Albert Pike statue toppling hits home in Fort Smith

John Lovett
On the Crawford County Courthouse lawn in Van Buren is a restored schoolhouse from the early 1830s where Albert Pike taught school.

Albert Pike may have not been a west Arkansas native, but he left his mark on the area and the state in many ways before and after the Civil War.

A statue of the famed Scottish Rite Mason, who was briefly an appointed Confederate general in the Civil War, was toppled Friday night in Washington, D.C.

Times Record reporter A. Drew Smith began an examination of Pike’s history in Arkansas earlier this week for a report that will be in collaboration with USA TODAY Network’s South region newspapers. The collection is intended to examine the namesakes of Confederate generals throughout the South.

In the forthcoming article by Smith, who had just gained access Friday to the Sebastian County Library’s non-circulating books on Pike, a more in-depth look will be taken on the man whose statue was toppled by protesters in Washington but spent many of his years in Fort Smith and Van Buren.

Pike was as much a writer and teacher as a soldier, but he is most famous perhaps as a Scottish Rite Mason. He commanded a troop for the Arkansas Mounted Volunteers in the Mexican-American War at the Battle of Buena Vista in 1847 and later a regiment of Indian soldiers who fought for the Confederacy at the Battle of Pea Ridge. Smith’s article may take a longer look at the charges of Pike’s soldiers taking scalps on the Pea Ridge battlefield.

In addition to his connections to the Indian Territory, there are several things dedicated to Pike in Fort Smith: an elementary school, a Mason’s youth group, and a road. In nearby Van Buren there is also an antebellum schoolhouse on the Crawford County Courthouse lawn. In 1861, Pike counseled on behalf of the Choctaws. He had been appointed by Jefferson Davis as commissioner to all the Indian tribes west of Arkansas and south of Kansas and negotiated several treaties with Cherokee leader John Ross. Pike was given plenary power by the Confederacy to oversee treaties with slave-holding tribes; Cherokee, Comanche, Osage, Quapaw, Senecas, and Shawnee nations.

According to a web article on Pike at, Pike settled in Arkansas in 1833, arriving in Fort Smith by foot from Taos, New Mexico, after a long journey from his home state of Massachusetts via St. Louis and Independence, Missouri.

He taught school and wrote a series of articles for the Little Rock Advocate under the pen name Casca. He married Mary Ann Hamilton and purchased part of the Advocate with the dowry. By 1835, he was the Advocate's owner. Under Pike's administration the Advocate promoted the viewpoint of the Whig party in a politically volatile and divided Arkansas. The Whig Party emerged in the 1830s in opposition to President Andrew Jackson, pulling together former members of the National Republican Party, the Anti-Masonic Party, and disaffected Democrats.

An historical marker in Van Buren explains some of Albert Pike's history in west Arkansas and east Oklahoma when it was the Indian Territory.