A new exhibit at the Arkansas Capitol Building in Little Rock highlights the history of Fort Smith, the state’s second largest city, and a settlement established two years before Arkansas was named a U.S. territory.
Entitled “Arkansas’s Western Post,” the capitol’s summer exhibit “highlights episodes and individuals from Fort Smith’s more than twenty decades,” according to a Monday (June 10) statement from the office of Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston.
Fort Smith was founded on Dec. 25, 1817, as a military post and named for Gen. Thomas Adams Smith, who commanded the U.S. Army Rifle Regiment. Smith, headquartered near St. Louis at that time. He ordered Army topographical engineer Stephen H. Long to find a site along the Arkansas River for a fort. Gen. Smith never visited the area that bears his name.
The Secretary of State’s office worked with the Fort Smith Museum of History to create the exhibit, which offers “select reminders of the city’s storied past as military post, market town, port, place of judgment and gateway.” Following are some of the more than 20 items included in the exhibit.
• A toy catapult marketed by the Fort Smith Biscuit Company
• A box of rough garnets found in the personal effects of General Benjamin Bonneville
• Ornamental plaster from the storied Goldman Hotel, once the city’s elite lodging facility
• A utilitarian U.S. Army Ordnance Department-marked Elgin wrist watch, once worn by Colonel William O. Darby
• Artifacts belonging to the court of U.S. District Judge Isaac Parker, also known as the “Hanging Judge”
“A year or more before the first wave of appointees, boomers and speculators descended upon Arkansas Post, the Stars and Stripes flew above a new stockade and fledgling settlement more than two hundred and fifty miles upriver. They still do,” noted the Secretary of State press release.
The city of Fort Smith during 2018 held several events to celebrate its bicentennial. The year of events would win the Natural State Award as part of the Henry Award program conducted by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. The Natural State Award is presented annually to a community, organization, special event or attraction that “stands out in the crowd” because of its unique appeal, media coverage, creative approach and/or enhancement of community pride, thus benefiting the state’s quality of life. The Henry Awards honor individuals and organizations that have made important contributions to the state’s tourism industry in the preceding year.
The Fort Smith Museum of History, in operation for over 100 years, curates a collection of over 40,000 artifacts and offers two full levels of exhibits and attractions, including an operating soda fountain.