Weaver Papers: Antebellum Fort Smith

The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville owns the typescript of the Weaver Papers. Archived in the Special Collections Department of Mullins Library on the UA campus, copies are available on request through the department. What follows are excerpts from the parts of the papers which cover Fort Smith's history before the Civil War.

This year we've tried to add primary source material to the Web site. Technically, the Weaver Papers are a secondary source. J. Frank Weaver did most of his writing on local history in the 1920s, but he also drew on the writings of his father, W.J. Weaver who was an antebellum resident of Fort Smith. Both were Fort Smith newspaper men. All headings and words are Weaver's except those in brackets. We hope that the excerpts here entertain and inform you.

Arrival of First Settlers

In my opinion, those who may be safely referred to as the first permanent settlers of Fort Smith were Major William Bradford, who came in 1817; Captain John Rogers, who arrived in 1822, and William DuVal who arrived in 1825. And I also think it but justice to class Hugh Tygart, Andrew Mathews and Col. John Q. Nicks as among the first permanent settlers, for Nicks resigned from the army in 1821 and two or three years later entered business at Fort Smith with Captain Rogers.

Surgeon First to Die Here

The first death at Fort Smith of which there is any record was that of Dr. Thomas Russell, the post surgeon, which occurred August 24, 1818. Major Bradford was another early victim of the grim reaper, dying at the post here Oct. 20, 1826.

Wants First Schoolmaster Honored

I feel also that somewhere, either in the recitation hall or the auditorium, in our high school building, there should be a marble or bronze tablet bearing the name of C.W. Graham, Fort Smith's first school teacher. But perhaps this is sentimentalism to a degree that finds no place in the affairs of this coldly practical age.

Birth of Twin Cities

Van Buren and Fort Smith were incorporated at the same session of the legislature, and both acts of incorporation were signed by the governor on the same day.

The First House Built In The City

There were three brothers named Gibelow here, [later given as Bigelow]. Jonas, the eldest, with Rogers' consent, built a log house on the river bank about one block north of the avenue, where he kept a stock of groceries. He afterwards abandoned the premises and went to Webbers Falls, where he was killed in a street fight.

First Brick Residence Located

The first brick residence erected in Fort Smith was the home of Jesse Reed, father of the late Captain Jas H. Reed of McAlester, Okla. It stood at or near the corner of Fourth and B streets. Mr. Reed was himself a brick mason and a prominent contractor.

[First School for the Deaf]

It is worthy of note that the first school for the instruction of deaf mutes was taught in Fort Smith at the residence of Asa Clark at the corner of Fifth and B streets. Mr. Clark was a native of Maine. He was a stonemason by trade and came to Fort Smith in 1838 to work on the fort. The school was established some time during the [1850s].

[Irving Visit Questioned]

Captain Rogers told W.J. Weaver that Washington Irving spent several days with him at the old log hotel when he returned from his trip on which he gathered material for his famous story "Tour on the Prairies" but the captain must have confused Irving with some other traveler, for Irving says that the day after he reached Fort Gibson at the conclusion of his trip he took a steamboat at the latter place, on which he proceeded to New Orleans.

First Ice Cream Parlor

Another man who built a house in Fort Smith in the territorial days was Mr. Girard. His given name, I believe, was Jules. He was a Frenchman who, on his arrival in America, settled in New Orleans. ... He bought a lot on the river's bank and built the house on it in which for many years he conducted a confectionery store and sold ice cream during the summer months. It is said that his ice cream was the first ever made in the town.