems for the Indians would persist and increase.

Description: Three images surround this text. Following is the caption and description for each one.

  1. Painting caption: George Catlin painted these three “Osage Warriors” in 1834. In 1832, he had called for “a nation’s park” to preserve Plains Indians’ way of life. Painting description: Three shirtless Osage Warriors stand next to each other. The first wears tan trousers, a bright blue loin cloth, a wide red fabric belt and red leggings. He has red paint on his face. His hair is in a tall spiky Mohawk and he wears a beaded necklace. The second man wears tan trousers, a red loin cloth with a wide blue-green belt and purple fabric tied around his knees. He wears several necklaces and a gold choker. His hair is in a short Mohawk with a feather. He is casually standing with his hands resting on a tall spear. The third man wears tan trousers with red fabric around his knees and a purple loin cloth with a wide yellow belt. He has red stripes on his chest, a feather choker, and a short Mohawk. He holds a bow in one hand and an arrow in the other.
  2. Painting caption: Samuel Seymour watercolor, “Fort Smith,” 1821. Painting description: In the foreground a soldier in a green frock coat with yellow trim sits on a wooden stool in front of the fort entrance. The edge of the blockhouse can be seen. The soldier looks in the distance toward another soldier on guard duty in the background of the painting. The soldier on guard duty wears a gray uniform and marches past a cannon. Behind him, tall trees line the middle and right edge of the image along the river's shoreline. In the distance there are two soldiers and a horse on a sandbar. The sky is a mixture of pale blues, whites, and pinks.
  3. Photo caption: In 1960 archaeologists unearthed a Rifle Regiment button, (from about 1815 to 1821), at Belle Point. Photo description: A bronze colored button featuring a round horn with the word “rifle” in the center. Above the horn are 17 small stars in two arcing lines.

↑ back to top

TEXT and IMAGES: Second Fort Smith 1838–1871

Description: This section contains three images and text. Two images and their captions come first, followed by the text and then the last image description.

Postcard caption: Arkansas became a state in 1836. A second Fort Smith was built starting in 1838, not 1830 as the post card suggests. Residents and politicians convinced the War Department of an Indian threat right across the river. The fort’s stone walls were built like coastal fortifications meant to withstand heavy cannon fire, but they were never to be tested in combat. Postcard description: On the bottom of a color postcard, text reads quote, "Old Fort, Fort Smith, Arkansas. Built 1830. Destroyed during Civil War." On the postcard, under a bright blue sky in the background, are the two red roofed white stone two-story Officers' Quarters at Fort Smith. On the left, is the end of the red roofed enlisted men’s barracks. On the right side of the postcard is the guardhouse. In the foreground are two trees just inside of the 8 to 10 foot high stone wall.

Artifact caption: A personal belongings stencil from the 57th US Colored Troops, (U S C T). 

Various units of African American troops served at the fort in the Civil War and after. The 11th U S C T was recruited here at Fort Smith. Artifact description: A gray worn rectangular artifact with the upper right third broken off. The letters “B” and “T” and number “57th” in the center are visible. Other letters are indistinguishable. 

Text: Second Fort Smith was built in 1838 because of an unfounded fear of Indian attack, but the 1846 to 1848 US Mexican war, 1849 California Gold Rush, surging westward migration, and forts built farther west made it an important supply depot.

Arkansas River steamboats brought supplies from St. Louis and New Orleans. The city of Fort Smith began to prosper and grow. After the Civil War, (1861 to 1865), the military permanently closed the little-needed fort in 1871.

In the Civil War, the fort saw little action, but it was a major supply post for both sides. In April 1861 the US Army abandoned the fort to Confederate Arkansas state troops. Two years later the Confederates abandoned the fort to Union troops who occupied it for the rest of the war.

Bitterly divided, American Indians fought on both sides in the Civil War, as did western Arkansas citizens. After the Union forces returned to Fort Smith, local African Americans were recruited into the US Colored Troops (U S C T). 

After the war, African Americans had their freedom. This was not true for American Indians, regardless of who they had fought for.

An 1865 Fort Smith Council was held to establish relations with Indians after the Civil War. Delegates of 12 Indian nations, (Illustrated), met with the US government. Although they had fought on both sides in the war, the United States treated all tribes as defeated enemies. They were told that their rights had been forfeited, their slaves must be freed, and their property could be confiscated. The council ended with little resolved. Not expecting to sign treaties and concerned that tribal sovereignty was at stake, the tribes simply pledged their allegiance to the United States. The next year the tribes signed separate treaties with the federal government. The council was one more step in the relentless reduction of tribal sovereignty.

Painting caption: Fort Smith Council, 1865. Painting description: Twenty-two men are crowded around a large table with a green tablecloth. Most of the men stand, but a few are seated. They wear suits coats, vests, and bow ties. One seated man is wearing a blue officer’s uniform. There is a stack of books and several large maps on the table. One man, who is standing, points to an area on one of the maps he is partially holding up from the table. Another man, who is also standing, points to the same map. The others listen to them.

↑ back to top

IMAGES: Federal Court 1872–1896

Description: This section contains seven images and text. Four images and captions are presented first, followed by text and then the last three image descriptions.

Text: Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas had jurisdiction over Indian Territory. It moved into the former enlisted men’s barracks in 1872. One side of the first floor was the courtroom and the other held offices for the U S Marshal, U S Commissioner, and Court Clerk. The attic was used for jury deliberation. Over the next 24 years, hundreds of U S Deputy Marshals rode out from the kourt into Indian Territory to maintain law and order. The barricks basement, once a mess hall, became a primitive jail with two big cells (up to 50 men per cell)—and por, unsanitary conditions. Prisoners nicknamed it “Hell-on-the-Border” Journalist Anna Dawes, daughter of a U S senator, visited the jail in 1885. Reeprinted, in The Congressional Record, her news article prodded Congress to fund a new Fort Smith jail. Judge Isaac C. Parker, although called “the hanging judge,” tried to create “the moral force of a strong court.” He rehabilitated convicts, reformed criminal justice, and advocated the rights of Indian nations, but sensational cases and mass executions overshadowed such work. Judge Parker presided over one of the largest, deadliest, and busiest federal court districts. He heard over 13,000 cases 344 were 4 capital crimes. Of 160 he sentenced to hang, only 79 faced the gallows. His kourts jurisdiction over Indian Territory ended in September 1896. Judge Parker died 10 weeks later, on November 17, 1896.

Caption for all three historic photos: Clockwise, Choctaw Indian police; federal deputy marshals, non-Indians rush to homestead former Indian Territory in 1889.

  1. Description: A black and white photo of four Choctaw men; two sitting and two standing. All of the men wear dark coats, vests, white shirts, and broad brimmed hats. Each man holds a pistol in his right hand.
  2. Description: A black and white photo of ten men in two rows of five. The men in the front row sit, while the men in the back row stand. All wear dark coats, vests, white shirts, and broad brimmed hats. Most of the men hold rifles, while two hold pistols.
  3. Description: A sepia-tone photo of a large open field filled with hundreds of men on horseback racing in the same direction. Three spectators watch through a thick cloud of dust. 
↑ back to top

TEXT and PHOTOS: Visiting Fort Smith

Across the top of side two of this brochure are four pictures of places within the park followed by a quote, more text and then, an illustration. The general text is presented first followed by the quote. The text and associated four photo descriptions follow. Last is the illustration’s caption and description. 

Text: Make your first stop the visitor center in the former basement of the 1888 jail of the second Fort Smith. Rebuilt after an 1849 fire, the barracks were in use until the fort closed in 1871. Added onto later, the building was the Federal Courthouse for the Western District of Arkansas. The primitive jail in the building was replaced in 1888 after a journalist publicized the poor conditions prisoners endured.

Quote: Journalist Anna Dawes, 1885. Quote, “This dark, crowded underground hole is noisome with odors of every description . . . horrible with all horrors a veritable hell upon earth.”

  1. Text: Barracks-Courthouse-Jail: The former barracks and federal district court building now houses the wheelchair-accessible visitor center with book and gift shop, orientation theater, jail, and exhibits. The must-see exhibits on the second floor bring to life Fort Smiths 80 year history, this was once the western frontier of the United States including its starring roles in many Hollywood movies. The replica of a 37-star fort flag that flies beside the building accurately represents 1867 to 1877, when there were only 37 states in the Union. Photo description: A color photo at night of a red brick structure approximately 150 feet from end to end. It is actually two structures. At the right end is the former barracks and courthouse –a two and a half story structure with covered wooden porches. The left end is the former jail. There are six 20 foot tall narrow windows with bars going the full length of each. Rough-hewn white stone frames each window. A smooth layer of snow covers the roof. An American flag flutters behind the buildings.
  2. Text: Hell on the Border Jail: Imagine being locked in a basement cell that held up to 50 men. There was no heating, air conditioning, cross ventilation, or indoor plumbing. The toilet was a bucket in the fireplace. This federal jail was called "Hell on the border" Massachusetts journalist Anna Dawes' 1885 article described the jails horrible conditions and placed the blame directly on the U S Government. Her article persuaded congress change was necessary. Construction on the new jail was completed and inmates relocated in 1888. Photo description: A large open room with a gray brown flagstone floor and white brick walls. Two lamps are attached to a rough wooden post on the left and the guard’s room is on the right.
  3. Text: Judge Parker's Courtroom: Isaac C. Parker was an honest judge who opposed the death penalty and believed in rehabilitating prisoners whenever possible. His reputation as a hanging judge is understandable but unfair. His jurisdiction covered part of Arkansas and all of Indian territory. During his 21 years on the bench, Parker presided over 13000 criminal cases and 344 for murder or rape both carried a federal mandatory death sentence. Judge Parker sentenced of 160 men to death, of those, 79 men were actually hanged. Photo description: A contemporary photo of a reenactor dressed as Judge Parker. He has white hair and goatee and sits at his desk in the courtroom. In the foreground is a green-covered prosecutor’s desk. An American flag hangs on the wall in the background.
  4. Text: Commissary Building: Built between 1838 and 1846 the Commissary is the oldest standing building in Fort Smith. It housed supplies for the U S Mexican War, (1846 to 1848), and military forts in Indian Territory. From 1865 to 1868 it served as a field office for the Bureau of Refugees, Freed men, and Abandoned Lands. Judge Parker used part of the second floor as his office 1875 to 1890 and the first floor was later a residence for court officials. Rescued from demolition in 1909, it housed the city’s first history museum from 1910 to 1979. Photo description: A wooden railing separates a smooth flagstone floor from the museum exhibits. The exhibit includes barrels, white sacks, boxes, and shelves of canned goods.

Illustration caption: See posters of movies with Fort Smith or Indian Territory settings or themes in the visitor center, like Belle Starr the Bandit Queen and True Grit, the original and recent remake. Belle, (illustration), was not so glamorous as her popular Hollywood image. Illustration description: A sepia-toned line drawing is of a woman on horseback waving her hat as she races past a saloon and cheering crowd.

↑ back to top

TEXT: Trails

Description: In the middle of side two of the brochure are four color scenic photos, associated text and a Junior ranger badge. They will be described from left to right.

  1. Text. First Fort Smith-Belle Point: The U S Army built a log-and-stone Fort Smith in 1817 because of a volatile feud between the O-sage and Cherokee over land and resources. This first Fort Smith was abandoned in 1824, only its stone foundation remains. Be sure to walk out to the first forts scenic Belle Point setting, which overlooks where the Po-toe and Arkansas rivers join and then flow on as the Arkansas River. Photo description: An aerial view of a green field with stones outlining building foundations. On the inner side of a sidewalk in the grassy area is a flagpole next to a cannon. A row of green trees stands beyond the sidewalk. The Arkansas River can be seen in the background on this overcast day.
  2. Text. Trail of Tears Overlook: The Indian Removal Act (1830) forcibly relocated the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Muskogee, (Creek), and Seminole tribes from their ancestral home-lands to Indian Territory, (present day Oklahoma). Thousands died along this long and painful journey known at the Trail of Tears. This overlook is a place to reflect and remember those who died, as well as those who survived. Photo description: At the base of a slope a large tree provides shade for two people reading trail signs mounted to a low stone wall. The Arkansas River can be seen in the background.
  3. Text. Gallows: The first execution here was in 1873. A legend holds that Fort Smiths gallows, (pictured), could hang 12, but the most executed at one time was six. The earliest executions were public and drew crowds, but the structure was fenced about 1878. Over 24 years, 86 men were hanged in 39 separate executions. A year after the last execution in 1896, the city of Fort Smith destroyed the gallows. The present gallows is a reproduction. Photo description: The wooden gallows structure is painted white. On the right, a fenced-in stairway rises to a large wooden platform. On both sides of the platform vertical posts support a thick crossbeam and the sloped roof. Two nooses hang centered on the crossbeam.
  4. Text. Walking Trails: The entire park can be enjoyed on foot via its trails and walkways. From the visitor center and the commissary building nearby you can walk to the initial point marker, gallows, first Fort Smith site and ruins, Belle Point vistas from above the two rivers, and the towns Fort Smith Riverfront Park. There are restrooms in the visitor center and at Fort Smith Riverfront Park. Photo description: A sidewalk cut through a green field on a sunny day. Trees along the walkway provide shade. The Arkansas River and trees on the far shore are visible in the background.

Junior ranger badge description: A golden and bronze rectangular-shaped badge with the text “Junior Ranger Fort Smith National Historic Site” printed on it. Caption: Junior Ranger Program badge.

↑ back to top

TEXT: What To Do When You Arrive

DescriptionThe bottom half of side two of the brochure provides more information about major areas of interest and ways to explore the park. Following is the list.

  1. Start at the Visitor Center, See its Exhibits, Tour the Grounds, and Walk to the Overlook.  
  2. Visitor Center.The visitor center, movie, extensive exhibits, and gift shop are in the former basement of the 1888 jail, (see photo above). Open daily except January 1, Thanksgiving, and December 25, it is wheelchair-accessible and has an elevator. Make this your first stop, but not your last. Watch the orientation movie that narrates the 80-year history of this historic site. Call ahead or visit the park website, under the heading more Information, for hours. 
  3. Make the Most of Your Visit. Archaeologists have uncovered the footprint of the first Fort Smith, set above the Po-toe and Arkansas rivers. The River Trail hugs the Arkansas past Belle Point and Trail of Tears National Historic Trail Overlook and takes you to Fort Smith Riverfront Park. This paved, fairly level path has lots of shade in hot weather. 
  4. Officers’ Quarters (see map), housed officers and their families and were located northwest of the flagpole. 
  5. 1825 Initial Point Marker (reproduction), marks the 1825 boundary between Arkansas Territory and the Choctaw Nation. See the original stone marker in the visitor center. 
  6. Junior Ranger Program. Learn about soldiers, American Indians, marshals, Outlaws, and Judge Parker to earn a Junior Ranger Badge. Ask a park ranger for details. Children’s programs are offered throughout the year. Contact the park or visit the park website for information. 

↑ back to top

Directions and Map

Text: Directions: This national historic site is in historic downtown Fort Smith and can be reached via Garrison or Rogers avenues by going south on 4th Street and then west on Garland Avenue.

Map description: In the lower right corner of the brochure is a map of the park grounds and local area. The map is oriented north-south. On the left side of the map, the park is bordered by the Arkansas River. The Poteau River joins the Arkansas River at the very southwestern border of the park. The state border between Arkansas and Oklahoma is indicated by a dashed line running north-south in these rivers not far from the shoreline. 

Railroad tracks run through the center section of the park. West of the railroad tracks closest to the water, is the river trail. It is indicated with a dashed-lined in the shape of a long oval loop running north-south. Within the southern section of this loop is the First Fort Smith outlined in red indicating where the fort used to be. In the center is a Flagpole and close by is a gazebo.

East of the railroad tracks is a red outlined area representing the location of the Second Fort Smith. It encompasses most of this section of the park. The Visitor Center is within this area. Moving in a clockwise direction from the northern tip of the second fort, identified areas include the Commissary, Guardhouse, Gallows, Initial Point Marker, Officers Quarters and Garden. In between the Officers Quarters is a cistern. Beyond the cistern is a flagpole.

The parking area and entrance is in the southeastern section of the park. An additional parking area is located in the northeastern section of the park by the Commissary and Guardhouse, where the Frisco Station is also located.

Area attractions shown on the map include Miss Laras visitor center (north), Fort Smith Museum of History (east), the Fort Smith Trolley Museum and Fort Smith National Cemetery (southeast).

Close by and paralleling the entire east side of the park is a trolley route, which winds past the park and around the Fort Smith National Cemetery.

Text by the map notes:

↑ back to top

TEXT: Safety

↑ back to top

OVERVIEW: Accessibility

We strive to make our facilities, services, and programs accessible to all. For information go to a visitor center, ask a ranger, call, or check our website.

↑ back to top

OVERVIEW: More Information

Fort Smith National Historic Site 301 Parker Avenue Fort Smith, AR 72901 479-783-3961 www.nps.gov/fosm 

Fort Smith National Historic Site is one of over 400 parks in the National Park System. To learn more about national parks, visit www.nps.gov. 

National Park Foundation Logo: A solid white arrowhead in a black box with the text National Park Foundation. Additional text reads: Join the park community. www.nationalparks.org 


↑ back to top