Five Tribes festival part of Fort Smith bicentennial

Former Reporter
02/28/2018 10:00 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
A monument dedicated to the Five Civilized Tribes that passed by Ozark, Arkansas, in the early 1800s on their way west to Indian Territory was dedicated in 2016. Ozark is east of Fort Smith, where a Five Civilized Tribes Cultural Festival will take place on March 3 to celebrate the culture of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole and Muscogee (Creek) tribes and their ties to Fort Smith. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
FORT SMITH, Ark. – To celebrate the 200th anniversary of its founding, the city of Fort Smith will host a Five Civilized Tribes Cultural Festival on March 3 at the Fort Smith Convention Center.

Those five tribes consist of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole and Muscogee (Creek) and will showcase their traditions and enlighten attendees of their historical ties to Fort Smith.
“We are pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this event, recognizing the founding of Fort Smith, as we understand the shared connection to Cherokee Nation’s past,” Travis Owens, Cherokee Nation Cultural Tourism director, said. “Fort Smith’s story is complexly intertwined with the story of the Cherokee people, and we look forward to sharing our history and culture with the community.”

The festival is expected to include traditional art and game demonstrations, dance, music and sampling of traditional foods. There will also be storytelling, lectures and live performances. Cherokee performances will include the Cherokee National Youth Choir and Cherokee National Treasurer Tommy Wildcat on traditional flute. Attendees can also view screenings of “Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People” and tour an exhibit honoring important Cherokee women in history.

“The bicentennial committee has been working with the Five Civilized Tribes Inter-Tribal Council and individual tribal leaders for several months to bring this incredible, collaborative event to the people of Fort Smith,” Jim Perry, Arts & Culture committee for the Bicentennial Celebration chairman, said. “We are extremely grateful for their generosity and efforts to create this exciting and culturally rich experience for our community and neighbors.”

Dusty Helbling, a historical research specialist, said the Cherokee had a longer history with Fort Smith than any of the other Five Civilized Tribes. He said before the Cherokee were moved into Indian Territory, the Western Cherokees, also known as the Old Settlers, lived in Arkansas from 1817-29. During that time trading was done, some in Fort Smith.

Once removal of the five tribes to Indian Territory began, Helbling said part of each tribe was moved by riverboat with some stopping at Fort Smith for supplies. He said those that came over on the land route passed through the area of Fort Smith with the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole passing on the south side and the Cherokee and Creek passing through the middle and some passing on the north side.

He said while being removed a detachment of Cherokees departed from Waterloo, Alabama, by riverboat. However, because of low water levels, he said the detachment only made it to Titsworth Landing, near Ozark, along the Arkansas River. The detachment leader, Lt. Edward Deas, purchased wagons and moved the Cherokee’s by land the rest of the way, traveling south to join the Old Military Road to Fort Smith.

“They started crossing the Arkansas River by a small ferryboat that could only move one wagon at a time so it took two days to get all moved across,” he said. “This required one campsite on the west bank of the Arkansas River and the other campsite in Fort Smith, located where the National Cemetery is today. There is a historic marker remembering this event located just west of the main gate of the National Cemetery along the street.”

Because of the significance the five tribes have on Fort Smith’s history, Helbling said he is “pleased” to the see the tribes participating.

The festival is a free-admission event from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Fort Smith Convention Center, located at 800 Rogers Ave. For more information, visit


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