We travel to Forth Smith west Arkansas Trail of Tears
2 September 2016 Marion Arkansas
My day started early. I was awake way before dawn and decided I would do a little research before breakfast at my humble accommodations.
By the time I was ready to eat, I strode to the breakfast counter (there were no seats) and perused the choices – sweet donuts in sealed plastic and packets of oats. Okay, I’ll give the oats a go, but there was no milk visible. I asked about said dairy product at the desk and was informed that there wasn’t any. Maybe I should not have said anything but I did – “you have lots of oats here, but no milk?” The response: “we have boiling water”.
I decided that I would eat out this morning.
Things would quickly look up, though. I had already scouted for the nearest Best Buy and resigned myself to having to buy a new laptop. I already made a list of things I needed to back up in case it dies completely soon. Turning on my laptop, I expected it to the battery to be ‘1 % (or 2 if I was lucky). Plugged in, but not charging’. But, ladies and gentleman, it said ‘fully charged’ and, to make absolutely certain it was being understood, also included ‘100%’. Woo hoo! Mr Lenovo I take it back. The day just got a little easier and a whole lot cheaper.
I determined to return to Sacred Grounds Coffee where I had been the afternoon before and where Sarah had been very helpful in providing tips on things to do. Before going there, however, I was going to take her advice and visit the Fort Smith Historic Centre and walk alongside the Arkansas River.
First some history. Fort Smith lies on the Arkansas-Oklahoma state border, at the junction of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers and next to Indian territory. Founded as a western frontier military post in 1817, it would become well known for its role in the settling of the “Wild West” and its law enforcement.
In the 1830s the United States government forcibly removed American Indians from their homelands and relocated them on lands in present day Oklahoma, with Fort Smith playing a key role. This tragic event is referred to as the Trail of Tears as over 10,000 Indians died during removal or soon upon arrival.
Judge Isaac Parker served as U.S. District Judge here. The “Hanging Judge” in his first term tried 18 people for murder, convicted 15 of them, sentenced eight of those to die, six of whom were later hung on the same day. Overall, Parker sentenced 160 people to death. Of those, 79 actually were executed on the gallows.
Coffee and a bacon, cheese and egg croissant at Sacred Ground was delicious.
Time to depart this interesting town. As for the rest of the day, not much to report really. Plenty of driving, not much scenery, a sad truck stop where the lady behind the Subway counter had been top of the class at the ‘Charmless, Service With a Snarl College’ Three ladies, smoking, looked on hopefully at old gaming machines at the back.
Matters improved shortly thereafter as I crossed the border into Tennessee and across the beautiful Mississippi River. I noted that I would probably never see it again on this journey which is pretty atypical as The Big Wide and Muddy has been a regular companion in past US visits.
Interestingly, as I entered Tennessee, the roads got better and the traffic got less dense. I started to think of an overnight stop as I still had a ways to go to get to Dyess Arkansas (pronounced ‘Dice’). Nothing appealed, though, and I kept motoring – The Felice Brothers and Whiskey Myers were broadcasting live from New York with their new albums on Outlaw Country. I rolled past Jackson TN but it seemed to big and I did not want to manage too many diversions finding a bed. Then I somehow was back in Arkansas (and the roads got worse and the traffic got busier!).
I motored into Marion AR which had a few motels and a plethora of fast food outlets. After surveying the scene, those food options were very unappealing so I decided that I would keep on. In fact Dyess was not that far away and the location was plugged into the GPS. Let’s keep going. Mistake. Forty minutes later I had seen nothing other than field and was then directed onto an overgrown off ramp and soon after a dirt road. I pulled over (not that easy given the width of the road). This did not seem great as I had visions of sleeping in a corn field. The phone had no reception and it was getting dark. A large truck sped past me so fast that it felt like being in the car with Bonnie and Clyde at their ultimate siege.
Marion did not seen so bad after all. I turned around and that’s where I found myself for the evening, somewhat fatigued. The Comfort Inn seemed like a palace, certainly much better than a bed of husks.
But I was very close to my important destination for tomorrow.