Friday, September 10, 2010

Ft. Smith and The Hanging Judge

A couple weeks back, I mentioned driving to our nearest (80 miles away!) "Big City" to do some school shopping. Yes, we live in a very rural area!

Fort Smith is located on the stateline between Arkansas and Oklahoma, at the confluence of the Poteau River and the Arkansas River between the Ouachita Mountains and the Ozark Mountains.

The city began as a U.S. Army outpost in 1817, its sole purpose being to "keep the peace" amongst the Native Americans who were being relocated to Indian Territory. Confederate troops occupied Fort Smith during the early years of the Civil War. But in 1863, Union troops took control of the fort and remained there until 1871, at which time the military left for the last time.

Fort Commissary 

But even though the troops were gone, Fort Smith continued to grow. A variety of people were settling in the area; Southern Unionists, Run-away Slaves, Orphans, Native Americans forced from their homelands, victims of the fierce guerrilla warfare that was taking place in many mid-western states. And Fort Smith had more than its share of saloons, gambling halls, and brothels (we will visit the red-light district of Fort Smith in November during ANCESTOR MONTH - might prove to be a bit 'colorful' ).

This was a tough and rugged locale as Fort Smith was located at the edge of  The Indian Territory (later to become Oklahoma). Many an outlaw, wanting to escape apprehension by the law, would flee across the Arkansas River to hide in Indian Territory. Law enforcement soon became a priority.

Judge Parker's Court

Judge Isaac Parker was appointed U.S. District Judge in 1875. He was nicknamed the "Hanging Judge" because in his first term after assuming his post he tried eighteen people for murder, convicted fifteen of them, sentenced eight of those to die, and hanged six of them on one day. Over the course of his career in Fort Smith, Parker sentenced 160 people to hang, of those 79 actually were executed on the gallows. Judge Parker and his court were the only real law that area saw for quite some time. Judge parker served until 1896.


Today Judge Parker's courtroom and a reconstructed gallows sit on a National Historic Site along the Arkansas River. It is said that on some moonlit nights the screams of those who were condemned can still be heard in the gallows area........


Debra She Who Seeks said...

Sounds like the wild, wild west! Looking forward to your Red Light stories (not "yours" personally, of course!)

Paths In Clay said...

I like the parallels between here (Pittsburgh) and Ft. Smith. Yes we are located on a confluence of rivers (Allegheny and Monongahela to form the Ohio) but there is also some rich war history here. Yes we have Gettysburg a few hours away but we also have forts from the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Braddock, a small town named after the English General Braddock is the location where he lost to the French and Indians. Under attack in the hilly landscape, General Braddock was overpowered by the flaming arrows and knowledge of the surroundings that the Indians provided to the French. George Washington served under Braddock and spent time all around Pittsburgh. There is a statue in Kennywood, our 100 plus year amusement park to honor his achievement and presence here during a time when our country was being formed. Would love to hear from anyone who is willing to critique my blog.

Chris in the Emerald City said...

I have to get back over to Fort Smith soon... there is a painting (print) in a flea market there that I MUST have! Heading over to Russellville tomorrow for PPD, then up to the Buffalo.