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Fort Smith Fills Weekend With Symposium, Descendants Day and Frontier Fest

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Fort Smith National Historic Site
Fort Smith National Historic Site
    History Still Being Written
History Still Being Written
Learn and Share about the US Marshal Service
Learn and Share about the US Marshal Service
    Sponsered by UA Ft. Smith
Sponsered by UA Ft. Smith
October 8, 2007
Covers dates: Oct. 26-28

Jill M. Rohrbach, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

FORT SMITH - Fort Smith has a weekend of activities planned for Oct. 26-28 that will fit the interests of families, history buffs, academics, or descendants of U.S. Marshals and the bad guys they chased.

A U.S. Marshals Service Symposium kicks off the events, which include Fort Smith’s second Descendants Day, for families associated with the U.S. Marshals Service and the U.S. Court in the Western District of Arkansas, and Frontier Fest, offering festivities for all ages along the banks of the Arkansas River.


Four speakers of national prominence will be on the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith campus from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Oct. 26 for a U.S. Marshals Service Symposium, held as part of the activities leading up to the establishment of the U.S. Marshals Service Museum in Fort Smith.

Admission to the event is free. However, tickets are by reserved seat only and are limited to two tickets per person. They will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis at 9 a.m. on Oct. 15 at the Fort Smith Public Library, located at 3201 Rogers Ave.

Speakers will include James H. Meredith, who in 1962 was assisted by U.S. Marshals as he became the first African-American to enroll at the University of Mississippi; Steven Sederwall, one of three New Mexico sheriffs who re-investigated the escape and death of Billy the Kid; Art Burton, author of "Black Gun, Silver Star," a biography of U.S. Deputy Marshal Bass Reeves; and Roy Hamilton, president of the Cherokee Arts and Humanities Council and nephew of one of the most famous men that deputies ever faced, Ned Christie.

There will also be a discussion by a regional history panel consisting of Rick Parker, conservator and author; Robert Ernst, author of "Deadly Affrays," a book covering those who died violent deaths in the line of duty; Tom Wing, assistant professor at UA Fort Smith; Catherine Gray of the Fort Smith National Historic Site in Fort Smith; and Tony Perrin, Arkansas State Parks, an expert on law enforcement badges.

The symposium is co-sponsored by the U.S. Marshals Service, the Fort Smith Public Library and UA Fort Smith.

Descendants Day

Relatives of men and women associated with the United States Marshals Service - no matter what side of the law - are encouraged to share their family stories and artifacts from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 27 at the historic downtown Frisco Station Depot and the riverfront events building in Fort Smith. A series of seminars on a variety of topics related to USMS history will also take place throughout the day. The event is free and open to the public.

Descendants Day 2007 is part of an ongoing effort to document the history of the nation’s oldest law enforcement agency and is designed for descendants of families associated with the USMS and the United States Court in the Western District of Arkansas. It is a joint venture of the Fort Smith Public Library, the Fort Smith National Historic Site and UA Fort Smith.

The National Historic Site staff is taking on the task of specifically seeking descendants of the Tribal Lighthorse and Agency Indian Police organizations. "Both of these organizations played critical roles in working with the U.S. Marshals Service in the 1800s in this area," Library Director Jennifer Goodson said. "The efforts of the Service were greatly enhanced by the contributions made by the Tribal Lighthorse and Agency Indian Police, and we want to help document more of the great law enforcement services they rendered to their own people and the U.S. Marshals Service."

Descendants Day 2007 also hopes to attract descendants of African-American deputy marshals who served in Fort Smith, including Bass Reeves, John Garrett, and Rufus Cannon.

Artifacts from descendants will be photocopied and recorded. "We’re not taking anything from anyone," explained Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith Convention and Visitor Bureau. "We’re documenting what they have and putting them in front of a video camera for about 10 minutes."

"The major impact here is that all these little stories we’re hearing, if not for Descendants Day, would be lost," said Legris. "So many of them are so very, very colorful. You have like-minded descendants in the same location. They have a ball sharing each others stories."

He added that the event is a mutual opportunity because descendants that may have run into dead-ends while tracking their personal genealogy will be able to talk with the USMS historian and others that may be able to help them with new information for their research. "It’s a circle. They’re asking us to help them and they’re helping us," said Legris.

Fort Smith’s first Descendant’s Day focused on the 1800s and "Hanging" Judge Parker’s days because it was prior to the city being selected as the location of the U.S. Marshals Service National Museum. "This particular Descendants Days is really aimed at all 218 years of marshal history," explained Legris. "This museum is not just a frontier museum." He said it is critical that people understand the facility is not limited to the Parker era that took place in Fort Smith. "If we have someone with a story from the era of prohibition from another part of the country, we would love to hear their story," he said.

Fort Smith was selected as the future home of the U.S. Marshals Service National Museum last January, and it is hoped that information and artifacts documented during the Descendants Day event will prove useful to the content and/or creation of exhibits for the museum. Information would augment the existing artifacts owned by the USMS, covering its 218 year history.

U.S. Marshals Service Museum

With 10,000 square feet of historical artifacts, the U.S. Marshals Museum is scheduled to open within six years on the riverfront immediately across the street from the visitor center, overlooking what used to be Indian territory and the very place where the marshals and the deputies rode. It will capture the past, present and future law enforcement roles of the federal law enforcement agency as well as serve as an education center featuring key artifacts and interactive exhibits that illustrate the marshals’ many historic missions.

"The U.S. Marshals were first formed on September 24, 1789 under George Washington's presidency. Washington himself appointed the first men to hold the positions charging them with supporting and protecting federal judges and carrying out laws that the judges, the President, or Congress had handed down," according to the Web site "The U.S. Marshals Service is now one of five bureaus within the Department of Justice and has the widest range of jurisdiction under the federal code."

The headquarters for U.S. Marshals who patrolled the Indian Territory in the 1800s, Fort Smith exemplifies the legacy of the Old West. "More U.S. Marshals and deputies are buried in Fort Smith than in any other city in the country, and many descendents of marshals live in and around the Fort Smith area," the Web site states.

Frontier Fest

Frontier Fest will take place Oct. 27-28 in various locations throughout the downtown. The festival includes frontier presentations and fun for the whole family, including storytelling, children’s activities, children’s parade, Native American demonstrations, military timeline, reenactments and more.

As part of the festivities on Oct. 27, a new painting titled “Justice on the Border” by artist John Bell, Jr. will be unveiled at 9:30 a.m. at Pendergraft Park.

For detailed information, visit

If You Go

Several sites pay tribute to the history and heritage of the city including Civil War and Trail of Tears sites, Miss Laura’s Visitor Center and the Fort Smith Museum of History.

The Fort Smith National Historic Site embraces the remains of two frontier forts and the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas, commemorates a significant phase of America's westward expansion, and today stands as a reminder of 80 turbulent years in the history of Federal Indian policy.

Located on the Arkansas-Oklahoma border and near the junction of Interstates 40 and 540, the city is accessible to travelers, vacationers, business groups and tour coaches. With a population of more than 85,000, the city has more than 30 motels and hotels that cater to every budget and lifestyle.


For more information on the symposium, contact David S. Turk, historian, U.S. Marshals Service Public Affairs Office, at (202) 307-9114; Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau, at (479) 783-8888; Jennifer Goodson, director of the Fort Smith Public Library System, at (479) 783-0229; or Stacey Jones, associate vice chancellor for campus and community events at UA Fort Smith, at (479) 788-7302.

For more information about Descendants Day events, call the Fort Smith Public Library at (479) 783-0229. If you have information about the Tribal Lighthorse or Agency Indian Police or African-American deputy marshals, contact the Fort Smith National Historic Site at (479) 783-396 or by e-mail at

For information on lodging, contact the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau at (479) 783-8888.


Submitted by the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism
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