The story of True Grit and Fort Smith are both located in the northwest of the state, right where the Arkansas river crosses into Oklahoma. Established in 1817 in an attempt to bring peace between two local, warring tribes, Fort Smith was for some time the final waypoint of law and order on the edge of the west’s wild frontier.
“There is no law west of St. Louis and no God west of Fort Smith,” they said.
Charles Portis drew from Fort Smith’s wild history for many of the settings, situations, and characters of his famous novel, True Grit. He integrated them whole or pulled from their histories details that ground the fascinating tale of Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn into seeming reality. As such, much of the history surrounding True Grit can be still be found in and around Fort Smith.
At Fort Smith National Historic Site, you can visit Judge Parker’s Courthouse, the actual courtroom from True Grit where Mattie Ross first sees Rooster Cogburn as he gives his testimony. Take a tour of the “Hell on the Border Jail” where Rooster planned on escorting Ned Pepper and Tom Chaney for trial before “Hangin’ Judge” Isaac C. Parker.
Walk the sidewalks of Fort Smith’s historic downtown main thoroughfare, Garrison Avenue, to see the remaining structures from the 1870’s booming frontier town it once was. Visit Fort Smith Riverfront Park and, viewing the banks of the Arkansas, imagine young Mattie forging it on her horse. Of course, the river was shallower 140 years ago, when the view across the river would have been one of what was then unsettled and unincorporated “Indian Territory.”
To learn more about True Grit and Fort Smith, Arkansas, their shared history, and details about visiting the town, both historic and modern, go to: www.fortsmith.org
True Arkansas Lodging
Arkansas is home to a lot of fascinating history, not just True Grit and Fort Smith. We’ve history, museums, caves, great communities, thousands of incredible places to see and do, and an absolutely wonderful collection of bed and breakfast inns ready to keep you warm, cozy, and happily fed while you’re here. The next time you’re in state, look us up: there’s one or more of us nearby, no doubt, and we’re ready to welcome you.