Fort Smith is excited and truly honored to be recognized as 2013’s Top True Western Town by True West Magazine! Our City will be featured in the True West February issue, on newsstands January 1, 2013.
This is the eighth year that the 60 year old monthly publication has named its top ten True Western Towns. “True West is one of the best sources for travel and tourism for fans of the Old West,” says David Turk, Historian for the United States Marshals Service. “It’s been considered one of the very best western history magazines for many years,” says Turk.
According to a True West “there are thousands of great towns in the American West, ones that exemplify the spirit and dedication of the pioneers who built and developed them. But 10 of them stand out—and they are the True Western Towns of 2013.”
Fort Smith – #1!!!
Fort Smith contains a treasure trove of rich history and unforgettable tales of the early Wild West frontier. Those days of the Old West are not forgotten and, today, this City lives and breathes its past! Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau’s slogan says it all: “Where the New South Meets the Old West.”
Our intriguing history has caught eye and inspired the imagination for many books and movies such as True Grit, Hang’em High, and Lonesome Dove, shaping Fort Smith into its important place in American Culture. Although, it is our true history, and our dedication to preserving Fort Smith’s Old West heritage, that have earned Fort Smith the #1 ranking of Top True Western Town of 2013.
“The ghosts of the Old West still walk the streets of Fort Smith,” says True West Executive Editor Bob Boze Bell. “Thanks to the efforts of the local residents, the old haunts still live. Fort Smith is truly the Top Western Town.”
The mentioning of ghosts in Fort Smith will definitely get a bunch of folks talking, residents and tourist alike, and the talk will almost always start with the Fort Smith National Historic Site. Why is this? Maybe because one of the first sites that will grab your attention is the replica of the famed Fort Smith gallows were 80 were hanged by “Hanging Judge Parker.”
Judge Isaac C. Parker
Since 1817, when the area’s first fort was established to promote peace between the warring Indian tribes, the area became known for its unruly Wild West ways. During the latter part of the 19th century, U.S. President Grant took notice of the rugged and turbulent region and sent Judge Isaac C. Parker to restore civility. In order to accomplish this, strong measures were taken. The federal court at Fort Smith became the center of law and order for the U.S. Marshal Service’s hundreds of U.S Deputy Marshals in the territory. Territories west of Fort Smith became a mecca for people hiding out from the law. When the Marshals caught up with them in the western regions, outlaws, bandits and other lawbreakers were brought to Fort Smith to be tried for their crimes. So many people ended up in the small, cramped federal jail here at Fort Smith that the prison here became known far and wide as “Hell on the Border.”
Deputy U.S. Marshals – Gallows at Fort Smith National Historic Site – Rufus Buck Gang – Hanged 1896
This is just part of the many interprets at the Fort Smith National Historic Site. Exhibits take you on a journey back into Fort Smith history. Historic programs and events take place throughout the year to inform and make visitors active participants in Fort Smith’s heritage. Restoration of the Fort Smith National Historic Site will continue in 2013.
Other reasons why Fort Smith was named #1 Top True Western Town by True West:
Bass Reeves! The name alone was enough for the infamous female outlaw, Belle Starr (“The Bandit Queen”), to turn herself in when she heard legendary Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves was coming after her. Bass Reeves became a fugitive slave during the Civil War and sought refuge in Indian Territory, first becoming a scout for the Deputy Marshals before becoming one himself. Reeves was 6’2″, 180 pounds, and famous for bringing in criminals by the dozen. He was one of the first black lawmen west of the Mississippi River, becoming a legend in his time, and is still regarded as a legend today.
This year marks the 175th anniversary of Bass Reeves birthday and in order to commemorate his legacy, Fort Smith erected a striking bronze statue entitled “Into the Territories” created by Harold T. Holden. The amazing statue stands tall at Pendergraft Park and is one of the first things people will see as they head over Garrison Ave. Bridge coming from Oklahoma into Arkansas. The bronze statue was devised completely through fundraising and private donations. Typical of Fort Smith, our citizens were as passionate about this project and its importance to our heritage, as they have been about our past for many decades!!!
Miss Laura’s –In 1903, Miss Laura’s Social Club opened on the banks of the Arkansas River, one of seven houses of ill-repute in this wild little city. Laura Zeigler built it with money she borrowed from a local banker and it later became the “Queen of the Row” and one of the most celebrated bordellos in the Southwest. By 1910, growing voices within Fort Smith called for the closing of the commercial houses and, in 1911, Miss Laura sold the house to Bertha Gale Dean for $47,000.00. An ordinance passed in 1924 made prostitution illegal in Fort Smith; this caused business to slow down and the neighborhood declined to slum status.
In 1973 the building was selected for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, the first former bordello to be listed on the Register. Following restoration in the 1980’s, it became the official Visitor Center for Fort Smith in 1992. The clapboard structure is a simple, yet elegant, example of baroque Victorian architecture with a mansard roof trimmed in wrought iron and oeil-de-boeuf (eye of the ox) dormer windows. Inside, the stained glass windows are true to the style that marked the house in its youth and the “guest” rooms upstairs have transoms over each door bearing the name of some favored lady. We are pleased that our brothel “still takes care of visitors” but don’t expect any original hospitality!
Fort Smith is the future home of the U.S. Marshals Museum, which recently starting its national fundraising campaign! According to the U.S. Marshals Museum Website, “Fort Smith was the natural choice to host the new Museum. Not only did the city leaders and the regional population lobby for its presence, Fort Smith is a place of true authenticity. It was the gateway to the Old West, an era ingrained in the American Imagination. Outlaws and lawmen alike passed through Fort Smith headed into Indian Territory.” The U.S. Marshals Museum will be a 50,000 square foot building with 20,000 square feet of exhibition space. In addition, the Hall of Honor will recognize those U.S. Marshals, Deputy U.S. Marshals, and Special Deputies killed in the line of duty. A meditative garden and reflecting pool will bring the Hall of Honor outdoors. The Museum will also house a Museum store and café.
The Fort Smith Museum of History, located at the 1907 Atkinson-Williams Warehouse Building, has been acquiring, preserving, and exhibiting local objects and stories that follow the founding and growth of Fort Smith. This place is amazing…if you haven’t been, it should be on your places to visit. How many Museums have a working 1920’s era soda fountain! This one does!
Dedicated and highly involved citizens who make Fort Smith’s heritage a priority!
The True West “Top Ten True Western Town” designation is based upon an extensive application which was completed by a committee of individuals most familiar with how Fort Smith has preserved its history and heritage. The credit for Fort Smith’s selection goes to many individuals and organizations according to Claude Legris, Executive Director of the Fort Smith Advertising and Promotion Commission. “Our community has always placed a high priority on preserving our colorful past and making sure that appreciation is passed on to future generations,” says Legris. “We have ‘branded’ Fort Smith with our frontier heritage since the Convention and Visitors Bureau was established two decades ago. It’s a ‘natural’ brand for Fort Smith because it’s who and what we are,” he says.
Okay, above are just a FEW of the reasons why we are the Top True Western Town. The list could go on forever!
The best way to find out why Fort Smith was named #1 – Come Visit Us!
I have to say though; reading doesn’t do Fort Smith justice. (And, we are all about justice here!) You have to visit our city to truly understand what all the fuss is about. Last year, Fort Smith had nearly one million visitors. I bet most of those visitors call recall some Wild West story about Fort Smith…we are really that memorable!!!
For more information on Fort Smith, please visit www.fortsmith.org
You never know when you’ll find “Miss Laura” greets groups to the
Authentic live music on the grounds Fort Smith Visitors Center.
of the Fort Smith National Historic Site!