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

    Fort Smith

    National Historic Site AR,OK

Stories of the First Fort Smith

reconstructed keelboat on the Arkansas River with people dressed as soldiers from 1817

The soldiers who arrived at Fort Smith on Christmas Day 1817 found themselves on the very edge of the United States, far removed from any town or city. As the Arkansas River was not always navigable, it was difficult for them to receive supplies. When they weren't drilling they farmed and tended livestock in order to ensure an adequate food supply for the fort.

The soldiers had been sent to help establish peace between the Osage and Cherokee Indians. They were able to do so without engaging in any direct military confrontation. The closest they came to open hostilities was in April of 1821 when the Osage came to the fort demanding gunpowder to fight the Cherokees. The incident became known as the Bad Tempered Buffalo Affair.

Did You Know?

Interior of jail cell with box for prisoners to visit with their lawyers

The conditions at the federal jail at Fort Smith were so horrible that it received the nickname "Hell on the Border." Up to 50 men were crowded into one large cell with limited ventilation and poor sanitary conditions.