In 1872, a year after the Army closed the fort, the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas moved from Van Buren to Fort Smith. The court moved into the former barracks building, using one room as a courtroom and the other rooms as offices for the Court Clerk, U.S. Marshal, and U.S. Commissioner. The basement, formerly the mess hall, was converted into a primitive jail with two large cells. Because of the poor and unsanitary conditions of the jail, those confined there called it "Hell on the Border."
Public outcry over the jail led to the construction of a new jail with more modern cell arrangements and sanitary facilities. The new jail wing was added to the south end of the courthouse building in 1888. Two years later, a new courthouse was built a few blocks away and the old courthouse was renovated. The full porches on both sides of the building were removed and a full top floor was added. The top floor was used as a hospital for prisoners and women prisoners were also moved into the building.
This postcard shows a large number of people standing on the east side of the courthouse building prior to the building of the new jail. The windows on the right are those of the courtroom.
To see additional postcards of the Fort Smith courthouses and jail buildings, click on the images on the right.
Last updated: April 10, 2015