Fort Smith (pics) was first established in 1817 when the first fort was built on a rocky bluff at the junction of the Poteau and Arkansas rivers. It was established to maintain peace between local Osage Indians, emigrating Cherokees (who were being forced to move westward) and non-Indian settlers. The fort was abandoned in 1824.
In 1838, Arkansas settlers convinced the army that they needed protection from the endless migration of Indians. This initiated the building of a new Fort Smith near the ruins of the first. Until 1871, it served as a supply depot to other nearby forts to the west. When the army moved out the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas moved in.
At that time, no system of law existed for non-Indians in the Indian Territory, therefore, many of the most desperate criminals in the US sought sanctuary there. This area was within the jurisdiction of this court. The man who presided over the court from 1875-1896 was Judge Isaac C. Parker. His court handled a huge caseload of mostly violent criminals. He acquired the sobriquet of “hanging judge” due to the substantial number of death sentences handed out in his court. The Judge did not support the death penalty but he defended his record saying that the law required him to impose it.
A must see in Fort Smith is Miss Laura’s Visitor’s Center. Today it serves as a visitor’s center for the city of Fort Smith. Early in the Twentieth Century it was operated by Miss Laura as a bordello. Miss Laura’s was one of several such places along what was referred to as “The Row” during that time. In the 1940’s it was abandoned until a private investor purchased and restored it to operate it as a restaurant. It’s now furnished and decorated to reflect its original incarnation.
While in Fort Smith, we were anxious to have some local Arkansas cuisine. Based upon the recommendation of someone at Miss Laura’s we went to Calico County restaurant. Their menu had all of the usual suspects: Chicken Fried Steak, Fried Chicken, Chicken Livers and Fried Catfish. I had the Catfish Po’Boy Sandwich and Valerie had a veggie plate which allowed her to choose 5 of their side dishes for her meal. She got: Fried Okra, Turnip Greens, Black-Eyed Peas, Sweet Potato Casserole and Broccoli and Rice Casserole. It was all quite good.