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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Fort Smith's Famous Courtroom by Joyce Faulkner




When I left Fort Smith, several years of Arkansas History had introduced me to Judge Isaac Parker -- the famous "hanging judge" of the federal court of western Arkansas -- and to William Henry Harrison Clayton, the prosecutor. However time has eroded what I thought I knew and a recent visit to the courtroom with historian John Hagen was both educational and entertaining.

John Hagen in the jail
The reclaimed room reflects other more modern courtrooms around the country -- a table serves as the judge's desk, two tables for the attorneys and the accused, a bank of comfortable chairs for a jury and more for an audience. It functions as a classroom now -- one where visitors can learn about its history. For writers on the prowl for stories, Judge Parker's Court and the prison in the basement are major finds. Mixing history, mystery, and drama, the room is a stage where the best and worst aspects of human nature vie for the heart of the community.

While there is always more to explore, a visit to Fort Smith would be incomplete without an hour or so in the courtroom listening to the guides talk about Belle Starr or Cherokee Bill while imagining their ghosts reenacting the dramas of their lives.

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