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

    Fort Smith

    National Historic Site AR,OK

Justice, Executions and the Gallows

Program Description:

In the courtroom portion of this program students will sit in the chairs of the jury and attorneys while they learn about court jurisdictions, the justice system and the roles of the people in the courtroom (judge, prosecuting and defense attorneys, clerk, bailiff, jury, and witnesses), the kinds of crimes that Judge Parker would have presided over - and sentenced to hang, the kind of person Judge Parker actually was and why the nickname "hanging judge" is unfair. The second part of this program takes students outside to the gallows where they will learn about the prisoner's last day, the steps involved in the execution process, and who would have attended executions - and why. Disclaimer: Because this program covers the topic of execution, subject content will include the mention of murder and rape as crimes for which people were executed at Fort Smith. While the tour guide will make every effort to discuss the material at a student-friendly and age appropriate level, the material may not be suitable for all students and/or grade levels.

Students will learn about:

  • The role of execution in the justice system
  • What crimes merited execution in the Federal Court system
  • The different roles people played in the courtroom
  • Judge Parker - the man behind the "hanging judge" myth
  • Execution day - How? What? and Why?

Length: 45 - 60 minutes

Group Size: 45 maximum

Areas Visited:

  • Judge Parker's Courtroom (1875-1890)
  • Gallows (1872-1896)

Logistics:

Students will spend time in two main places; seated in the courtroom, and standing outside in the gallows area. Walking distance between the building and gallows is approximately 20 yards on an ADA accessible paved walkway. There is no shade protection in the gallows area.

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Did You Know?

Park staff and volunteers demonstrating using lindstock and slowmatch to ignite the cannon's primer

The soldiers who came to Fort Smith in 1817 were still using some 18th century technology and drill. The cannon was discharged using a lindstock and slowmatch to ignite the primer, which originally was loose powder or a turkey quill filled with powder.