History of W.D. Mayo Lock and Dam

Of special interest to visitors in the Lock and Dam 13 stretch of the Arkansas River is the site of the original Fort Smith, set up in 1817 to help keep peace among the Indians. The little outpost named for General Thomas A. Smith, commander of the 9th Military Department, was later transformed into a supply depot which served to equip and provide forts located in the Indian Territory. The fort was the scene of much activity during the Civil War, with both the Union and Confederate forces using its hospital facilities. During the decades following the Civil War, the Indian Territory along the frontier became a refuge for outlaws.

Now a National Park, Old Fort Smith is the location of the Old Fort Museum in the Commissary Building and the courtroom of "Hanging Judge" Isaac C. Parker who presided over the Federal District Court for Western Arkansas from 1875 to 1896. In 21 years, Judge Parker's court hanged 88 criminals and brought in almost 9,500 convictions. Judge Parker's deputy marshals brought in outlaws from wide reaches of the Indian Territory, and from his sentence there was no appeal. The courtroom has been restored, together with the famous "Hell on the Border" jail and the old gallows.

Fort Smith's wide main street, Garrison Avenue, used to be the parade grounds where troops drilled under the command of Zachary Taylor, who later became president of the United States.

Along and atop the bluffs overlooking the Arkansas River lies the adjoining city of Van Buren, which had settlers as early as 1818, and which was once an important stop on the old Butterfield Stage Line.

In the vicinity of W. D. Mayo Lock and Dam in Oklahoma is Wilson's Rock, named for William Wilson, one of the early white settlers in the region who operated a ferry across the river at that point. He was judge of the Old Skin Bayou District of the Cherokee Nation in 1841, later judge of the New District. Tiana Rogers, a Cherokee Indian who became Sam Houston's wife, died at the famous ferry landing in 1838 and was buried at the tiny cemetery above the bluff. Her remains were removed to the National Cemetery near Fort Gibson in 1905.

Across the river from Wilson's Rock, on the LeFlore County side of the Arkansas, are the famous Spiro Mounds. The mound site was named after the town of Spiro, established about 1895 when the Kansas City Southern Railway was built through this region. The Mound Group, remains of an Indian ceremonial center which existed between 700 A.D. and 1500 A.D., was opened by commercial excavators in 1933, mined, and badly damaged. In recent years the University of Oklahoma, in cooperation with the National Park Service, has conducted an archaeological salvage program at the site.

Just upstream from LeFlore Landing is the site of old Fort Coffee, a busy and important military post during the removal of the Choctaw Indians from the east. A site on the southern bank of the Arkansas River, high on a prominent feature known as Swallow Rock, was selected for the post, established by the 7th Infantry in 1834. When peaceful conditions brought about its abandonment in 1838, the site was selected by the Choctaw Council and established as Fort Coffee Academy for Boys. The principal buildings were burned during the Civil War.

The first agency for the Western Choctaw Indians was established in the vicinity of the W. D. Mayo Lock and Dam in 1832. The village became known as Scullyville and served as a stage station for the Overland Mail to San Francisco from 1851 to 1861. The Scullyville boat landing on the Arkansas River served both this settlement and Fort Coffee.