Chronology of Fort Smith

It is the purpose of the chronology to provide a summary of the significant events of Fort Smith history in date order. If you would like to help fill in the blanks, feel free to e-mail us an entry. To be included, please keep the item brief and give a short bibliographic citation to let us know the source from which you are taking it. Also, please have an exact date, not just a month and year since we would like the page to be a reference tool with precise information. We'd love to include your suggestion, be it social, military, political history or anything else pertinent to the city's past. E-mail the Webmaster at

November 17, 1817 — Maj. Long and his men land at Belle Point and begin building some crude shelters. Long surveys the site and draws up plans for the fort. Southwest Times Record, March 28, 1976, special section.

December 25, 1817Maj. Bradford and 64 men disembark at Belle Point and begin construction of the fort. Almost immediately the name is changed to Fort Smith. TR, Insight 2000, p.15.

August 24, 1818 — The first recorded death occurs in Fort Smith. Dr. Thomas Russell, the post surgeon for Fort Smith dies. Early History of Fort Smith, J.F. Weaver.

April 9, 1821 — A band of Osage estimated at about 400 in number threaten Fort Smith from the opposite side of the Arkansas River. Early History of Fort Smith, J.F. Weaver.

April 20, 1822 — The first steamboat, the Robert Thompson, arrives at Fort Smith. Among the other arrivals were Lt. Benjamin L.E. Bonneville, Aaron Barling and John Rogers. Southwest Times Record, March 28, 1976, special section.

December 23, 1823 — The first recorded birth occurs at Fort Smith. Sarah Ann Titchenal is born to John and Rebecca Harbert Titchenal. Early History of Fort Smith, J.F. Weaver. Read more about the Titchenal family at

March 6, 1824 — Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott, commander of the Western District, orders Col. Matthew Arbuckle, then the fort commander, to move the fort from Fort Smith to the mouth of the Verdigris River, establishing what will become Fort Gibson. Southwest Times Record, March 28, 1976, special section.

April 25, 1828 — Fort Smith gets its first post office and its first postmaster, Frank Wharton. Southwest Times Record, March 28, 1976, special section.

July 1, 1838 — Workmen from Bangor, Maine, drew their final pay and boarded the first steamboat to leave Fort Smith. They had spent the previous 12 months laboring to build the second fort just east of the site of the first one at Belle Point. Only the masons and bricklayers stayed on for another year. Web site of the Fort Smith National Historic Site.

May 6, 1844 — Dr. Benjamin J. Borden and Solon Borland fight a duel at a point along the river directly opposite Fort Smith. Borden was wounded in the chest, but recovered from his wounds. Following the duel, both men, newspaper editors from Little Rock, reconciled. Martin, Amelia, "Physicians and Medicine: Crawford and Sebastian Counties, Arkansas 1817-1976," 1977, p. 18.

June 23, 1847John F. Wheeler published the first Fort Smith newspaper, the Fort Smith Herald. From an unpublished manuscript by Harry Huey.

April 11, 1849 — The Fort Smith and California Emigrating Company left for California taking a southerly route known as "Cook's Trail." The Journal, Vol. 2, No. 2, October 1978, p.57.

December 1, 1857 — The First Baptist Church organized in Fort Smith. Southwest Times Record, March 28, 1976, special section.

October 3, 1858 — Overland mail reaches Fort Smith for the first time via a stagecoach on the Butterfield Trail. The stagecoach took 14 days to reach Fort Smith from El Paso, Texas. TR, Insight 2000, p. 12.

October 7, 1860 — John Rogers, credited by some as founder of the city of Fort Smith, died in the home of his nephew, Jeremiah Kannady. TR, Insight 2000, p. 7.

October 13, 1858 — The first eastbound coach arrived in Fort Smith and a celebration was held to commemorate the event. Martin, Amelia, "Physicians and Medicine: Crawford and Sebastian Counties, Arkansas 1817-1976," 1977, p. 24.

September 1, 1863 — Union forces reoccupy Fort Smith without a fight against the Confederate forces that abandoned the fort and city before the arrival of the Union soldiers. Ben Boulden, "So Long As Strangers Are the Rulers," p. 17 (a master's thesis).

January 7, 1864Brig. Gen. John McNeil, commander of the District of the Frontier, issues a command that able-bodied men would have to work, join the Army or work as civilian employees of the Army. The huge number of war refugees seeking safe sanctuary within the fortifications of the city and garrison reaches a critical stage. Chronicles of Arkansas, The Years of Civil War, Arkansas Gazette, Monday, Jan. 13, 1961, p. 4B.

July 27, 1864Confederate forces attacked Union troops in the Battle of Massard Prairie. The Journal, Vol. 4, No. 1, April 1980, p. 11.

July 29, 1864 — Four young bushwhackers — A.J. Copeland, James H. Rowden, John Norwood and William Carey — were executed just south of Fort Smith by a firing squad of Union military forces. Aug. 6, 1864, Fort Smith New Era.

August 8, 1864 — A wagon train of 1,500 civilians left Fort Smith to escape the war and establish new homes on the frontier of the old northwest. Chronicles of Arkansas, Arkansas Gazette. August 8, 1964, p. 8A

March 8, 1867 — Fort Smith is rechartered and expanded. Southwest Times Record, March 28, 1976, special section.

August 18, 1867 — The Church of the Immaculate Conception building was dedicated on the site of the present church building at North 13th Street and Garrison Avenue. The Journal, Vol. 2, No. 2, October 1978, p. 50.

May 8, 1871 — Judge William Story presides over the first federal court session in Fort Smith. The Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1, April 1979, p. 3.

May 10, 1875 — Federal Judge Isaac C. Parker presides over his first court session in Fort Smith. Law West of Fort Smith, Glenn Shirley.

Sept. 3, 1875 — The federal court in Fort Smith presided over by Judge Parker executes Daniel Evans, William Whittington, James Moore, Smoker Mankiller, Samuel Fooy and Edmund Campbell. Law West of Fort Smith, Glenn Shirley, p. 210.

April 21, 1876 — The federal court in Fort Smith presided over by Judge Parker executes Orpheus McGee, William Leach, Isham Seely, Gibson Ishtanubbee and Aaron Wilson. Law West of Fort Smith, Glenn Shirley, p. 210.

Sept. 8, 1876 — The federal court in Fort Smith presided over by Judge Parker executes Sinker Wilson, Samuel Peters, Osee Sanders and John Valley. Law West of Fort Smith, Glenn Shirley, p. 212.

Dec. 20, 1878 — The federal court in Fort Smith presided over by Judge Parker executes James Diggs and John Postook. Law West of Fort Smith, Glenn Shirley, p. 213.

January 30, 1879At 4 p.m. Thursday, the laying of the last rail of the Little Rock & Fort Smith Railway was completed, establishing the Fort Smith's first rail link. The railroad had been completed to a point opposite the city at Cherokee (Moffet) about three years before, but the stop was moved after lobbying from the city and protests from some Oklahomans. Fort Smith New Era, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 1879.

Aug. 29, 1879 — The federal court in Fort Smith presided over by Judge Parker executes William Elliott and Dr. Henri Stewart. Law West of Fort Smith, Glenn Shirley, p. 214.

Sept. 9, 1881 — The federal court in Fort Smith presided over by Judge Parker executes George Padgett, William Brown, Patrick McGowan, Amos Manley and Abler Manley. Law West of Fort Smith, Glenn Shirley, p. 214.

August 2, 1881Street cars drawn by mules began operation on North 11th Street. From an unpublished manuscript by Harry Huey.

June 30, 1883First gas lamps were used for street lighting. From an unpublished manuscript by Harry Huey.

July 19, 1883 — A brief notice appears in a local newspaper that George Tilles expects to have the first telephone exchange in working order by August 1. The Journal, Vol. 1, No. 2, December 1977, p. 51.

February 2, 1889Belle Starr is ambushed and murdered with a shotgun blast from a shooter laying in wait for her on a trail in eastern Oklahoma. Starr was intimately linked with the history of Fort Smith though she never lived in the city itself. Belle Starr and Her Times: The Literature, the Facts, and the Legends, Glenn Shirley, Norman, Okla: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982, p. 234.

October 10, 1891The Fortnightly Club of Fort Smith established a library for reading and reference. From an unpublished manuscript by Harry Huey.

June 5, 1893The first electric streetcar began operation in Fort Smith. From an unpublished manuscript by Harry Huey.

September 25, 1895A mass hanging rids the area of the infamous Rufus Buck Gang, a quartet of youthful rapists and murderers who went on a 15-day rampage in the Creek Nation. Southwest Times Record, March 28, 1976, special section.

March 17, 1896 — Crawford Goldsby, alias Cherokee Bill was executed by the federal court in Fort Smith. Law West of Fort Smith, Glenn Shirley.

September 1, 1896Judge Parker's court closes for the last time. Southwest Times Record, March 28, 1976, special section.

November 17, 1896 — Judge Isaac C. Parker dies. Law West of Fort Smith, Glenn Shirley.

April 22, 1897 — Julia Bourland, wife of James Fagan Bourland, fatally shoots Maud Allen, the mistress of her husband. It was the third and final attempt Julia Bourland made on Allen's wife. She would be acquitted of the crime, and Fagan would go one to serve four terms as mayor of Fort Smith. "Maud Allen Dead," Fort Smith News Record, April 22, 1897, p. 1.

January 11, 1898In terms of loss of life, the worst tornado in Fort Smith's history struck, taking 51 lives and destroying dozens of homes and other structures. Fort Smith Times Record, Jan. 10, 1913, p. 6.

June 1, 1899The present (2004) Church of the Immaculate Conception building was dedicated on the feast of Corpus Christi. The Journal, Vol. 2, No. 2, October 1978, p. 51.

February 9, 1903William Meade Fishback dies. He was the only governor of Arkansas from Fort Smith, serving from 1893 to 1895. The Governors of Arkansas, eds. Timothy P. Donovan, Willard B. Gatewood Jr. and Jeannie M. Whayne.

March 5, 1906The Fort Smith city council passed an ordinance appropriating $2,500 annually for the support of the Carnegie Library. From an unpublished manuscript by Harry Huey.

January 7, 1910 — An oil tank at the corner of North First and North D streets explodes. The resulting fire burns down some houses of prostitutions and "cribs" in the city's bordello Row area of Fort Smith. "Living Under A Red Light, Fort Smith's Bordello Row, 1898 to 1948," Ben Boulden.

May 18, 1910 — James C. "Bud" Mars became the first person to fly an airplane in Fort Smith and probably the first in Arkansas. He was testing the aircraft in advance of a public flight demonstration that took place at Electric Park three days later on May 21. Several local newspaper stories from the Fort Smith Times Record in May 1910.

Feb. 9, 1911 — Wiliam O. Darby is born in Fort Smith. He would go on to found the modern Army Rangers, become the youngest commissioned general in the Army and to win many military awards and decorations. TR, Insight 2000, p. 154.

April 5, 1911 — A final, court decree is issued ordering the city of Fort Smith to pay the Municipal Water Works Co. for all its real property, buildings and equipment. The Journal, Vol. 14, No. 2, September 1990, p. 8.

October 16-21, 1911 — The first Arkansas-Oklahoma State Fair was held in Fort Smith. The fairgrounds fronted Jenny Lind and was where Ramsey Junior High School is today (2004).

March 23, 1912Sanford Lewis was pulled from his city jail cell by an angry mob that believed he had shot Fort Smith police officer Andy Carr. He was beaten and hung from a trolley pole in front of the Hotel Main on Garrison Avenue. TR, Insight 2000, p. 90.

April 20, 1912 — Running for president against the incumbent William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic nominee, after four years away from the White House, Roosevelt made a stop in Fort Smith to rally supporters and give a campaign speech. Fort Smith Times Record, April 21, 1912, p. 2.

May 12, 1916 — Fort Smith city flag is dedicated at Stadium Park. Located at South Ninth Street and Carnall, Stadium Park had been dedicated by Arkansas Gov. C. H. Brough the previous day. "Athletic Field Fenced By Fans," Fort Smith Times Record, May 7, 1916, p. 1; "Municipal Flag Has Been Chosen," FSTR, May 9, 1916, p. 5; "Flag Day at the Stadium," FSTR, May 12, 1916, p. 1.

October 19, 1912 — Barney Oldfield set a new world's record time on a half-mile track, 1:08, breaking the previous track record of 1:11 from the previous year. Like Oldfield, that 1911 record also was set at the Arkansas-Oklahoma Interstate Fair by J. Walter Gillette. Fort Smith Times Record, Oct. 20, 1912, p. 6.

March 4, 1913 — Fort Smith voters went to the polls to decide whether to switch from a mayor/council form of city government to a mayor/commissioner form. When the votes were finally counted days later and certified, the city had the commissioner form. Fort Smith Times Record, March 5, 1913, p. 1.

August 1, 1914 — Fort Smith went dry. All the saloons in the city were closed on the order of Judge Hon. Fort Smith Times Record, Aug. 2, 1914, p. 1.

October 6, 1914 — A strike by the "car men" of the Fort Smith Light & Traction Co. was settled. The strike began on October 5 and a contract was signed on October 10. One of their demands was a nine-hour workday and that was granted. Fort Smith Times Record, Oct. 6, 1914, p. 1,3; Fort Smith Times Record, Oct. 11, 1914, Section 2, p. 4.

October 15, 1914 — City National Bank opened on Garrison Avenue near Sixth Street. Visitors were greeted by the founder, I.H. Nakdimen and members of the board as well as Mrs. Ben Cravens, Mrs. Rudolph Ney, Mrs. James M. Sparks, Mrs. J.H. Wright and Mrs. St. Cloud Cooper., wives of the directors and officials. Fort Smith Times Record, Oct. 15, 1914, p. 1.

December 26, 1914 — "Fort Smith's first municipal Christmas tree" was lit. Three thousand people attended the lighting ceremony which had been postponed by one day because of bad weather. The tree was on the Plaza at Garrison Avenue and North 11th Street. Fort Smith Times Record, Dec. 27, 1914, p. 5.

July 31 to August 1, 1915At midnight, Fort Smith goes dry and closes all its saloons and liquor stores. Fort Smith Times Record, August 1, 1915, p. 1.

August 6, 1920At 7:30 a.m., 700 tons of molten glass flooded the Harding Glass factory on Midland Boulevard and touched off a fire destroying on large, new factory building. Damage costs totalled $175,000. The Journal, Vol. 28, No. 1, p. 9.

May 11, 1922The "Million Dollar Free Bridge" is opened and dedicated, spanning the Arkansas River from Garrsion Avenue to Oklahoma. The Masonic Temple also was formally dedicated on the same day. TR, Insight 2000, p. 122.

April 12, 1927 — A tornado strikes Fort Smith on Clifton Court between Grand and Kinkead avenues. Two women are killed and 11 people are injured. TR, Insight 2000, p. 121.

September 3, 1928 — Colonial Hospital opens on "the cooperative plan." Families subscribed for $2 a month, benefits included medical and surgical attention and room and board. Martin, Amelia, "Physicians and Medicine: Crawford and Sebastian Counties, Arkansas 1817-1976," 1977, p. 66.

July 27, 1930 — KFPW makes the first commercial radio broadcast from Fort Smith using studios on the top floor of the Goldman Hotel downtown. TR, Insight 2000, p. 136.

June 23, 1933 — Bonnie Parker, Clyde Barrow and accomplices fatally shoot Alma town marshal H.D. Humphrey. For a few days before the murder, they had hid out at the Dennis Tourist Court on Midland Boulevard. After it, they fled the area and ultimately were gunned down in Texas [sic] [ the location was actually Bienville Parish Louisiana]. "Wound Proves Fatal Monday for Humphrey," Southwest American, June 27, 1933, p. 1.

November 15, 1933Fort Smith Light & Traction Co. ceased its trolley operations. The Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2, September 1979, p. 20.

November 16, 1933Twin City Coach Company began bus service along many of the former streetcar lines. The Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2, September 1979, p. 20.

March 20, 1937 — The cornerstone was set into the building at South Sixth Street and Rogers Avenue that would serve as a comination Sebastian County Courthouse and Fort Smith City Hall. The Journal, Vol. 15, No. 2, September 1991, p.12.

May 23, 1937 — The first equipment for a "refrigerated air conditioning" system arrived in Fort Smith to be installed at Tilles Inc. at 702 Garrison Ave. Date is approximate. Source is an undated clip taken from either the Fort Smith Times Record or the Southwest American. Approximation is basd on the date of death of Dr. James Foltz in an adjacent obituary.

March 21, 1940 — Donald W. Reynolds buys the Fort Smith Times Record, Southwest American and the Southwest Times Record. All three were under one ownership at the time and remained so under Reynolds. TR, Insight 2000, p. 165.

September 20, 1940 — Gov. Homer Adkins was among the dignataries present at Camp Chaffee (later Fort Chaffee) for the dedication of the military base just weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Southwest Times Record, Sunday, Sept. 21, 1941, p. 1.

May 11, 1943 — The Arkansas River floods Fort Smith, forcing some 250 people from their homes. They seek shelter at a Red Cross center. TR, Insight 2000, p. 158.

March 25, 1942 — The first troop train arrives at Camp Chaffee carrying 600 men of the 6th Armored Division of the Army. They will train for several months before joining the war in Europe. TR, Insight 2000, p. 149.

April 30, 1945Gen. William Orlando Darby was killed by a fragment from German artillery shell which fell 30 feet from him while in northern Italy. Darby was a Fort Smith native and the founder of the modern Army Rangers. The Germans formally surrendered May 2, 1945. Kelley, Jennifer, "The Making of a Legend: William O. Darby," July 1993, unpublished.

July 19, 1953Fort Smith's first television station, KFSA channel 22, goes on the air at 4:22 p.m. Later, it changed its call letters and channel frequency to KFSM channel 5. Southwest American, Monday, July 20, 1953, p. 1.

October 15, 1953 — At 6:30 p.m., 100 enlisted men and 20 officers were sworn in the first Air National Guard unit formed in Fort Smith, the 184th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron. Today (2004), it is known as the 188th Tactical Fighter Wing. The Journal, Voll. 22, April 1998, p. 10

January 27, 1958 — Bobby Joe Burns murders his mother, Edna Burns. He is arrested days later and committed to the state mental hospital. Sebastian County court records.

March 24, 1958 — Elvis Aron Presley arrives at Fort Chaffee for induction into the Army.TR, Insight 2000, p. 192.

November 28, 1958 — As part of a clearance project, the last shanty at Coke Hill in Fort Smith was burned down at 10:30 a.m. West Fort Smith, Stan Kujawa, p. 137

October 29-30, 1961John F. Kennedy visits Fort Smith. He stayed overnight at Sen. Robert Kerr's after speeches here and at Big Cedar, Okla., and dedicated a road. Fort Smith Times Record, Monday, Oct. 30, 1961, p. 1-2.

October 27, 1964 First Lady Lady Bird Johnson arrives in Fort Smith to dedicate the Fort Smith Historic Site and is greeted by a crowd of 4,000. Southwest American, Oct. 28, 1964, p. 1.

March 28, 1967The city's form of government was changed from a mayor/commissioner system to a city administrator/board of directors system. Southwest American, Wednesday, March 29, 1967, p. 1.

May 13, 1973 — Ben Geren Regional Park officially was dedicated by Sebastian County. Ben Geren was a Sebastian County judge and friend of U.S. Sen. John McClellan who attended the dedication. TR, Insight 2000, p. 168.

May 2, 1975The first refugee airplane arrived in Fort Smith at 9:23 a.m., aboard were 70 Vietnamese fleeing the fall of Saigon and South Vietnam to communist forces. They were processed and housed temporarily at Fort Chaffee TR, Insight 2000, p. 233.

August 10, 1975 — President Gerald R. Ford dedicates and officially opens St. Edward Mercy Medical Center. TR, Insight 2000, p. 168.

May 9, 1980The first planeload of 128 Cuban refugees arrived at Fort Smith's airport. They and nearly 25,000 other Cuban refugees were processed and housed at Fort Chaffee over the next two years. TR, Insight 2000, p. 250.

April 21, 1996At about 11:12 p.m., a tornado ripped through downtown Fort Smith then residential neighborhoods of Van Buren. It did millions of dollars in damage, killed two children and destroyed several late Victorian commercial buildings along Garrison Avenue. Southwest Times Record, April 17, 2006 .

December 31, 1997 Downtown New Year's Eve celebration includes dropping a lighted ball from Garrison Avenue bridge onto Harry E. Kelley Park as a Christmas light display in the park is darkened. TR, Insight 2000, p. 281.

TR = Times Record
Caveat Emptor

It's always wise to maintain a skeptical eye toward any source. An item in a 1903 edition of the Fort Smith News Record speaks of the large number of factual errors in the text of the Sebastian County Atlas published in that year by Imperial Publishing Co.

First Steel

According to the Fort Smith Times Record, the first iron bar made in this state or in Oklahoma was made by the Fort Smith Iron and Steel mill in this city at 10 a.m., Nov. 21, 1913. George Sengel purchased it in order to be the first buyer. The second bar was purchased by Steve Grier to make a horseshoe.

—"Steel Plant, Only Industry of Kind in Either Arkansas or Oklahoma, In Operation," Fort Smith Times Record, Nov. 22, 1913, p. 1.

District Court of the United States,
Western District of Arkansas
Fort Smith Division

Docket No. 1286

In re

W.J. Johnston, as custodian

Order for Rule to Show Cause

Ordered by the court that W.J. Johnston, Custodian of the United States Court House and Post Office Building of Fort Smith, Arkansas, be and is hereby required to appear before the District Court of the United States for the Western District of Arkansas, Fort Smith Division, on the 30th day of January , 1915, at 9 o'clock in the forenoon, then and there to show cause why he should not be punished for contempt of court for his failure as such custodian to keep the court room in said building, in which the present session of the court is being held, properly heated.

It is further ordered that the marshal of this district make due service and return of this rule on or before the appearance hour above named.