After stopping by the Pea Ridge Military Park on Friday, we continued south to Ft. Smith. It had been cloudy and windy all day. The temperature had risen to 62 according to the thermometer in the Tahoe. When we passed through the Boston Mountains south of Fayetteville, the clouds dropped and a light mist started…just enough to use the wipers on their lowest setting.
We arrived just as darkness fell. We saw a sign for Motel-8 and remembering the old radio advertisement stopped and got a room.
What a mistake. Let’s just say, we’ll mark that down as a lesson learned and move on. Saturday night we stayed in a Holiday Inn Express. That was much, much better.
Google Maps let us down once again. I was looking for Judge Isaac Parker’s courthouse and the old Ft. Scott site. The only thing I could find on Google Maps was “Ft. Scott Park.” That turned out to be a city park, not the National Park site. Mapquest directed us across town to the correct location.
Like Friday, Saturday was cloudy, rainy and warm. It had rained early in the morning. The temp was in the high 50s with 100% humidity. After a great breakfast at Calico County Catering, we arrived finally at the Ft. Smith Historical site.
|Ft. Smith Territorial Federal Court. Originally the enlisted barracks of Ft. Smith.|
The Ft. Smith site covered approximately 15-25 acres as measured by my Mk I eyeball. The first fort was built on the bluffs of Bells Point.
|Bell’s Point overlooking the Arkansas River. This is the site of the original Camp Smith (later renamed Fort Smith.)|
The fort was later moved half a mile to its present location, and rebuilt with a 10′ stone wall surrounding the fort. All that is left of the wall is the stone foundation the encircles the site.
There was a walking path around the grounds that lead from the courthouse down to the original site of the fort and then around the rest of the grounds.
|Map of the original Fort Smith|
The building that was Judge Isaac Parker’s Court was originally the enlistedmen’s barracks. Officer’s quarters and the Quartermaster’s warehouse were separate buildings. The Officer’s Quarters burned down at some point but the stone Quartermaster’s warehouse remains.
|Stone Quartermaster’s warehouse. The foundations of the two Officer’s Quarters are to the left behind the flagpole.|
The basement of the court was the holding cell. It was known as “Hell on the Arkansas” by the prisoners. It was one long open room with stone walls and floor. The prisoners slept on the floor using straw filled pallets. The photo below shows the entrance to the cell.
|Jail entrance in the bottom of the Ft. Smith Courthouse.|
Inside the courthouse is a number of exhibits including movie posters for the original True Grit starring John Wayne and Hang’em High starring Clint Eastwood. A caption on the Clint Eastwood poster noted that the movie storyline was created from a number of true-life incidents that happened to the Deputy Marshals working for the Court.
On the floor above the cell was Judge Isaac Parker’s Court.
|Judge Issac Parker’s Court, Ft. Smith, AR.|
Contrary to popular views and as depicted in Hang’em High, Judge Parker never watched any hangings. He turned that over to the official hangman, George Maledon.
|George Maledon, Prince of Hangmen|
The gallows at Ft. Smith was said to be the largest built. The last hanging, of George Wilson, occurred in 1896.
|Reconstructed Gallows at Ft. Smith. The original was torn down and the pieces burned after the last hanging in 1896.|
With the exception of a three-year period in the 1870s, the hangings were not open to the public. A wooden fence surrounded the gallows and when the site was not in use, it occasionally was used as a horse corral.
|Wooden enclosure around the Ft. Smith gallows.|
We returned home the following day stopping to visit again the Pea Ridge Military Park as described yesterday. It was a fun weekend. We think we’ll do something like it again when time permits.