Fort Smith National Historic Site


On our trip from Hot Springs National Park, we made a very slight detour to visit Fort Smith National Historic Site. From the little information I had found earlier, I thought it would be a very brief stop with perhaps a quick tour through one building. I was wrong. Fort Smith had a very good museum, lots of information, walking paths to various sites and extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic rangers.

Fort Smith was one of the first U.S. military posts in the Louisiana Territory. It has quite an interesting history as the site of two frontier military posts and a federal court. In many respects, Fort Smith itself was a series of repeated, largely unnecessary, and short-lived exercises but the city of roughly 87,000 exists today because of those early efforts.

With the vast land acquisition of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, President Thomas Jefferson wanted southeastern American Indians to move west of the Mississippi River, opening their traditional lands to white settlement. The notion that this would be a haven for the tribes presumed the western lands to be vacant when they were in fact occupied by other native tribes. Jefferson thought it would take 1,000 years for whites to settle the West but, in fact, it only took 50 years.   These presumptions and actions were bound to lead to conflict.  

The first Fort Smith was built in 1817 at Belle Point which overlooks the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers. Its purpose was to keep peace in the Arkansas River Valley between the native Osage and newly arriving Cherokees. By 1824, the frontier had pushed west, the army followed, and Fort Smith was abandoned. The Army returned briefly in 1833-34 to work with Indian Department Agents but today stone foundations are all that remain of the original small fort.


Due to an unfounded fear of Indian attack and following persistent lobbying by Fort Smith commercial men, the second Fort Smith was authorized in 1838 and building began in the spring of 1839. This fort was to be huge consisting of walls twelve feet high and two to three feet wide enclosing an area of six hundred feet by four hundred feet with massive bastions at each angle.


Fort Smith had the design of a coastal fortification able to withstand enemy man-of-war ships. The likelihood of an enemy man-of-war on the Arkansas River was nonexistent. Many army officers, including one future president (Zachary Taylor), were baffled. Despite questioning, the work continued. It was also interesting to note that the gun emplacements faced the city rather than the river.

The fort was finished and occupied by troops in 1846. By that time, the army had spent about three hundred thousand dollars on the project which would roughly equate to over nine million dollars today. Pretty much an early example of a federal boondoggle. The fort, however, did prove valuable as a supply center for forts on the Southwestern frontier and for troops bound for Mexico during the War with Mexico.  The old Commissary Building, stocked with Mexican War era quartermaster goods, offers a peek into that time period.

Sentiments in Arkansas were divided prior to the Civil War but in 1861 Arkansas seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy. On April 23, 1861, acting on orders to avoid confrontation, the Union forces evacuated Fort Smith. Fort Smith was occupied by Confederate troops and served as a base for non-conventional warfare by guerilla and partisan bands until 1863 when Major General Blunt and his Union troops retook the fort. It remained in Union hands the rest of the war but was held under siege by Confederates for a time in 1864. Fort Smith ceased to be an army post in 1871.

The U.S. Army turned over the buildings and grounds to the federal court when the dire need for law and order in Indian Territory led Congress to reposition the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas closer to the territory. From 1871 to 1874 Judge William Story presided but resigned under threat of impeachment for improper use of federal funds and appointments. Interim judge Henry J. Caldwell presided until 1875.

The basement of what had been the soldiers’ barracks was converted into a jail. Outlaws and innocents falsely charged were all stuffed together into the two unlit, sordid rooms. Conditions were so bad that it gained fame throughout Indian Territory as a dungeon or a hell hole, hence the sobriquet for Fort Smith as “Hell on the Border.”


If the crime was rape or murder and the accused was convicted in the federal court, the sentence was death by hanging. Since only the President of the United States could pardon or commute a sentence from the federal court, there was little hope of appeal. This changed in 1889 when Congress acted to allow a convicted defendant to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The gallows was erected in 1873 and six men died on the gallows during Story’s tenure.


Judge Isaac Charles Parker, a former congressman, arrived in 1875 and presided over one of the largest, deadliest, and busiest federal court districts. He heard over thirteen thousand cases in a twenty-one-year period. Crimes of violence accounted for about one in five. The criminal judgements made Parker famous with sentences to hang given to 156 men and four women. Of those, seventy-nine men actually went to the gallows. Parker really had no choice under federal law but to impose hanging. During his tenure, a high fence was built around the gallows to prevent executions from being public spectacles. Parker and the U.S. marshals badgered Congress for funds to improve the basement jail and finally, in 1888, a three-tier cell block was opened. This cell block is used today for interpretative exhibits.


Parker publicly denounced capital punishment and commented “it is not the severity of punishment, but the certainty of it that deters.” He also vowed to “let no guilty man escape.” Deputy marshals were appointed by the U.S. marshal to serve summons and warrants and bring back fugitives.


Parker’s court was instrumental in bringing law and order to the “wild west” that was Fort Smith and Indian Territory in the late 1800’s. After 1880, the Justice Department established more federal courts further west and thus diminished the jurisdiction of the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas. The court’s jurisdiction over Indian Territory ended in September 1896 and Parker died at the age of 58 in November of that year. Judge Parker was buried in the Fort Smith National Cemetery.





Posted in Arkansas, Fort Smith National Historic Site, History, National Cemetery, National Historic Site, National Monuments, Travel, Travels in the U.S., U.S. History, U.S. military history | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

National Parks Project

arches-cover-shot2    Once a teacher/learner, always a teacher/learner! I’m collaborating with Kathy Price on a new project and we are introducing the first two in our series of National Park downloadable learning activities books. They are perfect to take along on vacation to enhance the national park experience, to use as part of a unit about our great National Parks or just for the fun of learning.Take a look at what we’ve developed and stay in touch for additions to the series.






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George Washington Carver National Monument


A bit off the beaten path in southwestern Missouri, we discovered the George Washington Carver National Monument and learned a great deal. From our American history classes, we knew that George Washington Carver discovered many uses for peanuts and that he did much of his work at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. But there is so much more to this story!


George Washington Carver National Monument, established in 1943, was the first unit of the National Park Service to honor an African American scientist, educator, and humanitarian, and the first honoring an individual other than a U.S. president.

The Monument encompasses the original Moses and Susan Carver farm near Diamond, Missouri, on which G. W. Carver was born a slave in about 1864. There is a one-mile loop trail past the Carver family cemetery, through woodlands, across streams, to the restored 1881 Carver House and past the birthplace site. The museum in the Visitor Center is extensive and very interesting.


During the Civil War, guerrilla warfare was a constant along the Missouri-Kansas border. At one point, outlaws kidnapped young George and his mother Mary. George was found in Arkansas near death with whooping cough and returned to the Carvers but his mother was never found. During the post-Civil War racial violence, George and his brother Jim remained on the farm, sheltered and raised by the Carvers. George left the farm about 1875 but visited occasionally.


George developed his interest in and love of plants early, as well as a talent in art. Prior to 1865 it was illegal in Missouri to teach African Americans (enslaved or free) to read and write. Even with legal public access to education, the young black man found it difficult as many communities did not allow black students. With the Carvers’ encouragement to gain an education, George left to go to Neosho, Missouri, to attend a black school. Throughout his quest to obtain an education, George had to work to support himself which was often very difficult. In the late 1870’s George migrated to Kansas, first to Fort Scott, then to Olathe and to Minneapolis, Kansas, where he attended high school. He applied to Highland College by mail and was accepted but arrived to be denied admission because of his race.

He enrolled in Simpson College in Winterset, Iowa, to pursue studies in art. He transferred to Iowa Agricultural College (which later became Iowa State University) in Ames, Iowa, in 1891. Carver became the first African American to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, the first African American member of the faculty, and the first African American to receive a master’s degree at Iowa Agricultural College.


In 1896, Carver accepted Booker T. Washington’s offer to join the faculty of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Expecting to stay a few short years, Carver’s career at Tuskegee spanned the next forty-seven years. Feeling very strongly about service to mankind, Carver said, “No individual has any right to come into the world and go out of it without leaving behind him distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it.”

Carver taught self-sufficiency and sound conservation practices. When poor farmers were unable to come to Tuskegee for instruction, he proposed a traveling agricultural school and the Jesup Agricultural Wagon was initiated in 1906. It delivered instruction in farm life to thousands and was adopted by the USDA and expanded.

Carver developed over one hundred uses for sweet potatoes and three hundred for peanuts but did not patent any of his inventions as he felt that they should all be free and accessible to everyone. Carver was part of a movement called Chemurgy in the 1930’s. Chemurgy is the use of organic materials – especially farm products – to make industrial products. Henry Ford supported chemurgy and his plants produced hundreds of tons of soybean plastic car parts while other moguls began producing corn-based gasohol. Then something put the movement to a stop. Some implicate oil industry sabotage while others point to mass production complications and World War II. I couldn’t help but wonder where we would be today if chemurgy had continued.


George Washington Carver was a symbol of interracial cooperation in a time when that was rare. He received numerous awards and honors throughout his lifetime. A modest man who credited God as the source of his scientific revelations, Carver felt strongly about being of the greatest good to the greatest number. Carver died January 5, 1943 at Tuskegee and is buried on the campus of Tuskegee University.


Posted in agricultural research, chemurgy, George Washington Carver National Monument, Missouri, National Monuments, National Park, Travel, Travels in the U.S., Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hot Springs National Park



Our visit to Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas in late December tagged Park #45 out of the 59 National Parks on our bucket list. We enjoyed our visit – strolling Central Avenue and the Grand Promenade, touring the museum and asking lots of questions of the rangers, hiking trails on North Mountain – and left still somewhat perplexed.

Hot Springs National Park is unusual and just a little difficult to figure out as a national park. The National Park Service’s own definition of National Park states, “Generally a national park contains a variety of resources and encompasses large land or water areas to help provide adequate protection of the resources.” Hot Springs National Park is a highly-developed park in a small city surrounded by low-lying mountains and physically is the smallest national park at just a little over 5,500 acres. It doesn’t exactly fit the “large land area” designation and was conceived originally to “reserve” one resource – the springs – for the nation.


In 1832 the federal government took the unprecedented step of setting aside four sections of land. This was one of the earliest land-conservation efforts in US history, but boundaries were not marked, nor was there any real federal presence, control, or oversight. By the mid-1800’s individuals had filed claims and counterclaims on the springs and surrounding land. Many believed in the curative powers of the spring waters, and more and more people were attracted to the springs.

There are two stories or rather two directions of stories here: the one that is the history prior to 1832 and the one that follows 1832.

One generally thinks of volcanic action creating hot springs but Hot Springs, Arkansas, is not in a volcanic area. The water that emerges from the springs has been heated by the process of gravitational compression and the breakdown of naturally occurring radioactive elements. The water percolating downward eventually meets faults and joints leading up to the surface from which it emerges as hot springs.

There are 47 springs on the lower west slope of Hot Springs Mountain and all that steam rising led to the valley’s nickname, “Valley of Vapors.”

Old documents show that Native Americans knew about and bathed in the hot springs during the late 1700’s and early 1800’s and archeological evidence shows human habitation for almost 10,000 years. There is reason to believe that the Hernando de Soto expedition visited the springs in 1541 as the de Soto Chronicles detail “hot lakes” and, since there are no hot lakes, it is presumed they meant the springs. In the Fordyce men’s bath hall is a large fountain depicting the explorer receiving a cup of thermal water from a young Native American woman.


French trappers, hunters and traders were familiar with the area during the 17th and 18th centuries. The United States acquired the area in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase, and in 1804 President Thomas Jefferson dispatched William Dunbar and George Hunter to explore the springs. Their publicized report stirred up interest. More and more people came to soak in the waters, leading to the federal reservation designation in 1832. Federal designation but without federal power.

The first facilities erected to accommodate bathers were quite primitive, often little more than tents over individual springs. Likewise, lodging facilities were very basic and often indigent visitors camped out on the hillsides. The government took active control in 1877 after all the private claims on reservation land were settled. Federal regulation of bathing establishments and business practices tightened when the first reservation superintendent was assigned to the area. Bathhouses and hotels became more elaborate. The government even operated a free bathhouse and public health facility for those unable to pay for baths recommended by their physicians.


“The American Spa” was a health remedy destination and was state-of-the-art at the time. The U.S. Superintendent’s office registered licensed physicians authorized to prescribe the Hot Springs baths. The 1917 Cutter’s Official Guide to Hot Springs, Arkansas explained fees, services, facilities, and even local climate, listed authorized physicians and cautioned visitors about self-prescribing the water treatments. Copies were mailed free from the various bathhouses and hotels. It was apparently an effective public relations tool.


The Reservation over time evolved from a place primarily for those seeking medical treatment to a pleasure vacation destination. Bathhouses and hotels were built, destroyed by fire, rebuilt, or simply replaced with more modern and permanent facilities. Trails were developed and many leisure amenities were added. Hot Springs had its share of ups and downs, including the dubious distinction of having the first park ranger murdered in the line of duty. James Alexander Cary was killed by bootleggers while on patrol on West Mountain.


The use of “the waters” for medicinal purposes was augmented by other treatments, including: electrical treatments, use of the innovative Zanger mechanical therapy equipment (looked similar to much of the equipment in today’s gyms except prettier as it was made of mahogany), physical therapy, prescribed physical activity. The extent and variety of treatments were amazing.

Hot Springs Reservation became Hot Springs National Park in 1921. Monumental luxurious bathhouses along Bathhouse Row catered to crowds of health-seekers. The Army and Navy Hospital opened in 1933. Treatments reached a zenith in 1947 but by the 1950’s changes in medicine and the increased mobility of the public precipitated Hot Springs’ decline and one by one the bathhouses closed. The Buckstaff Bathhouse which opened in 1912 was the only bathhouse that remained open and is still in operation providing the traditional therapeutic bathing experience.


For decades, the once-grand bathhouses sat neglected and deteriorated. Through restoration and repurposing, these revitalized historic buildings are once again grand edifices, looking as they did in the early 1900’s. The Quapaw Bathhouse has reopened as a modern-day spa, the Lamar serves as national park store, the Ozark as a cultural center and the Superior as a restaurant and craft brewery. In keeping with the mission of maintaining the springs for the people’s use, there are several fountains where anyone can fill water containers to take away.

The Fordyce Bathhouse was restored to become the visitor center and park museum.


It is configured as the Fordyce was when it opened in 1915 with historic artifacts and furniture. The self-guided tour allows a view of the variety of treatments (some look somewhat like they belong in a torture chamber), various amenities and original splendor. The sheer size and complexity of the bathhouse is impressive.

With just a little imagination, walking beneath the huge magnolia trees along Bathhouse Row and strolling along the Grand Promenade with a side trip up one of the many trails on the landscaped grounds one can be transported to 1915 and the heyday of “The Health Resort with a National Backing.”

Hot Springs National Park is in the Zig Zag Mountains on the eastern edge of the Oauchita Mountains. These are some of the oldest mountains in the U. S. The highest point of elevation in the park is 1405 feet. Overlooks and trailheads on both Hot Springs Mountain Drive and West Mountain Drive offer a chance to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. We were also very pleased to learn that our dog was welcome on a leash on the trails in this park so we took advantage of that.

Each of our national parks is unique. Hot Springs National Park is no exception, just unique in a very different way. It is based on a single natural phenomenon and heavily leans toward the history and culture of hot springs bathing rather than the springs themselves.



Posted in Arkansas, Hot Springs National Park, National Park, National Park Travels, Travel, Travels in the U.S. | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pheasants and Photos


Tom and I road-tripped to Nebraska for Thanksgiving week and on the way we went hunting. He was hunting pheasants in Nebraska and I was hunting photos of early winter in western Nebraska and southern Colorado. I have to say I was a bit more successful than he was. He saw quite a few birds but had very few shots and didn’t bag any. I didn’t get a chance to snap a photo of a pheasant (and they are incredibly beautiful birds) but I did get some other photos.

Hunting in Western Nebraska

Early Winter in Southwestern Nebraska

Early Winter in Southern Colorado


Posted in Colorado, Nature Photos, Nebraska, scenery, Uncategorized, Winter | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

here2where online store

I’ve created an online store containing items featuring some of the photos from our travels. I hope you will take a look at it. Thanks.

Following are some examples

katmai_national_park_alaska_mugpetroglyph_tote_bag   canyonlands_national_park_ornament

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Lake Clark National Park


Lake Clark National Park was the last national park in Alaska on our bucket list to visit. In talking with someone who lived and worked there, the question we got was “What took you so long?” It was quite obvious that this was a very special place in the hearts of those folks.


Like a number of the Alaskan national parks, our way to get to Lake Clark was by air. So we boarded a small plane at Lake Clark Air in Anchorage and set off on another adventure. The flight took us over spectacular mountains, dozens of glaciers and through Lake Clark Pass to Port Alsworth on Lake Clark itself.


Having become a National Monument in 1978, Lake Clark was designated a National Park and Preserve in 1980 and enlarged through the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The Park encompasses over 2.6 million acres and the Preserve an additional 1.4 million acres. Within the park are 4 National Register of Historic Places, 3 National Wild Rivers, 2 National Natural Landmarks and 1 National Historic Landmark. This all within a park with a total of 0 miles of road – yes, zero miles.


We stayed at The Farm Lodge in Port Alsworth. Lake Clark Air and the Farm Lodge are operated by a multi- generation Lake Clark family. In 1944, Mary and Leon “Babe” Alsworth staked a homestead at Tanalian Point on sheltered Hardenburg Bay. Babe Alsworth was one of the aviation pioneers in southwest Alaska. A narrow channel affords a landing and take-off “strip” for float planes and Alsworth also cleared a runway for wheeled aircraft. Tanalian Point was later renamed Port Alsworth and is currently home to about 100 year-round residents and is a base of operations for numerous fishing lodges.


Our cabin was located right on the shore so we had a ringside seat on the front deck to watch planes, both wheeled and float, arrive and depart. Babe and Mary’s grandson, Glen Jr. and his family operate the Farm Lodge and made our stay there relaxed and pleasant. The staff went out of their way to insure our comfort and make sure we got to do the things we wanted to do.

With numerous greenhouses and gardens, the meals served at the Farm took advantage of the fresh produce, and were outstanding. Custom sack lunches were provided for lunch to accommodate the various activities of the guests. Breakfast and dinner were served in the lodge at a designated time and provided the opportunity to meet and get to know the other guests. We thoroughly enjoyed the interesting people and the camaraderie.


The National Park headquarters was a short hike away so we set out to visit and orient ourselves to the park and of course to pick up any available information. The young ranger there was very helpful and pleasant. We watched a short film and picked up several books.

While at the Farm, we took a floatplane tour with Glen, Jr. as our pilot and guide. The scenery was so breath-taking it was hard to know which way to look out of the plane. Glaciers in many forms and stages presented all kinds of photo-ops, including pink algae living on a glacier.

We flew around Mt. Redoubt, which is an active volcano with steam rising from the snow near the top, and were near enough we could smell the sulfur!


We landed on a small lake and had our lunch on the shore, seeing bear tracks but no bears. However, Glen identified the soapberry which apparently bears like to forage. It was so peaceful and beautiful – certainly a great place for a picnic whether you are bear or human.

floatplane-tour    soapberries

Flying on, we saw many Dall sheep at mineral licks on the mountainsides and caribou trails were evident up and down the mountains. An aptly named Turquoise Lake shimmered in the sunlight.


Landing on Upper Twin Lake, we were treated to a visit to Dick Proenneke’s cabin with Kay as our extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide.

At the age of 51, Dick Proenneke set out to prove that he could survive in the wilderness. He built his cabin during 1967 and 1968 using only hand tools and whenever possible, materials provided by the land. Neither the first nor the largest cabin ever built in the Alaska Bush, the remarkable craftsmanship, and the fact that he filmed the entire construction process makes it unique. Throughout the years, Dick Proenneke kept meticulous journals and, in 1973, his journals edited by Sam Keith, under the title One Man’s Wilderness, were published. Since then, a second volume has been published and a third is underway.

Proenneke was not a hermit. He kept up a great deal of correspondence and welcomed visitors to his cabin. It was quite obvious from the people we met who had known Proenneke that he was well-liked and respected. A self-educated naturalist, Proenneke lived in this cabin for 30 years without electricity, running water, a telephone or other modern conveniences. Dick Proenneke left Twin Lakes for the last time in 1999 at the age of 82 when the extreme cold and hard physical work became too much.

Proenneke donated his cabin to the National Park Service and it is now a part of Lake Clark National Park. The cabin and outbuildings were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

Our final full day at The Farm, we decided to hike the Tanalian Falls Trail. Taking bear spray with us, we set out. We were told to carry on conversation, sing or somehow make some noise as we hiked so we did not inadvertently startle a bear. We did so, although we realized that it was rather unnatural for us to just chatter as we hiked. We did not come across any bears but the hike was pleasant and a very enjoyable way to spend the day.


It’s understandable why Lake Clark has such a hold on the people who live there. Flying is such an integral part of the way of life there, we asked Glen when he started flying and he said, “when I was twelve years old.” He grew up in Port Alsworth and told us that he had been many places all over the world and had never found another place he would rather come home to. That pretty much says it all.


For more information:

Posted in Alaska, hiking, Lake Clark National Park, National Park, National Park Travels, Travel, Travels in the U.S., Western U.S. National Parks, wilderness | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments