We love National Parks. If it is considered important to our nation, we consider it worthy of a stop. This is how we happened upon Fort Smith National Historic Site. We were driving through Arkansas and the kids needed to get out some energy. A quick look at the map and it was decided that we would see what Fort Smith had to offer. I’m so glad that we did!
Fort Smith is different from other historic sites because the fort itself has had so many different uses. Here’s are the things our kids learned about at Fort Smith:
1. The purpose of a commissary – One of the many uses of Fort Smith was as a commissary for the U.S. Army. Explorers and pioneers stopped at Fort Smith to restock before continuing further west. By learning about this history of the fort, the kids were able to imagine what kind of supplies settlers moving west might need, and they were able to learn about daily rations. The idea of not having a supermarket on every corner is foreign to my kids, so understanding the need for a commissary was an eye opener.
2. Outlaws and justice in the Old West – One section of the museum featured famous outlaws of the Old West and the U.S. Marshals tasked with bringing them to justice. Luke in particular loved learning about Cherokee Bill and the Bandit Queen. He decided that he would have probably been an excellent marshal.
He also loved seeing the jail where inmates were held. This cold, basement room with no plumbing and pallets on stone floors really brought to life what outlaws were facing if convicted.
But, their favorite part was the courtroom of Judge Isaac C. Parker. Judge Parker was a U.S. District Judge in western Arkansas who became known as the “hanging judge” due to the large number of executions he sentenced on the criminals who appeared in his court.
3. The Trail of Tears – The most sobering exhibit at Fort Smith was the one depicting the Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears, which passed through Fort Smith, was the United States’ attempt to remove Native Americans from their homes in the southeastern states. During this tragic process over 10,000 people died, a number my kids took some time to wrap their minds around. We were able to talk about the tribes involved in the Trail of Tears. This led to an organic conversation about how we have ancestors who might have been impacted by this period of history because we have both Caucasian and Cherokee ancestors who lived in this area of the country during that time. (I love sneaking family history into ordinary conversations.)
After a great day of exploring, learning, and filling in their booklets, Luke and Ellie were sworn in as Junior Park Rangers. They love completing the Junior Ranger activities, and I love what the activities teach them.
I am so glad that we made the stop at Fort Smith. It’s convenient location not far from the interstate, and price of $4 per adult (over 16), made it an economical, historical, educational, and lovely stop. We had a great few hours and soon got back on the road. I would suggest this to anyone else in western Arkansas.