Gallows of Fort Smith
More outlaws met their fates
on the gallows of Fort Smith
than in any other Federal
court in American history.
Fort Smith National Historic Site - Fort Smith, Arkansas - Fort Smith National Historic Site, Arkansas - Fort Smith National Historic Site, Arkansas
Fort Smith National Historic Site
The original barracks of Fort Smith still stand. The
structure was used by both the Confederate and
U.S. Armies and later by U.S. District Judge Isaac
Parker, the famed "hanging judge" of Fort Smith.
Bastion of the Western Frontier
Fort Smith National Historic Site preserves
some of the most significant historic sites in
the United States. Located in the heart of the
city of
Fort Smith, Arkansas, the national park
area offers an unforgettable walk through the
history of the Old West.

The original frontier fort was built here in
1817 to prevent war between the Osage and
Cherokee Indians. The Cherokee, slowly
being forced from their homes in the East,
were newcomers to the region and were
establishing farms and settlements on lands
traditionally claimed by the Osage. The ruins
of the original fort can still be seen in the park.

Over time Fort Smith grew to become the
"mother post" of a string of forts extended
west by the U.S. Army to protect the rapidly
expanding American frontier. An important
supply depot, the elaborate fort was the base
for important explorations of the West and
was a key stop on the Trail of Tears. Fort
Smith also served as a jumping off point for
large numbers of miners heading for
California during the Gold Rush of 1849.

By the time of the Civil War, the fort was a
comfortable post of brick and stone buildings
surrounded by a stout stone wall. Seized by
state forces in 1861, it served as a major
Confederate post until 1863 when it was
evacuated. Union troops then occupied the
fort for the duration of the war, fending off
attacks at the
Battles of Massard Prairie and
Fort Smith in 1864. Soldiers marching from
Fort Smith also made up part of the forces of
the Arkansas phase of the Red River
Campaign that same year.

After the war, its structures no longer of
military significance, Fort Smith became the
base of U.S. District Judge Isaac C. Parker,
the famed "Hanging Judge" of Fort Smith.

Assigned to bring law and order to the West,
Parker hanged more outlaws on the gallows
of Fort Smith and lost more lawmen in the
line of duty than any other Federal judge in
American history. The operations of his court
provided the inspiration for such American
film classics as
True Grit and Rooster
starring John Wayne and Clint
Eastwood's later film,
Hang 'Em High.

The character
Rooster Cogburn, portrayed by
John Wayne, is thought to have been based
on a real-life "one-eyed deputy marshal" who
served under Judge Parker. Parker was
unique among judges of the time in that he
employed capable deputies regardless of
race to assist him in rounding up the outlaws
who infested the Indian Nations of today's
Oklahoma in the decades following the Civil

Judge Parker's reconstructed courtroom and
the original "Hell on the Border" jail can be
seen at Fort Smith National Historic Site. The
notorious Fort Smith gallows has also been
reconstructed. Nooses can be seen hanging
on the dates of 19th century executions.
A beautiful national park area along the
Arkansas River, Fort Smith National Historic
Site now preserves the ruins of the original
frontier fort, surviving structures of the second
larger fort and sites associated with Parker's
court. The visitor center and museum is built
into the old jail and barracks building and
offers a fascinating walk through the history
of Fort Smith and the Old West.

Please click here to visit the historic site's
outstanding website for more information.
The grounds are open daily and are free to
visit. The visitor center charges $4 for visitors
over the age of 15 and is open daily from 9 to
Click here for a live webcam view of the fort.
Ruins of the Original Fort
Archaeologists have located
the ruins of the original Fort
Smith, built in 1817.
Trail of Tears Overlook
Facing across the Arkansas
River to the Indian Nations of
Oklahoma, the overlook tells
the sad story of the Trail of
Quartermaster's Storehouse
The old stone structure was
part of the second Fort Smith
and has been restored.
Wall of Fort Smith
A small section of the stone
wall that surrounded the fort
has been reconstructed.
Copyright 2010 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
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