This site is part of the National Parks system and is a remarkable place full of history. It is located on the western side of Fort Smith, Arkansas along the Arkansas River at Belle Point. It is associated with the well known judge – Judge Parker – “The Hanging Judge”. I knew of the judge from history but never knew his location before we visited this place. I probably just forgot some of my history facts like many of us. It was nice to revisit history once again.
This sign shows some facts about the main building shown above. It was built as a military barracks then converted to a courthouse and jail where Judge Parker once presided.
The building now houses the visitor center. An admission of $6 will get you inside to see displays of the courthouse and jail as it was long ago. My wife and I declined to go inside, instead just roaming the grounds for free.
Here is the parade grounds where troops used to drill back in the mid-1800’s.
In the Northern corner of the grounds sits the Commissary Building.
There are signs throughout the park that tell of the history of this place. This one describes the events that took place once the civil war broke out. The US abandoned all of the Southern forts upon the Civil War beginning. Fort Smith was abandoned just one hour prior to the state militia assuming control. The Union reclaimed the fort in 1865.
A period replica of a jail wagon used to transport prisoners back in the late 1800’s. Note the Fort Smith Museum of History in the background. This is across the street from the National Park and is separate. We did not visit the museum on our visit.
The gallows have been recreated and located behind some tall fencing for those that do not wish to see them. Eighty-seven men lost their lives to the gallows on these grounds. Judge Parker actually sentenced 160 to die (including 4 women) but many were pardoned before their sentence was carried out.
Along Garrison Ave. at the northeast corner of the grounds stands this statue of Bass Reeves. Some will know this name and many will not. We found out a lot about deputy US Marshal Bass Reeves from Miss Laura’s Visitor Center and the information here at the statue. He was the real inspiration behind the stories of The Lone Ranger. While the TV shows portray The Lone Ranger as white, it was an African-American Mr Reeves that inspired the tales with his true events of tracking down thousands of criminals.
While this site contains many historical buildings and sites, much of the park is filled with hiking trails throughout Belle Point along the Arkansas River. This sign is located near the Riverfront Amphitheater. A walk along the river walkway will bring you to the remains of the first Fort Smith.
This was a great place to learn about not only the local past, but our nation’s past as well. For me it put a place with the names that I read about in books.
For more information about the Fort Smith National Park please go to: