Guard House and Women’s Jail
The guardhouse, constructed in 1849 was a focal point of daily activity at the second Fort Smith. Not only did the men assigned to guard detail operate out of this building, the officer of the day, who was responsible for the daily business of the post, worked out of an office located here. The guardhouse was also the place of confinement for soldiers under arrest for such offenses as drunkenness, desertion, or fighting.
After the U.S. Army closed Fort Smith in 1871, the guardhouse served the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas. It remained in use as a jail until 1888, primarily housing women suspected or convicted of federal crimes. At that time, the court moved quarters for female prisoners into the courthouse/jail building. Although not as numerous as their male counterparts, female prisoners were no novelty in Fort Smith. They committed the same crimes as men in the Indian Territory, ranging from the illegal sale of whiskey to murder. When convicted, they received the same sentences – fines, jail time, or death by hanging. From 1873 through 1874 the guardhouse also briefly functioned as “Death Row” by holding the men condemned to die on the gallows.
Last updated: May 12, 2020