Oklahoma - Old Man River?

Today I visited a couple of forts - Fort Smith (namesake of the town where I'm staying) and Fort Gibson, the place the army went next after Ft Smith, and the place from which the US Army launched attacks on Ft Smith during the civil war. They're both on the Arkansas River, a large tributary of the Mississippi. I spent a good couple of hours "chewing the fat"* with Chris, an historian and the property manager of the fort.
[*The phrase Chris used with his wife when she called, after he'd not left for home a half hour after closing because we were still discussing accent origins and migration patterns in the mid west.] Fort Smith spent it's first years as the western-most outpost of law and order, and was later a major stop on the Trail of Tears. This refers to the mid 18th century forced Indian migration west, where 5 tribes were forcibly marched first into Arkansas, and then into what is now Oklahoma. Somewhat ironically, one of the main reasons both if these forts were needed was to stop the Indian tribes from fighting amongst themselves. You see, there were already people here when the US decided to evict multiple tribes from their lands to the east and as far south as Florida ("that there's white man land") and resettle them here. These "5 civilized tribes" pretty much policed themselves internally, but as they were moved, them moved again, then again (they kept on moving them over and over and even asked one to move again LAST YEAR) they encroached on others hunting grounds, which was reason enough to get a bit grumpy.

On top of that, while these 'Indian Nations' had power to police themselves using a police force the called 'Lighthorse', but they were not allowed to arrest white people. What this created was a large area of land in which white outlaws could do as they pleased - and (to some idiot's surprise) they did exactly that. During this period, the white population of the indian territories was estimated at 20,000, "of which 5,000 were law abiding". This is the period depicted in many westerns including the film "True Grit" which has just been remade, and is set in exactly this area, including depicting Ft Smith.

Enter the famous US Marshall. 200 Deputy Marshals (think westerns... if you've ever seen one, the good guy is either the Sheriff or a Deputy US Marshall) were sent out into the Indian country to capture these outlaws. They were paid $2 for every one they brought back alive (+2c per mile travel costs until the point of capture, and 10c a mile travelled with the fugitive back to the Fort). If the fugitive died in a gunfight instead of being captured - they got nothing - so they were encouraged to be very tricky and avoid gunfights wherever possible. That said, about HALF of them were killed on the job.

When they got them back to Fort Smith, they came before 'The Hanging Judge', who was, somewhat surprisingly given how history has labelled him, personally against the death penalty. He is recorded as having been more interested in 'certainty of punishment', and felt that as long as the punishment was clear and certain, it need not be death, for the purposes of discouraging offenders.

I'm enjoying this part of the states - well, other than tomorrow's -6c maximum temp and tonight's -14c - but it's blue skied and sunny, and people are very friendly.

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Good to know. I need some of these at home to stop people trying to light my 12v down lights with a match.

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Fort Smith

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A bit more Fort Smith

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