• Rifle Regiment arriving at Belle Point, 1817. Artwork by Michael Haynes

    Fort Smith

    National Historic Site AR,OK

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    Traveling West on I-40? To avoid construction delays, do not take Exit 7 (I-540 S). Stay on I-40 west and take Exit 1 Dora. Stay on Hwy 64D for 6 miles and follow signs to Fort Smith. After crossing over the river, turn right on 4th ST & right on Garland. More »

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the acreage of the park?
Fort Smith National Historic Site is authorized 75 acres, but the current park size is 37 acres.

What is the annual visitation to the park?
In 2012 it was 87,386.

Was True Grit filmed at Fort Smith?
No. Charles Portis had wanted the movie (1969) to be shot in Arkansas and Oklahoma. The film company sent someone out to look at the area, but the producer chose to have it filmed mostly in Colorado.

The newest version of True Grit (2010) was filmed in Texas and New Mexico.

Was Rooster Cogburn a real deputy marshal?
Not exactly. The author of True Grit, Charles Portis, based the character of deputy Cogburn on a combination of real deputies and stories. Rooster Cogburn is not based on a specific individual.

When and how did Judge Parker die?
He died November 17, 1896 of Bright’s disease.

How many men did Judge Parker hang?
He sentenced 160 people to the gallows and of those, 79 men were executed on the gallows. These individuals had been found guilty, by a jury, of the capital crime of rape or murder, for which the U.S. government required the death penalty upon conviction. The U.S. Marshal oversaw the incarceration and execution of the condemned.

Were any women hanged?
No, four were sentenced to the gallows for the crime of murder, but none were executed. Two had their sentences commutated to life in prison by the President of the United States, one had her sentence commutated by the Supreme Court, and the other was granted a new trial by the Supreme Court and was acquitted.

Did Judge Parker watch any of the executions?
There is no record of Judge Parker attending an execution or witnessing one from another location.

Why does the courtroom look different from its appearance in the 1950s-1990s?
Local citizens in the 1950s began restoring the courtroom of Judge Parker in the former military barracks. No photograph of this courtroom existed but there was a photograph of his courtroom from the Sixth Street Courthouse known to the group. Using this photograph and some of the furniture from the Sixth Street courtroom, the citizens completed their recreation in 1957.

With the restoration of the Historic Site in 2000, the NPS had an opportunity to present a more accurate courtroom. By using inventories, vouchers, newspaper accounts and other documents from the 1870s and 1880s, a team of historians and curators from the NPS Harpers Ferry Center in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, designed a courtroom to more accurately represent the one used by Parker from 1875 to 1889.

Who was the most famous outlaw tried in Judge Parker's court?
Crawford Goldsby (Cherokee Bill) and Belle Starr are perhaps the most well-known. Crawford Goldsby was convicted of murder and while waiting execution, he shot and killed a jail guard. Belle Starr was arrested for horse theft, found guilty, and sentenced to serve a year at the Detroit federal prison.

How many deputies were killed while working for the court?
The exact number is unknown but at this time the park has documentation for 76 federal court employees killed in the line of duty. This includes deputy marshals, posse members, and a jailer.

How many men could be hanged on the gallows at a time? How many were?
The gallows was designed to hang up to 12 men, but never hanged more than 6 at one time. There were only two occasions when 6 men were executed at one time.

Did they hang people for horse theft?
No, the only capital crimes in the federal court were murder and rape.

Can you go up on the gallows?
No, for safety reasons and to respect the gallows as a symbol of justice, visitors are not allowed on the gallows.

My great-grandfather/uncle/cousin was a deputy/outlaw/marshal/ do you have information?
The park has a collection of microfilmed documents such as Oath of Offices for the deputy marshals and for many deputies, and that is the only information we have. For some, we have listings of newspaper articles in which they are mentioned, copies of federal court records with their name on it, and on rare occasions, brief biographical information. We welcome copies of materials from descendants of court employees to add to our files.

Information collected is now available on a searchable Court Employee Database that includes the Deputy Marshals. New information is added in an on-going basis so be sure to check back periodically to see if the person you are looking for has been added. The database can be found here.

Did You Know?

Portrait of Anna Dawes

A woman was responsible for the building of a modern federal jail at Fort Smith, AR, in 1888. Anna Dawes, daughter of Sen. Dawes of MA, visited the "Hell on the Border" jail in 1885 and wrote an article describing its conditions. When read in Congress, money was quickly approved for a new jail.