LITTLE ROCK – Secretary of State John Thurston invites the public to view “Arkansas’s Western Post,” the Capitol’s summer exhibit. 

In 2019, Arkansas celebrates its two hundredth birthday. In the spring of 1819, it was declared a separate territory, no longer Missouri’s lower half. That summer and into fall, populations of existing settlements in the east of the new territory swelled modestly, anticipating the arrival of the newly appointed governor and the launch of official business.

But even before Governor James Miller’s keelboat tied up at Arkansas Post in late December, the government of the United States established a foothold in the middle of the sprawling territory: Fort Smith. A year or more before the first wave of appointees, boomers and speculators descended upon Arkansas Post, the Stars and Stripes flew above a new stockade and fledgling settlement more than two hundred and fifty miles upriver. They still do.

“Arkansas’s Western Post” highlights episodes and individuals from Fort Smith’s more than twenty decades. Created in collaboration with the Fort Smith Museum of History, the exhibit offers select reminders of the city’s storied past as military post, market town, port, place of judgement and gateway. These include a toy catapult marked for the Fort Smith Biscuit Company, a box of rough garnets found in the personal effects of General Benjamin Bonneville, ornamental plaster from the storied Goldman Hotel (once the city’s elite lodging house) and a utilitarian U.S. Army Ordnance Department-marked Elgin wrist watch, once worn by Colonel William O. Darby.

The Fort Smith Museum of History, in operation for over 100 years, curates a collection of over 40,000 artifacts and offers two full levels of exhibits and attractions, including an operating soda fountain. This exhibit offers Capitol visitors a taste of what they can expect if they follow the Arkansas River west to Fort Smith. The original plan was to include just twenty images and twenty items, one for each of the city’s decades, but a few “extras” have crept in: Fort Smith has too many stories worth telling.

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