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Fort Smith, Arkansas
City
Garrison Avenue in historic Downtown Fort Smith
Nickname(s): Hell on the Border
Motto: "Life's worth living in Fort Smith, Arkansas"[1]
Coordinates: 35°22′7″N 94°23′55″W / 35.36861°N 94.39861°W / 35.36861; -94.39861Coordinates: 35°22′7″N 94°23′55″W / 35.36861°N 94.39861°W / 35.36861; -94.39861
Country United States
State Arkansas
County Sebastian
Founded 1817
Incorporated 1842
Government
 • Mayor Sandy Sanders
Area
 • City 64.6 sq mi (170.5 km2)
 • Land 61.7 sq mi (160.5 km2)
 • Water 3.9 sq mi (10.0 km2)
Elevation 463 ft (141.1 m)
Population (2010)
 • City 86,209
 • Density 1,391.2/sq mi (537.2/km2)
 • Metro 298,592
Time zone CST (UTC-6)
 • Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP code 720xx-722xx
Area code(s) 479
FIPS code 05-24550
GNIS feature ID 0076952
Website http://www.fortsmithar.gov

Fort Smith is the second-largest city in Arkansas and one of the two county seats of Sebastian County.[2] As of the 2010 Census the population was 86,209.[3] With an estimated population of 87,443[4] in 2012, it is the principal city of the Fort Smith, Arkansas-Oklahoma Metropolitan Statistical Area, a region of 298,592 residents which encompasses the Arkansas counties of Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian, and the Oklahoma counties Le Flore and Sequoyah.

Fort Smith has a sister city relationship with Cisterna, Italy, site of the World War II Battle of Cisterna fought by the United States Army Rangers commanded by Fort Smith native William O. Darby.

Fort Smith lies on the Arkansas-Oklahoma state border, situated at the junction of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers, also known as Belle Point. The city began as a western frontier military post in 1817 and would later become well known for its role in the settling of the "Wild West" and its law enforcement heritage.

In 2007, Fort Smith was selected by the United States Department of the Interior to be the location of the new United States Marshals Service National Museum.

History[edit | edit source]

The site of Fort Smith became part of the United States in the Louisiana Purchase (1803). Soon after, the Pike Expedition (1806) explored the Arkansas River. Fort Smith was founded in 1817 as a military post. Around the fort a small settlement began forming, but the Army abandoned the first Fort Smith in 1824 and moved 80 miles further west to Fort Gibson. Army sutler and land speculator John Rogers (who some genealogists claim to be an ancestor to 20th-century Oklahoma comedian Will Rogers) bought up former government-owned lands and promoted growth of the new civilian town of Fort Smith, eventually influencing the federal government to re-establish a strong military presence at Fort Smith during the era of Indian Removal and the Mexican War.

Fort Smith's name comes from General Thomas Adams Smith (1781–1844), who commanded the United States Army Rifle Regiment in 1817, headquartered near St. Louis. General Smith had ordered Army topographical engineer Stephen H. Long (1784–1864) to find a suitable site on the Arkansas River for a fort. General Smith never visited the town or forts that bore his name.

In 1838 the Army moved back into the old military post near Belle Point, and expanded the base as part of the federal policy of removing Cherokees and Choctaws from their ancestral homelands in the Southeast and resettling the survivors in the nearby Indian Territory. Many displaced Native Americans settled down in Fort Smith and Van Buren, while Sebastian county was formed in 1851, separated from Crawford County north of the Arkansas River. In 1858, Fort Smith became a Division Center of the Butterfield Overland Mail's 7th Division route across Indian Territory from Fort Smith to Texas and a junction with the mail route from Memphis, Tennessee.

The fort was occupied by the Confederate Army during the early years of the U.S. Civil War. Union troops under General Steele took control of Fort Smith on September 1, 1863. A small fight occurred there on July 31, 1864, but the Union army maintained command in the area until the war ended in 1865. The town became a haven for runaway slaves, orphans, Southern Unionists, and other victims of the ferocious guerrilla warfare then raging in the Border States. Federal troops abandoned the post of Fort Smith for the last time in 1871. The town continued to thrive despite the absence of federal troops.

Two of Fort Smith's most notable historic figures were Judge Isaac Parker and William Henry Harrison Clayton, sometimes referred to as W.H.H. Clayton. In 1874, William Henry Harrison Clayton was appointed United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas by President Ulysses S. Grant. Fort Smith was a bustling community full of brothels, saloons and outlaws, just across the river from Indian Territory. William Clayton realized a strong judge would be necessary to bring law and order to the region. He knew of a strong judge in Isaac Parker. But there was a problem. Judge Parker had been appointed Chief Justice of Utah Territory and confirmed by the US Senate. With the help of President Grant and US Senator Powell Clayton, former governor of Arkansas, William Clayton was able to undo that appointment and redirect Judge Parker to Fort Smith.

Judge Isaac Parker, Hanging Judge

Gallows Ft. Smith Arkansas

Judge Isaac Parker served as U.S. District Judge 1875–1896. He was nicknamed the "Hanging Judge" because in his first term after assuming his post he tried 18 people for murder, convicted 15 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 represented the only real law in the rough-and-tumble frontier border town. His courthouse is now a National Historic Site where "More men were put to death by the U.S. Government... than in any other place in American history."[5]

William Clayton was appointed US Attorney by four different presidents and later served as Chief Justice of Indian Territory. He was instrumental in achieving statehood for Oklahoma and together with Territorial Governor Frank Frantz, carried the Oklahoma Constitution to President Teddy Roosevelt after that state was admitted in 1907. Governor Frantz and Judge Clayton both lost their territorial positions when Oklahoma was admitted to the Union.

The Army returned to Fort Smith in 1941 with the establishment of the Fort Chaffee Military Reservation east of the city.

On April 21, 1996, a large tornado destroyed and heavily damaged much of historic downtown Fort Smith around the Garrison Avenue Bridge. The storm left 4 people dead in western Arkansas. Channel 5 KFSM-TV in Fort Smith covered the tornado and produced a documentary of the event shortly after called 'Sundays Fury'. Days later, the Eads Brothers Furniture Building was destroyed by one of largest fires in Fort Smith's history.

Geography[edit | edit source]

Fort Smith is located at 35°22′7″N 94°23′55″W / 35.36861°N 94.39861°W / 35.36861; -94.39861 (35.368691, −94.398737).[6]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 64.6 square miles (167 km2), of which, 61.7 square miles (160 km2) of it is land and 3.9 square miles (10 km2) of it (6.3%) is water.

Climate[edit | edit source]

Fort Smith has generally mild winters and hot, humid summers. The monthly mean temperature ranges from 39.4 °F (4.1 °C) in January to 82.3 °F (27.9 °C) in July; on average, the high stays at or below freezing on 5 days, reaches 90 °F (32 °C) on 74.7 days, and 100 °F (38 °C) on 10.7 days annually. The average first and last occurrences for freezing temperatures are November 5 and March 29, respectively. Extreme temperatures range from −15 °F (−26 °C) on February 12, 1899 to 115 °F (46 °C) on August 3, 2011. Fort Smith is situated near an area known as Tornado Alley in the central United States. The city has been struck by three major tornadoes which occurred in the years of 1898, 1927 and 1996.

Demographics[edit | edit source]

Historical population
Year City[7]   ±%  
1890 11,311 —    
1900 11,587 +2.4%
1910 23,975 +106.9%
1920 28,870 +20.4%
1930 31,429 +8.9%
1940 36,584 +16.4%
1950 47,942 +31.0%
1960 52,991 +10.5%
1970 62,802 +18.5%
1980 71,626 +14.1%
1990 72,798 +1.6%
2000 80,268 +10.3%
2010 86,209 +7.4%

As of the census[8] of 2010, there were 86,209 people, 34,352 households, and 21,367 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,391.2 people per square mile (537.2/km²). There were 37,899 housing units at an average density of 612.3 per square mile (236.4/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 69.3% White, 9.0% Black or African American, 1.8% Native American, 5.3% Asian (2.2% Vietnamese, 1.7% Laotian, 0.3% Asian Indian, 0.2% Filipino, 0.1% Korean, 0.1% Chinese, 0.1% Hmong, 0.1% Pakistani), 0.1% Pacific Islander, 10.3% from other races, and 4.2% from two or more races. 16.5% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race (11.6% Mexican, 2.2% Salvadoran, 0.4% Guatemalan, 0.3% Puerto Rican, 0.2% Honduran, 0.1% Cuban, 0.1% Peruvian, 0.1% Colombian).

In language, Fort Smith has over 10 Asian languages with over 2 percent and the rise of Hispanics from immigration in the late 20th century increased the total of residents who speak Spanish. 7.10% reported speaking Spanish at home, while 3.38% speak Vietnamese and Lao, and 2.50% speak Tagalog.[9]

In 2000 there were 32,398 households, of which 30.8% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.1% were married couples living together, 12.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.3% were non-families. 30.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.42 and the average family size was 3.03.

In the city the population was spread out with 25.4% under the age of 18, 9.8% from 18 to 24, 29.3% from 25 to 44, 21.8% from 45 to 64, and 13.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females there were 94.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.0 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $32,157, and the median income for a family was $41,012. Males had a median income of $29,799 versus $22,276 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,994. About 12.1% of families and 15.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 22.2% of those under age 18 and 9.6% of those age 65 or over.

Attractions[edit | edit source]

As the largest city in western Arkansas, Fort Smith offers many activities and attractions. Fort Smith's theatres and event venues regularly host major concerts and touring theatre companies.

Spirit of the American Doughboy

  • Fort Smith National Historic Site, the most prominent landmark, which includes the remains of the original 1817 fort on the Arkansas River. Inside is the restored courtroom of the famed "Hangin' Judge" Isaac C. Parker, and the dingy frontier jail aptly named "Hell on the Border." Eventually, this would become the unofficial nickname for all of Fort Smith.
  • Fort Chaffee, primarily used as a training facility by regional National Guard and Reserve Corps units as well as active military units from other installations. In 1958, the entertainer Elvis Presley stopped off at Fort Chaffee en route to his basic training in Texas. It was here that the public information officer John J. Mawn told a news conference that Presley would receive the standard "G.I. haircut" and would resemble a "peeled onion".

Notable residents[edit | edit source]

Notable military figures who were born in, lived in, or are otherwise associated with Fort Smith.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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