Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 25, 1966

From Fort Smith , Arkansas


What a pleasure it is to return to Fort Smith! It was in 1933 that I had my first contact with the Christians in this area. The Park Hill congregation was looking for a preacher; and after five years with the Bardstown Road congregation in Louisville, Kentucky, I was ready to move. Through the good offices of Foy E. Wallace, Jr., an exchange of letters took place (the beloved Dr. C. B. Billingsley wrote for the Park Hill elders - I still have the letters), and in January, 1934, without any "trial sermon" at all, and without even a get-acquainted visit, I moved to Fort Smith. I came because Brother Wallace commended Park Hill (and especially Dr. Billingsley, whom he described as an "elegant" Christian physician) to me; and the Park Hill elders accepted me on his recommendation, and perhaps in part because they were well acquainted with my father. At that time there were three congregations in Fort Smith Park Hill, a non-class congregation on Dodson Avenue, and a negro congregation on the north side where the aged G. P. Bowser was preacher. (Brother Bowser, who had taught Marshall Keeble, facetiously insisted that the "a P." of his name stood for "Go Preach". )

For three years I remained at Park Hill, and conducted meetings all over this area

Spiro, Charleston, Paris, Waveland, Midland, South Fort Smith, Havana, Ratliffe, baptizing many people. And at Park Hill we usually had about two meetings per year one an"exchange" meeting, and one a "paid" meeting. I exchanged meetings with Glenn L. Wallace, Guy N. Woods, and Warren E. Starnes. And our "paid" meetings were conducted by Clarence L. Wilkerson, H. Leo Boles and Foy E. Wallace, Jr. Park Hill was at peace and growing. They were happy and fruitful years.

There are now in Fort Smith three non-class congregations, one "far out" liberal congregation, one "middle-of-the-road" liberal church, and three conservative congregations; also the negro church, which remains small and not very active. For many years Park Hill helped support a faithful preacher with them, but is not doing so now. Guthrie Dean works with the Park Hill church, Harold E. Turner is at South Fort Smith, and Cecil B. Douthitt has been helping the new church on the east side (46th Street) until they can find a full-time man to work with them. Brother Olin Kern from Madisonville, Indiana, plans to move to Fort Smith next month to assist these brethren, and Brother Douthitt will be helping some of the rural congregations in the area.

In spite of many problems, both past and present, the cause of conservative Christianity in the Fort Smith area looms great with promise. The new little church in Greenwood (sixteen miles south of Fort Smith) has just completed a very attractive new building, and offers a wonderful opportunity for growth. Three new conservative congregations within the last three years (Greenwood, South Fort Smith, and 46th Street) are all showing healthy growth, and each of them has an attractive new brick structure, built within this year.

So far as we can discover the first gospel preaching in Fort Smith was done by T. B. Larimore about the year 1877. But apparently whatever congregation there was by the end of the century went completely into the digression, and it was not until the early part of this century that a non-instrument group began regular meetings, and they were also non-class. The Park Hill congregation grew out of this group, and dates from 1920 or thereabouts. My father was called in to help resolve some sort of trouble in 1920, but I do not recall whether that was at Dodson Avenue or at Park Hill. Perhaps it was a matter involving both congregations.

Fort Smith was one of the roughest of the frontier towns in her earlier history. Located on the edge of the Indian Territory, this border city was the frequent habitat of outlaws and fugitives. At one time more than fifty saloons were doing a thriving business on Garrison Avenue. Judge Isaac Parker gained worldwide publicity as "the hanging judge" when he sentenced some eighty-eight men to the gallows in a determined effort to rid the Fort Smith area of its outlaw element. While a few scars of these turbulent days remain, this city now is one of the most delightful and progressive in the entire Southwest. It gives promise in the forthcoming generation of being one of the truly strong cities of our nation insofar as primitive Christianity is concerned.

-F. Y. T.