A brief history of Belle Point, the original site of frontier Fort Smith in the Arkansas Territory

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Belle Point, Fort Smith, Arkansas National Historical Site

The Osage came to Arkansas from their original territory in today's Missouri and Kansas to Eastern Oklahoma and Western Arkansas replacing the native Caddo.  The Osage were a warring tribe and chased the indigenous tribes west out of Arkansas.  When the U.S. government gave land in the area to the Cherokee and Creek to encourage them to leave their homes in the east and move west of the Mississippi the Osage resisted.  In 1813 the Cherokee and Osage were at war. To make matters worse, white men were invading the area reserved for the Indians.  To solve these problems General Thomas Smith ordered a fort to built on the Arkansas.  Major William Bradford in command of Company A, Rifles Regiment landed on the sandstone Bluff at Belle Point on Christmas day, 1817.  On a hill above the bluff, Bradford started construction of the first Fort Smith. Belle Pointe was named by French trappers when French territory extended west from the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border.  It was a trading spot for the French with the native Caddo and Wichita people until Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803.  In 1819 naturalist Thomas Nuttall visited the site of the new American fort being built there.  He said the view from the point was, "... more commanding and picturesque, than any other spot of equal elevation on the banks of the Arkansas."  The area was, "...beautiful almost as the fancied Elysium ... enameled with innumerable flowers ... serene and charming as the blissful regions of fancy." The spot is as beautiful today as it was in Nuttall's time.

 

Belle Point as it looks today.  This view shows the confluence of the Poteau River (at left) and the Arkansas River (off to right).  The water level is much higher today because of the lock and dam system put on the Arkansas in the 1960's and 70's to make it a navigable waterway.  Originally, the stone ledge at the left would have been a bluff about twenty feet above the river.

Belle Point looking down the Arkansas River towards the Garrison Avenue Bridge (background, far right). This spot is on the Arkansas side of the river but is actually a couple hundred yards inside Oklahoma.

The spot in the pictures is a short walk from the main buildings in the National Historic Site and is just below the site of the original Fort Smith.

Son-in-law Joey Madia and grandchildren Jeremy and Jolie, summer of 2001

Garrison Ave. Bridge (Hwy 64) into Fort Smith from Oklahoma.  In the far right at top is the National Historic Site. At the lower right running from under the bridge is the National Park Service trail to Belle Point.

Belle Point, named by Frence fur traders was the site of the first Fort Smith, a log stockade built to keep the peace between the Indian tribes on whose lands was located.

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Ronald N. Wall
Revised: 23 April 2011