Thursday, August 15, 2013

Modern Wagoneers Visit Van Buren/Fort Smith, Arkansas!

The August campout was hosted by David and Wilma Adams & Gary Tidball and Rosie Wagner.  For the first time that I can remember, our chapter finally made a trip out-of-state!  Van Buren may be only seven miles east of the Oklahoma border, but at least we’re venturing out. 

A total of nine rigs met in Van Buren, with four arriving on Wednesday and five more caravaning in on Thursday.  The wagonmasters reserved several tree-covered sites at “Park Ridge RV Park” in Van Buren.

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This is a beautiful park!  My only reservation is that when it rains the grounds are rather messy.  But it’s nestled in the trees along a tributary of the Arkansas River, and provides a peaceful and relaxing setting for the outing. 


I noticed the trailer brakes were fading during a rest break on our way to Van Buren.  Upon our arrival at the RV park, I manually activated the trailer brakes and they did not engage at all.  Obviously, the trip home will be slow and cautious.

The coach has traveled approximately 22K miles since new in August 2011.  I can’t imagine that the brakes have worn out so soon.  I wish all travel trailers and 5th wheels were sold with hydraulic brake systems, which I truly believe are much safer and reliable!

The RV park has a very nice club room, and our hosts provided a taco/nacho supper on the night of arrival, followed by breakfasts the next two mornings.


Below is a picture of Gary Tidball’s “Banana Walnut Upside-Down French Toast.”


Way too sweet for me!  But, Gary, the fine man that he is, made me a special order of plain French toast to accompany my sugar-free syrup. 

Van Buren, Arkansas, is a quaint little town founded in 1831.  The town’s name is derived from former Secretary of State, Martin Van Buren, and it is near the 1862 Civil War battle site that ended in a defeat for the Confederate Army. 


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I usually throw in a picture or two of a law office or courthouse (below left), and at the right is two familiar fellows I like to refer to as “two old men on the street,” otherwise known as Gary Tidball and David Adams. 

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If you visit Van Buren, a good restaurant to keep in mind is “Big Jake’s Cattle Co.”  Not only was the food and service excellent, but the wait staff put up with all of us!   

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Another point of interest in Van Buren is the “King Opera Theater.”  It’s located at 427 Main Street and features live entertainment.  The theater is a 19th Century Victorian performance hall, which was restored in 1979 and now listed on the “National Register of Historic Places” and is part of the “Van Buren Historic District.”

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Van Buren, Arkansas is a great place for Oklahoma RVers to visit!  It’s only 190 miles from Oklahoma City (3 hrs. 15 min.), has a great RV park, good food, and historic charm. 


We also toured Fort Smith, Arkansas, which highlighted two historical sites.  “Miss Laura’s Social Club” was first and foremost on my list of things to see!  

Miss Laura

Sometime around the turn of the century (early 1900s), Laura Zeigler transformed a river-front hotel into one of the “most refined and healthiest” bordellos in the area.  At a time when a “lady of the evening” generally charged $1.00 for her services, Miss Laura’s ladies earned $3.00.

Carolyn Joyce, the beautiful lady pictured above, portrays Laura Zeigler as she conducts personalized tours of the well-preserved brothel house.  Carolyn became associated with “Miss Laura’s” in 1992 when the building reopened as the Fort Smith Visitor Center.

Below, Carolyn Joyce leads our group on a tour of “Miss Laura’s.”

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It’s said that champagne, chilled in a bathtub similar to the one pictured below, was served to Miss Laura’s customers at no charge.


“Miss Laura’s” is a “must see” if you visit Fort Smith!  Below, the Modern Wagoneers pose for a group picture outside my favorite bordello . . . .


The other highlight on our Fort Smith tour was the “Fort Smith National Historic Site,” which among other things, was the courthouse, jail, and gallows of “hanging judge,” Isaac C. Parker. 


Known as the “Hell-on-the-Border” jail, the Barracks-Courthouse-Jail has a very rich and colorful history.  For more information, go to

Judge Parker, who previously served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from Missouri, served as District Judge for the U.S. Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas for 21 years.  Though most federal district judges hear civil cases, Judge Parker heard thousands of criminal cases and sentenced over 150 people to death, of which 79 were executed during his tenure as federal judge.  When Congress created the Western District of Arkansas in 1851, it failed to provide an appeals process.  As a result, convicted felons had no recourse other than seeking a presidential pardon, which was rarely granted.  This process continued for fourteen years before Congress established a Circuit Court of Appeals for the District. 

Judge Parker’s desk and chair used in Washington during his congressional term, 1871-1875 (lower left).  Judge Parker’s walking sticks (lower right).

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The courtroom from where justice was served, or was it?


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Judge Parker is pictured above at work from the bench sometime between 1890-1896.  With over 50 prisoners locked in one of two cells, the basement of Judge Parker’s courthouse became known as the “Hell-on-the-Border” jail (pictured below).


Before sending a group of prisoners to their death at the gallows, Judge Parker once said, “I do not desire to hang you men, it is the law.” 


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Looking up from below the spring door of the gallows (top left).  George Maledon, known as “Prince of Hangmen,” served as executioner at over half of the Fort Smith hangings (top right). 


Pictured above is David and Kristi Cline (left), with Susan and me (right) on the grounds of the National Historic Site. 

A great way to finish a morning of touring is with a good hamburger.  We recommend “The Hamburger Barn” at 317 Garrison Avenue, Fort Smith, AR.  Good food and service! 

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They have a very interesting decor, especially all the OSU memorabilia (considering it’s located in the State of Arkansas and we saw very little Razorback recognition!).   

“Hats Off” to the Adams, Gary and Rosie for a great outing.  And thanks for taking us out-of-state for a change!  How about Colorado next time?