Fort Smith Museum of History holds ‘Western Heritage’ month events

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 234 views 

The Fort Smith Museum of History has scheduled a wide range of activities in May – to include bull riding, historic development of downtown Fort Smith, and cowboy poetry – to support Western Heritage Month in Fort Smith.

With the motto “Relive the Heritage/Restore the Pride,” Western Heritage Month is in its second year and focuses on activities related to the city’s history. Some of the primary activities of the month are:
• Old Fort Days Rodeo Parade and 5K Colordash held May 25 in downtown Fort Smith;
• Judge Parker’s Rope War, held May 16 at Harry Kelley Riverfront Park; and
• the Western Heritage Art Show, held May 15 in the renovated Old Frisco Station in downtown Fort Smith.

Heritage Month spokesman Rham Cunningham said a portion of the proceeds from the Colordash, rope war and art show help support the scholarship fund of the Arkansas Oklahoma Regional Education and Promotion Association, aka, the Rodeo-Fair Board. Last year the Heritage Month program was able to give $5,000 to the scholarship fund, but included money from a one-time grant.

Following are five events conducted by the Fort Smith Museum of History in support of Western Heritage Month. All programs are held at the Fort Smith Museum of History in downtown Fort Smith, and the programs are free with Museum admission, which is $5 adults, $2 children, and under age six are free.

• Rodeo in Fort Smith – May 7, 6 p.m.
Denny Flynn, champion bull rider and director of Kay Rodgers Park will speak on the history of the rodeo in Fort Smith as well as his experience as a champion bull rider.  The Charleston, Ark., native was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2010. He qualified for the National Finals Rodeo 10 times from 1974 through 1982 and set a record for the most bull riding average titles won.

The first organized rodeo in Fort Smith was held at Andrews Field in 1934. Titled the "Pawnee Bill Rodeo," Major Gordon Lillie appeared in the parade and the grand entry of each show. Today, the Old Fort Days Rodeo is one of the oldest in Arkansas.
• Historic development of downtown Fort Smith, May 16, 10 a.m.
Chuck Girard will present a pictorial look at the development of Garrison Avenue, Fort Smith’s main street, and several of the buildings and activities that have been located on the avenue. The Girard Family has a long history in Fort Smith dating to 1846 when
Girard Confectionary was located on Commercial Row, the business district along the Arkansas River.
The program features historic photographs from the museum’s collection as well as unique images from Girard’s personal collection.

• A downtown stroll, May 16, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Judge and Mrs. Isaac Parker, aka, Sue and Floyd Robison, will stroll downtown while discussing historic buildings still in place and long gone. The tour explores the story of Fort Smith’s main street from the Garrison Avenue Bridge to the Kannady Block. Specifically, the discussion will include info on the first bridge over the Arkansas River, the Reynolds, Davis and Co. Building, Speer Hardware, Marble Hall, and Adelaide Hall.

• Cowboy poets and musicians, May 25, Noon
A performance of cowboy poets and musicians will be held on Memorial Day (May 25) at the Fort Smith Museum of History following the Rodeo Parade in downtown Fort Smith. According to a press release from the museum, cowboy poetry evolved from stories told around the campfire as entertainment on long treks west. Poets scheduled are David Carter, Jim Crouch, Jess Gatlin and Duane Knight. Singers and musicians include Donnie Poindexter, Mattie Crouch and Steeldust.
• A ‘Queen’s Tea,’ May 28, from 1 to 3 p.m.
The museum will host a “Queen’s Tea” for current and former rodeo queens and Dandies. For many years, the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce sponsored the contest for Rodeo Queen. The winners were chosen for their ability to sell Chuckwagon tickets with the first queen, Margaret Carolan, crowned in 1937.

Since 1977, each evening during the Old Fort Days Rodeo, crowds cheer with pride at the appearance of the Dandies, young ladies skilled in horsemanship leading the legendary Grand Entry. As ambassadors for the Old Fort Days Rodeo, the horsewomen are chosen for their riding skill, character and personality.  A Quadrille performed each evening during the rodeo demonstrates the skill of the Dandies, acquired through rigorous training. Organized as a promotional group, the young ladies lead the Grand Entry, post the colors, perform the Quadrille, a square dance on horseback, and travel throughout the year to appear at rodeos nationwide.

Cunningham said Leisa Gramlich, executive director of the museum, has been one of the top promoters of Western Heritage Month.

“The Fort Smith Western Heritage month committee is proud to work with all area non profits to bring attention to our western heritage. Leisa at the museum has been great. This is our second year and she continues to do more and more to enrich the month,” Cunningham said.

In addition to the events tied to Western Heritage Month, the museum will also host a “Motorcycle Memories” exhibit that will open April 30, and include an opening reception from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 2. The event is in support of the Steel Horse Motorcycle Rally set for May 1-2 in downtown Fort Smith. Dennis Snow, president of Steel Horse Rally Inc., estimates 5,000 motorcyclists will be in the area for the event which is geared toward honoring members of the military, veterans, police and firefighters and first responders.

The exhibition, which was first presented in 2008, features vintage motorcycles and photographs exploring the “art of the motorcycle” in Fort Smith and the region from the 1940’s through present day.

This project is supported in part by a grant from the Arkansas Humanities council and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Fort Smith Museum of History was selected to receive proceeds from the Steel Horse Motorcycle Rally.