Panola GEAR UP students toured the Fort Smith National Historic Site

Panola seventh and eighth-grade GEAR UP students recently traveled to the Fort Smith National Historic Site in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Cody Faber, a Ranger at the Parks Department, was the guide. Students were led through the grounds where they saw first-hand where history was made. Students had read True Grit by Charles Portis, so they got a better understanding of the historical events. They toured the jail, Judge Parker’s courtroom, and the gallows.

Students viewed a short film of the history of the area at the Fort. After the film, Ranger Faber provided some information about the relationships between deputies and the outlaws. The students were then led to the jail dubbed “Hell on the Border.” Ranger Faber discussed this history of the jail and the changes made over the years.

Next on the tour was Judge Parker’s Courtroom. Ranger Faber explained Judge Parker’s tenure was unique in the history of the federal judiciary. While most U.S. district judges toiled away on civil cases, Parker heard thousands of criminal complaints involving disputes and violence between Indians and non-Indians. He sentenced 160 people to death; and for 14 years, he did so while the condemned had no right of appeal. Students sat in the courtroom area in the different locations that the participants in a case would have sat. Ranger Faber walked them through the proceedings. He also explained the views of Judge Parker, commonly called “the hanging judge,” who was actually against the death penalty.

The tour ended at the gallows where 79 individuals were hung under Judge Parker’s ruling. After the tour, the students walked around the historical site and read more about events that took place. They discussed the events and the connection to the book True Grit. Ranger Faber was very knowledgeable and answered student’s questions.

“Educational tours are an important part of Eastern’s GEAR UP program,” said GEAR UP Education Coordinator Tara Martin.

The field trip was sponsored by Eastern Oklahoma State College GEAR UP. Participating schools take two field trips each academic year—one to tour a college or university and one that is cultural/educational in nature. In 2017, Eastern received a $17 million federal GEAR UP grant and serves over 3,000 students in 39 area schools for seven years.


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