Ruins of Fort Smith
The site of the first fort offers a
spectacular view of the
confluence of the Arkansas
and Poteau Rivers.
Fort Smith National Historic Site - Fort Smith, Arkansas - Fort Smith National Historic Site, Arkansas - Fort Smith National Historic Site, Arkansas
Site of the First Fort Smith
The ruins of the original fort and outline of its
stockade walls can still be seen at Fort Smith
National Historic Site in Arkansaas.
The First Fort, 1817-1824
As the first waves of Cherokee settlers came
west from their original homes east of the
Mississippi, they quickly ran afoul of the
Osage Indians who already claimed the
western lands. In an effort to maintain peace
between the nations, Major General (and
future President) Andrew Jackson ordered
the establishment of Fort Smith.

Coming up the Arkansas River by keelboat,
Major William Bradford arrived at the site of a
small French settlement called Belle Point
on December 25, 1817. The village had
stood on a commanding bluff overlooking the
confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau
Rivers and it was there that Bradford came
ashore with his 64 riflemen.

Designed by Major Stephen Long, who later
selected the site of the modern city of Atlanta,
the original Fort Smith was a rectangular
stockade with two blockhouses on diagonal
corners. Other structures lined the walls of
the fort, which was located at what was then
the far western frontier of the United States.

The garrison of the fort was greatly enlarged
in 1821 when the 7th U.S. Infantry was
moved there from Fort Scott, Georgia.

The original stockade was occupied until
1824, during which time it served as a base
for important explorations and military
activities in the west. Important scientific
expeditions used Fort Smith as a base of
operations and the post also fulfilled its role
of keeping peace between the Cherokee and
the Osage.

By 1824, the frontier had been pushed west
from the Arkansas border and it was thought
that Fort Smith was no longer necessary. The
army abandoned the fort in favor of other
posts further west, among them Fort Gibson
in what is now Oklahoma.

The evacuation would prove short-lived. Just
fourteen years later the U.S. Army would
return to Belle Point to begin construction on
a second Fort Smith.

The site of the original fort later became the
center of a riverfront industrial area, but after
Fort Smith became a national historic site,
park service archaeologists relocated the
remains of the historic stockade on the bluff
top overlooking the forks of the Poteau and
Arkansas Rivers.

Visitors to the site today can view the ruins of
the blockhouses and other structures of the
original fort, as well as the outline of the
rectangular stockade. Interpretive panels
explain the significance of the remains and a
pathway leads around the crest of the bluff to
the Trail of Tears Overlook, which explains
the role of the site in that American tragedy.

Fort Smith National Historic Site is located in
downtown Fort Smith, Arkansas, and ithe
grounds are open to the public daily during
daylight hours. There is no charge to visit the
site of the historic forts.
Interpretive Panel
Panels such as this one help
visitors to the historic site
visualize the appearance of
the original Fort Smith.
Trail of Tears Overlook
Seen here from the ruins of
the first Fort Smith, the Trail of
Tears Overlook helps visitors
understand the importance of
the site in that great American
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
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