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

    Fort Smith

    National Historic Site AR,OK

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Judge Isaac C. Parker

Judge Parker at about the time he arrived in Fort Smith

Judge Isaac C. Parker

Fort Smith NHS

"I have ever had the single aim of justice in view... 'Do equal and exact justice,' is my motto, and I have often said to the grand jury, 'Permit no innocent man to be punished, but let no guilty man escape.'"
-Judge Isaac C. Parker, 1896

For twenty-one years, Judge Isaac C. Parker held the bench of the U.S. Court for the Western District of Arkansas. His tenure was unique in the history of the federal judiciary; while most U.S. district judges toiled away on civil cases, Parker heard thousands of criminal complaints involving disputes and violence between Indians and non-Indians. He sentenced 160 people to death, and for fourteen years he did so while the condemned had no right of appeal.

Sensational cases and mass executions overshadowed Parker's contributions in rehabilitating offenders, reforming the criminal justice system, and advocating the rights of the Indian nations. In Fort Smith he tried to create, in his own words, "the moral force of a strong federal court."

Remembered in Western novels and films as a "Hanging Judge," Isaac Parker's real career and accomplishments in Fort Smith are far more fascinating and complicated. Use the links on this page to learn more about Judge Parker and his time at Fort Smith.

Did You Know?

Parker seated at his bench in 6th Street courtroom

The only known image of Judge Parker in his courtroom is this one from the federal courthouse on Sixth Street which dates from the 1890s. There are no photographs of the courtroom located in the former military barracks.