Soon after, the Pike Expedition (1806) explored the Arkansas River. Fort Smith was founded in 1817 as a military post. A stockade was built and occupied, from 1817 until 1822, by a small troop of regulars commanded by Major William Bradford. Around the fort a small settlement began forming, but the Army abandoned the first Fort Smith in 1824 and moved 80 miles further west to Fort Gibson. Army sutler and land speculator John Rogers bought up former government-owned lands and promoted growth of the new civilian town of Fort Smith, eventually influencing the federal government to re-establish a military presence at Fort Smith during the era of Indian Removal and the Mexican War.
Fort Smith's name comes from General Thomas Adams Smith (1781–1844), who commanded the United States Army Rifle Regiment in 1817, headquartered near St. Louis. General Smith had ordered Army topographical engineer Stephen H. Long (1784–1864) to find a suitable site on the Arkansas River for a fort. General Smith never visited the town or forts that bore his name.
Built on the eastern edge of Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma, in 1838 Congress authorized the enlargement of the military post at Fort Smith. John Rogers sold the United States 306 acres adjoining the site of the first Fort Smith for $15,000. Due to the Indian removal primarily from the eastern states now known as the “Trail of Tears,” western Arkansas was one of the busiest places on America's southwestern frontier during the late 1830s. A new military post was under construction and a bustling town named Fort Smith was emerging on its perimeter.
During the Civil War, the North met the South here with devastating results.
The fort was occupied by the Confederate Army during the early years of the Civil War. Union troops under General Steele took control of Fort Smith on September 1, 1863. A small battle occurred there on July 31, 1864, but the Union army maintained command in the area until the war ended in 1865.
Courtesy of Bill and Ann England / Men gather in front of Devany's shoe store on Garrison Avenue on a day in September 1867. The buildings behind them were on the northwest corner of the intersection of Garrison and North Sixth Street Notice the fiddler seated in the covered wagon and the animal on top of the cover.
The town of Fort Smith became a haven for runaway slaves, orphans, Southern Unionists, and other victims of the guerrilla warfare then raging in the Border States. Federal troops abandoned the post of Fort Smith for the last time in 1871. The town continued to thrive despite the absence of federal troops.
The Butterfield Overland Mail Company maintained a division center at Fort Smith, a junction point for its southbound coaches from Tipton, Missouri, and its west bound coaches from Memphis, Tennessee.
Fort Smith has many sites commemorating and preserving Trail of Tears, Civil War and Butterfield Overland Mail Company route history that are now part of the Arkansas Heritage Trails System.
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Fort Smith, Arkansas Wikipedia