Arkansas Travel: Fort Smith’s ‘Lawbreakers and Peacemakers’

Fort Smith Heritage FestivalAs mentioned in an earlier post, I really enjoy any event that promises an appearance by members of the large local group of costumed history re-enactors. But I was especially excited to overload on their fun and informative brand of entertainment at Fort Smith’s recent Heritage Festival.

This annual event, which is hosted by the Community Services Clearinghouse,* is 1 day of packed-to-the-gills activities in an area mostly circled by the town’s National Historic Site, Museum of History, and old time Trolley Museum. And it’s all done to share stories of Fort Smith’s interesting past – both long ago and more recent.

Photo courtesy of Lawmakers & Peacemakers website.

Photo courtesy of Lawmakers & Peacemakers website.

This year’s schedule included Choctaw, Laotian, and Irish dancers, the Hispanic Riding Club’s dancing horses, free trolley and wagon rides, and a “living history” of actors stationed all up and down the wide Garrison Avenue (and other locations) to tell the tales of real people who lived or worked in or passed through the area.

But what I was most looking forward to were the many old west shoot-outs scheduled throughout the day. These participants, along with all the day’s re-enactors are part of the very popular group known as “Lawbreakers and Peacemakers.”

Photo courtesy of Lawbreakers & Peacemakers website.

Photo courtesy of Lawbreakers & Peacemakers website.

According to their website, they’re a nonprofit organization bent on keeping alive stories of the old west.

“Our Mean Hombres and Wild Women all have the heart to turn our passion for playing Gunfighters, Cowboys, Civil War Soldiers, Bar Gals…and many other characters into a fun filled educational series of performances that are sure to delight kids of all ages,” they write.

And as a kid at heart, I was definitely delighted! After missing them at other events throughout the 3 years I have lived in this state, I finally made it to 3 of the 4 shoot-out skits — including this one where the “good guys” arrive at the end to save the day.

At the end of each show, all participants hung around for pictures and to talk with members of the audience. Nothing seemed to delight them more than to be asked a question that allowed them to answer in-character and in the first person.

For example, when someone asked: “Didn’t you know you’d be caught after robbing that bank?” one lawbreaker answered with a deep growl and said, “I thought I could rassle the money away fast and be gone in nothing flat.” A participant dressed as a Marshal chuckled and said while shaking his head, “You should have known better.” To which the first cowboy answered with a deep sigh, “Story of my life.”

Fort Smith Heritage Festival

Me with some of the friendly, neighborhood gunslingers

Afterwards, I was happy to wander around to the other Festival events, including a demonstration of Irish dancing:

Irish dancing

Irish dancing


A performance by these lovely Laotian dancers:


And by the Mexican Dancing Horses:


A cannon firing demonstration at the fort:



A visit with a member of the 11th U.S. Colored Infantry, which was formed in Fort Smith in 1863:


And a talk by the infamous “Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker:


Of course I also had to stop by the petting zoo:


Hey, don't eat my hand!

Hey, don’t eat my hand!

Hmm, does it look like that camel has the baby's head in his mouth??

Hmm, does it look like that camel has the baby’s head in his mouth??

*By the way, Community Services Clearinghouse benefits Meals For Kids, a local program that provides backpacks full of weekend food to roughly 2,400 children. They reported that they raised $20,000 from the Heritage Festival through corporate sponsorship, which will go toward stocking their food pantry. If you’d like to donate to this worthy cause, just go to their website.

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