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

    Fort Smith

    National Historic Site AR,OK

Social Life at the Garrison

Mary Rutherford Cravens was born in 1840 and came to Fort Smith eight years later. She was thirty-one years old when the second Fort Smith closed its doors in 1871. Thirty years later, she recalled her memories of the soldiers and life in the garrison for a local newspaper.

Mary wrote that Washington Street, which is now Second Street, was the main road leading to the big north gate of the old fort. At that time, a high stone wall surrounded the military grounds. It was broken at regular intervals by four of these large gates where armed sentinels were always on guard.

As Mary remembered, the walls were almost hidden by a wealth of vines and foliage. She said the enclosed space was as green as nature and care could make it. A broad gravel driveway around the grounds encompassed an inner circle and this was the parade ground where the soldiers daily drilled. In the center of this circle stood a tall flagstaff. In both the morning and evening, a cannon salute was fired and the strains of martial music were heard as the flag was raised and lowered.

The officers quarters of the fort were large brick buildings, graced by immense porches. These porches were common rendezvous for the officers, their families and friends and people used to delight in being there to watch the soldiers drill, hear the bugles shrill call and listen to the fine concerts by the army band on the parade grounds.

Mary and her sister attended school in a room above the cells in the guardhouse, a white brick building near the north gate. As they grew older, the girls attended social events at the garrison. Mary described parties and weddings held at the fort, saying that they were very elegant affairs, "the big double rooms...beautifully decorated and lighted by many wax candles in tall silver candlesticks, so shaded that only a soft radiance illuminated the rooms."

The soldiers from the fort also enjoyed hunting and would often take long drives into the country to hunt game in the surrounding woods and prairies.

The memories of Mary Cravens are some of the few that were written down recalling events at the old Fort Smith. Today, they are all that remain of social life at the garrison.

Juliet Galonska
April 1996

This sketch is part of a series, “Fort Smith Minutes,” originally developed by the park staff to provide one minute long public service announcements for local radio stations. These sketches provide a light and entertaining glimpse into the complex history of Fort Smith.

Did You Know?

deputy marshals pose with their rifles for a formal portrait

Fort Smith National Historic Site has records of over 1,770 people employed by the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas from 1872-1896. The majority of these employees were U.S. Deputy Marshals.