Fort Smith, Arkansas

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Fort Smith
City of Fort Smith
Fort Smith, AR 002.jpg
Downtown Fort Smith
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City of Fort Smith, Arkansas logo.jpg
Hell on the Border
Sebastian County Arkansas Incorporated and Unincorporated areas Fort Smith Highlighted 0524550.svg
Location of Fort Smith in Sebastian County, Arkansas.
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Fort Smith
Location in the United States
Coordinates: 35°22′7″N94°23′55″W / 35.36861°N 94.39861°W / 35.36861; -94.39861 Coordinates: 35°22′7″N94°23′55″W / 35.36861°N 94.39861°W / 35.36861; -94.39861
CountryUnited States
State Arkansas
County Sebastian
Incorporated December 24, 1842
   Mayor George McGill (D)
  Board of Directors
Board of Directors
   City 68.23 sq mi (176.72 km2)
  Land63.99 sq mi (165.74 km2)
  Water4.24 sq mi (10.98 km2)
463 ft (141.1 m)
   City 86,209
(2019) [2]
  Density1,373.45/sq mi (530.29/km2)
122,947 (US: 257th)
279,974 (US: 165th)
Time zone UTC−6 (CST)
  Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
ZIP codes
Zip codes [3]
Area code(s) 479
FIPS code 05-24550
GNIS feature ID0076952
Interstate Highways I-40, I-49, I-540
Other major highways US 64, US 71, US 271
Website City of Fort Smith

Fort Smith is the second-largest city in Arkansas and one of the two county seats of Sebastian County. [4] As of the 2010 Census, the population was 86,209. [5] With an estimated population of 87,891 [6] in 2019, it is the principal city of the Fort Smith, Arkansas–Oklahoma Metropolitan Statistical Area, a region of 298,592 residents that encompasses the Arkansas counties of Crawford, Franklin, and Sebastian, and the Oklahoma counties of Le Flore and Sequoyah.


Fort Smith has a sister city relationship with Cisterna, Italy, site of the World War II Battle of Cisterna, fought by United States Army Rangers commanded by Fort Smith native William O. Darby. The city also has a mutual friendship-city relationship with Jining, China. [7] [8] [9]

Fort Smith lies on the Arkansas-Oklahoma state border, situated at the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau rivers, also known as Belle Point. Fort Smith was established as a western frontier military post in 1817, when it was also a center of fur trading. The city developed there. It became well known as a base for migrants' settling of the "Wild West" and for its law enforcement heritage.

The city government is led by Mayor George McGill (D), who made history in 2018 when he was elected as the city's first African American mayor, [10] and a city Board of Directors composed of three members elected at-large and four members elected by ward.


This area was wandered over for thousands of years by Indians, attracted to the advantageous site near the rivers. They used the waterways for transportation and trading, and to supply fish and water for their villages. The French claimed this area as part of their New France and La Louisiana. Some colonial fur traders traveled the Arkansas and other rivers to trade with the tribes.

The United States acquired this territory and large areas west of the Mississippi River from France in the Louisiana Purchase (1803). Soon after, the government sent the Pike Expedition (1806) to explore the areas along the Arkansas River. The US founded Fort Smith in 1817 as a military post. It was named after 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 this town or the forts that bore his name.

A stockade was built and occupied from 1817 until 1822 by a small troop of regulars commanded by Major William Bradford. A small settlement began forming around the fort, but the Army abandoned the first Fort Smith in 1824 and moved 80 miles further west to Fort Gibson. John Rogers, an Army sutler and land speculator, bought up former government-owned lands at this site and promoted growth of the new civilian town of Fort Smith.

Due to the strategic location of this site, the federal government re-established a military presence at Fort Smith during the 1830s era of Indian Removal, primarily of tribes from the American Southeast to west of the Mississippi River in Indian Territory, which is now Oklahoma.

In 1838 the Army moved back into the old military post near Belle Point, and expanded the base. They used troops to escort the warlike Choctaw and Cherokee, from their ancestral homelands in the Southeast; they were the last of the tribes to leave. Remnants of the Five ‘Civilized’ Tribes remained in the southeast, and their descendants in some cases have reorganized and been federally recognized. The Cherokee called the forced march the Trail of Tears, as some of their people and the black slaves they owned died along the way. The army enforced the removal of these tribes to the reserved Indian Territory, where the federal government granted them land, requiring the tribes to live at peace with their neighbours and each other Many displaced Indians fell out of the march and settled in Fort Smith and adjoining Van Buren, Arkansas on the other side of the river.

The US Army also used Fort Smith as a base during the Mexican War (1846-1848). As a result, the US acquired large territories in the Southwest, and later annexed the Republic of Texas, which had been independent for some years.

Sebastian County was formed in 1851, separated from Crawford County north of the Arkansas River. In 1858, Fort Smith was designated as a Division Center of the Butterfield Overland Mail's 7th Division route across Indian Territory from Fort Smith to Texas and as a junction with the mail route from Memphis, Tennessee, an important port on the east side of the Mississippi River.

For roughly a year of the U.S. Civil War, the fort was occupied by the Confederate Army. Union troops under General Steele took control of Fort Smith on September 1, 1863. A small fight occurred there on July 31, 1864, but the Union army maintained command in the area until the war ended in 1865. As a result, many refugee slaves, orphans, Southern Unionists, and others came here to escape the guerrilla warfare raging in Arkansas, Missouri, and the Border States. The slaves were freed under the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. 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.

Two of Fort Smith's most notable historic figures were Judge Isaac Parker and William Henry Harrison Clayton, also known as W.H.H. Clayton. In 1874, William Henry Harrison Clayton was appointed United States Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas by President Ulysses S. Grant. Fort Smith was a bustling community full of brothels, saloons and outlaws, just across the river from Indian Territory. William Clayton realized a strong judge would be necessary to bring law and order to the region. He knew that Isaac Parker was a strong judge. But Judge Parker had been appointed Chief Justice of Utah Territory and confirmed by the US Senate. With the help of President Grant and US Senator Powell Clayton, former governor of Arkansas, William Clayton was able to gain the appointment of Judge Parker in the Fort Smith district.

Judge Isaac Parker, Hanging Judge Judge Isaac Parker.jpg
Judge Isaac Parker, Hanging Judge
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Gallows Ft. Smith Arkansas

Judge Isaac Parker served as U.S. District Judge 1875–1896. He was nicknamed the "Hanging Judge": in his first term after assuming his post, he tried 18 people for murder, convicted 15 of them, and sentenced eight of those to die. Six of these men were later hanged on the same day. Over the course of his career in Fort Smith, Parker sentenced 160 people to death. Of those, 79 were executed on the gallows. His courthouse is now marked as a National Historic Site, where "more men were put to death by the U.S. Government... than in any other place in American history." [11]

William Clayton served as US Attorney under four different presidents and later was appointed as Chief Justice of Indian Territory. He was instrumental in achieving statehood for Oklahoma in 1907, after Native American claims were extinguished by distribution of communal lands under the Dawes Act and the breakup of tribal governments. Together with Territorial Governor Frank Frantz, Clayton took a copy of the Oklahoma Constitution to President Theodore Roosevelt after the state was admitted to the Union in 1907. Governor Frantz and Judge Clayton both lost their territorial positions when Oklahoma became a state; a new governor was elected and the Roosevelt administration appointed a new judge.

During investment in the military prior to World War II, the Army returned to Fort Smith in 1941. It established the Fort Chaffee Military Reservation east of the city.

On April 21, 1996, a large tornado, part of the April 1996 Tornado Outbreak Sequence, destroyed and heavily damaged much of historic downtown Fort Smith around the Garrison Avenue Bridge. [12] The storm tracked from eastern Pittsburg County, Oklahoma into Fort Smith and Van Buren, Arkansas. [13] The tornado left four people dead in western Arkansas. Days later, the damaged Eads Brothers Furniture building in downtown Fort Smith was destroyed by one of the largest fires in the city's history.


Fort Smith is located at 35°22′7″N94°23′55″W / 35.36861°N 94.39861°W / 35.36861; -94.39861 (35.368691, −94.398737). [14]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 64.6 square miles (167 km2), of which 61.7 square miles (160 km2) is land and 3.9 square miles (10 km2) (6.3%) is water.


Fort Smith has generally mild winters and hot, humid summers. The monthly mean temperature ranges from 40.4 °F (4.7 °C) in January to 83.1 °F (28.4 °C) in July; on average, the high stays at or below freezing on 3.8 days, reaches 90 °F (32 °C) on 77.8 days, and 100 °F (38 °C) on 11.1 days annually. [15] The average first and last occurrences for freezing temperatures are November 6 and March 25, respectively. [16] Extreme temperatures range from −15 °F (−26 °C) on February 12, 1899 to 115 °F (46 °C) on August 3, 2011. [16] Fort Smith is situated near an area known as Tornado Alley in the central United States. The city has been struck by three major tornadoes, which occurred in the years of 1898, 1927 and 1996.

Climate data for Fort Smith Regional Airport, Arkansas (1991–2020 normals, [lower-alpha 1] extremes 1882–present)
Record high °F (°C)81
Mean maximum °F (°C)73
Average high °F (°C)51.3
Daily mean °F (°C)40.4
Average low °F (°C)29.6
Mean minimum °F (°C)15
Record low °F (°C)−11
Average precipitation inches (mm)2.91
Average snowfall inches (cm)1.4
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in)7.57.610.
Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in)
Average relative humidity (%)69.567.663.963.870.770.968.968.671.869.470.371.268.9
Mean monthly sunshine hours 173.5172.5215.2236.1274.8304.0327.6294.5233.1220.7162.5156.32,770.8
Percent possible sunshine 55565860637074716363525162
Source: NOAA (sun and relative humidity 1961–1990) [16] [15] [17]


Historical population
1840 144
1850 964569.4%
1860 1,53258.9%
1870 2,22745.4%
1880 3,09939.2%
1890 11,311265.0%
1900 11,5872.4%
1910 23,975106.9%
1920 28,87020.4%
1930 31,4298.9%
1940 36,58416.4%
1950 47,94231.0%
1960 52,99110.5%
1970 62,80218.5%
1980 71,62614.1%
1990 72,7981.6%
2000 80,26810.3%
2010 86,2097.4%
2019 (est.)87,891 [2] 2.0%
U.S. Decennial Census [18]

As of the census [19] of 2010, there were 86,209 people, 34,352 households, and 21,367 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,391.2 people per square mile (537.2/km2). There were 37,899 housing units at an average density of 612.3 per square mile (236.4/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 69.3% White, 9.0% Black or African American, 1.8% Native American, 5.3% Asian (2.2% Vietnamese, 1.7% Laotian, 0.3% Asian Indian, 0.2% Filipino, 0.1% Korean, 0.1% Chinese, 0.1% Hmong, 0.1% Pakistani), 0.1% Pacific Islander, 10.3% from other races, and 4.2% from two or more races. 16.5% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race (11.6% Mexican, 2.2% Salvadoran, 0.4% Guatemalan, 0.3% Puerto Rican, 0.2% Honduran, 0.1% Cuban, 0.1% Peruvian, 0.1% Colombian).

In language, Fort Smith has more than ten Asian languages spoken by more than two percent of the population. Also, the increase in immigration from Latin American countries in the late 20th century increased the number of residents who speak Spanish. 7.10% reported speaking Spanish at home, while 3.38% speak Vietnamese and Lao, and 2.50% speak Tagalog. [20]

In 2000 there were 32,398 households, of which 30.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.1% were married couples living together, 12.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.3% were non-families. 30.7% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.42 and the average family size was 3.03.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 25.4% under the age of 18, 9.8% from 18 to 24, 29.3% from 25 to 44, 21.8% from 45 to 64, and 13.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 35 years. For every 100 females, there were 94.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.0 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $32,157, and the median income for a family was $41,012. Males had a median income of $29,799 versus $22,276 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,994. About 12.1% of families and 15.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 22.2% of those under age 18 and 9.6% of those age 65 or over.


Fort Smith has long been a regional manufacturing center, with major plants located in the city operated by Rheem, Trane, Georgia-Pacific, Gerber, Kraft Heinz Company-Planters Peanuts, Mars Petcare, Umarex USA, Graphic Packaging, International Paper, Pernod Ricard-USA, and many others.

Fort Smith is home to several corporations, including Baldor Electric Company, a member of the ABB Group, ArcBest Corporation, and poultry company OK Foods.

According to the city's 2011 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, [21] the top employers in the city are:

#Employer# of Employees
1Baptist Health, Former (Sparks Health System)2,400
2 Baldor Electric Company 2,393
3 OK Foods 1,800
4Fort Smith Public Schools1,783
5 Mercy Hospital Fort Smith1,487
6 188th Fighter Wing 1,100
7 University of Arkansas at Fort Smith 951
8 ArcBest Corporation 936
9City of Fort Smith914
10 Rheem-Ruud900


Various television programs and movies have been filmed in Fort Smith, including The Blue and The Gray (1982), A Soldier's Story (1984), Biloxi Blues (1988) [22] and Tuskegee Airmen (1995)


The Fort Smith Museum of History Fort Smith, Arkansas History Museum.jpg
The Fort Smith Museum of History
The Fort Smith Trolley Museum offers trolley rides year-round. Fort Smith Birney car 224 at 6th & Garland (1997).jpg
The Fort Smith Trolley Museum offers trolley rides year-round.

There are multiple museums in Fort Smith, located primarily in the downtown area and the Chaffee Crossing Historic District


Fort Smith has an active music scene. There are frequent live performances in the downtown area by local and national Jazz, Blues, Country, Americana and Rock bands. Local bands regularly frequent the riverfront area highlighting the river valley's finest.


As the largest city in western Arkansas, Fort Smith offers many activities and attractions. Fort Smith's theater and event venues regularly host major concerts and touring theater companies.

Event venues


Fort Smith is the main shopping destination of Western Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma. Central Mall is the state's largest indoor shopping center in terms of area. Retailers in the city include Dillard's, J. C. Penney, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, The Home Depot, Lowe's, and Kohl's. Several smaller and niche retailers also can be found throughout the city as well.

Some notable shopping locations in the city of Fort Smith are:


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Spirit of the American Doughboy

Annual attractions

Sports and Recreation

In addition to sports teams sponsored by Fort Smith Public Schools and University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, Fort Smith has several independent recreational sports programs and annual tournaments administered by local organizations:


Higher education

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Reynolds Bell Tower

The city has one major university that is part of the University of Arkansas System. The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith was founded in 1928 as an extension of the Fort Smith Public School system, with the superintendent, James William Ramsey, acting as the college president and the high school principal as dean. Known originally as Fort Smith Junior College , the institution operated within the Fort Smith public school system until 1950, when the school was incorporated as a private, nonprofit institution with its own governing board. In September 1952, the College moved from borrowed facilities in the high school to its current site, initially occupying 15 acres (6.07  ha ).

In 1966, the institution's name was changed from Fort Smith Junior College to Westark Junior College and in 1972, it was renamed Westark Community College, indicating the larger area to be served and reflecting the more comprehensive mission.

The name of the college was changed yet again in February 1998 to Westark College, more accurately portraying the role and scope of the institution.

On December 15, 2000, the Board of Trustees of Westark College entered into an agreement with the Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas to merge with the University of Arkansas System as a four-year institution. In 2001, the Sebastian County electorate voted to support the merger. A formal request to change affiliation status to that of a bachelor's degree-granting institution under the name of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith was submitted to the Higher Learning Commission in August 2001 and approved by the Institutional Actions Council on November 19, 2001.

The merger, which became official on January 1, 2002, endorsed the concept of UA-Fort Smith as a unique university, one that offers applied and traditional baccalaureate degree programs, one- and two-year associate and technical programs, and noncredit business and industry training programs. While the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith is the city's only state supported institution of higher learning, Webster University and John Brown University each have a satellite campus located in the city.

In addition to the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith (UAFS), the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM), a private, non-profit institution, welcomed its inaugural class in August 2017. Graduates of ARCOM receive a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree.

Elementary and secondary education

The public schools in Fort Smith and Barling are operated by the Fort Smith School District. Currently, the district includes 26 schools. As of the 2009–2010 school year, the district has enrollment of more than 14,010. It has 2 high schools, 4 junior high schools, 19 elementary schools, and 1 alternative learning center. Fort Smith public schools provide education from kindergarten through the 12th grade, as do some private Protestant schools. Catholic parochial schools offer education through the ninth grade.

Junior high schools in Fort Smith include Chaffin Junior High School, Ramsey Junior High School, Kimmons Junior High School and Darby Junior High School. Private schools covering the same grade range include Trinity Catholic Junior High School and Union Christian Academy.

High schools in Fort Smith include the public Northside High School and Southside High School, along with the private Union Christian Academy.

Fort Smith previously had a Catholic grade school for black children, St. John the Baptist School; it closed in 1968. [29]



The Southwest Times Record is the largest newspaper in the city, as well as the region. It is owned by Gannett. The Hispanos Unidos is the only Spanish-language publication in the region.[ citation needed ] Other publications in the Fort Smith area include Entertainment Fort Smith and Do South Magazine.


AM radio Stations in the Fort Smith area include:

Call lettersFrequencyFormat
KFSA 950Christian
KFPW 1230Nostalgia
KWHN 1320News Talk
KFSW 1650Southern Gospel

FM Radio Stations in the Fort Smith area include:

Call lettersFrequencyFormat
KAOW 88.9Religious
KBHN 89.7Christian
KLFS 90.3Christian
KLFH 90.7Contemporary Christian
KUAF 91.3Public Radio
KREU 92.3Spanish
KISR 93.7Top 40
KFPW 94.5Hard Rock
KERX 95.3Sports
KKBD 95.9Classic Rock
KZBB 97.9Variety
KMAG 99.1Country
KTCS 99.9Country
KNSH 100.7Country
KGDA-LP 102.3Spanish Christian
KBBQ-FM 102.7Urban/Hip Hop
KHGG 103.5Sports
KQBK 104.7Oldies
KZKZ 106.3Christian
KEZA 107.9Adult Contemporary


Television stations in the Fort Smith area include:

Call lettersNumberNetwork
KFTA 24 Fox
KWNL 31 Univision
KXNW 34 MyNetworkTV
KFDF 44 Estrella TV



Fort Smith is a major transportation hub for the surrounding region. It sits at the crossroads of two major interstate highways, is surrounded on three sides by the Arkansas River, is served by 1 major and 2 regional/switching railroad companies, and is the home of a regional airport.

The city sits just southwest of the intersection of Interstate 40 and future Interstate 49 when it extends southward to meet Interstate 30 in Texarkana, Texas. US 71 and US 64 also run through the community.

Fort Smith Regional Airport Fort Smith FSM.jpg
Fort Smith Regional Airport

Fort Smith is served by the Fort Smith Regional Airport (FSM), which is used for military aviation for Fort Chaffee and home of the 188th Fighter Wing of the Arkansas Air National Guard, but is also served by two commercial airlines with flights to Dallas/Fort Worth and Atlanta.

Jefferson Lines bus service also links Fort Smith to other communities such as Little Rock, Kansas City, and Oklahoma City, as well as intermediate points, with numerous connections to other cities and towns.

The city is located on the Arkansas River, part of the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System and is served by the Port of Fort Smith.

Fort Smith is served by the Kansas City Southern Railway from a branch connection on the mainline at Poteau, Oklahoma, and affords connections to other railroads at Kansas City, Missouri, and at New Orleans, Louisiana. In addition, the regional railroad company, the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad directly serves Fort Smith and provides connections through the St. Louis, Missouri, and Memphis gateways to the east. The Fort Smith Railroad provides local switching service to a variety of businesses as well as providing haulage for the Union Pacific Railway with which it connects at Van Buren, Arkansas. At this time, there is no direct passenger service from Amtrak. The closest point for such service is Little Rock.

Within the city, public bus service is provided by the Fort Smith Transit (FST). As of January 2015, FST operates 6 fixed routes, as well as paratransit service for disabled persons and Demand Buses.

A trolley-replica bus operates in the downtown area, providing transportation between the Belle Grove Historic District and the Fort Smith National Historic Site. The Fort Smith Trolley Museum operates genuine trolleys, but as a historic attraction, rather than as transportation.


View of the coagulation and flocculation processes at the Lake Fort Smith WTP Fort Smith Municipal Water Plant 02.jpg
View of the coagulation and flocculation processes at the Lake Fort Smith WTP

Fort Smith uses two water treatment plants (WTPs) for its drinking water; one near Lake Fort Smith in Mountainburg and one on Lee Creek.

Health care

Mercy Hospital in Fort Smith Fort Smith, AR 005.jpg
Mercy Hospital in Fort Smith

Hospitals in Fort Smith include:


Notable people

Notable figures who were born in, lived in, or are otherwise associated with Fort Smith.


Actors, musicians, and media

Politicians, lawyers, and judges


Sister cities

See also

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W. H. H. Clayton

William Henry Harrison Clayton, was an American lawyer and judge in post-Civil War Arkansas and Indian Territory Oklahoma. He served as the United States Attorney for the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, as chief prosecutor in the court of "hanging judge" Isaac Parker for 14 years and as a federal judge in the Central District of the Indian Territory that became the state of Oklahoma.

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W.H.H. Clayton House United States historic place

The W.H.H. Clayton House, now the Clayton House Museum, is a historic house museum at 514 North 6th Street in Fort Smith, Arkansas. It is a 2+12-story L-shaped wood-frame structure, with a projecting front clipped-gable section. It has elaborate Victorian trim, including detailed window surrounds, paneled projecting bays on the front and side, and a porch with carved columns and brackets, and delicately turned balusters ringing the porch roof. The house was built in 1882 for W. H. H. Clayton, who served as a local prosecutor and was member of family prominent in state politics, and is one of the few high-quality houses of the period to survive. It is now a museum.


  1. Mean monthly maxima and minima (i.e. the highest and lowest temperature readings during an entire month or year) calculated based on data at said location from 1991 to 2020.
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