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Things to do in Fort Smith

  • Fort Smith National Historic Site Fort Smith National Historic Site Ft. Smith, Arkansas
    The Fort Smith National Historic Site is located at Fort Smith, Arkansas, beside the Arkansas River and also on the other side of the river by Moffett, Oklahoma, that was established in 1961, to preserve the remnants of two 19th century military forts, plus a structure that was used to contain a United States District Court for the western district of Arkansas. Fort Smith was included in the stops made by the Cherokee nation on its Trail of Tears; made a National Historic Landmark in 1960. The welcome center is found in the old barracks/jail/courthouse; with displays in the visitor center highlighting the military history of the fort from 1817 until 1871. It also has many items that pertain to the federal court's impact on the Indian territory, Judge Isaac Parker, known as the "hanging judge", the western expansion, outlaws, Indian removal that included the Trail of Tears, U.S. deputy marshals and the Federal Indian policy. On the grounds are the remains of the first Fort Smith that was built in 1817, and the commissary building that was constructed in 1838; as well as the gallows that were reconstructed that had been used by the federal court. There is a memorable walking trail alongside the Arkansas River.  The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, and to the National Historic Landmarks in 1960. Just a quick walk from the parking lot, the remains of the first Fort Smith lies, that looks out onto the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers, that was named Belle Point, which means beautiful place, by the French fur trappers and traders that traveled along the river in the 18th century. The sight is really a beautiful one, with the deep blue waters of the rivers, set up in the middle of the marvelous green trees and grasses, all underneath a pale blue sky clouded with white puffs every now and then. Just a bit further from the parking lot, perhaps three quarters of a mile, a paved walking trail begins going alongside the Arkansas River, past the fort, and onto the sad Trail of Tears, where 5 southeastern Native American tribes were taken from their homelands by force and marched to Oklahoma, that included thousands of Cherokees, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole and Muscogee Creeks. There, sitting out on an overlook, a memorial is located that tells of the misfortune, torture, murder and other terrible fates that waited for these poor Americans, as if death had come knocking on their door. The oldest building that still stands in the old Fort Smith locale is the commissary, that was built in 1838, which eventually became a supply warehouse. In the days when the federal court was being held here, the upper chambers of Judge Isaac Parker were always busy; and the building continued to supply troops even into the 1850s. On the parade grounds, where the troops for the Mexican and Civil Wars trained, you might hear the winds of war quietly blowing in your mind and if you really listen, you can hear the drill sergeants counting out the cadence. A cannon sits here, a lone sentinel of the beautiful red, white and blue flag that continues to flow in the breezes, with 37 stars set upon it, 100 feet in the air, that was seen throughout the area even back then.  The visitor center can be found in the historic barracks building that was constructed in 1851, then transformed into a courthouse and jail in 1872, for the federal court of the western district of Arkansas. A brand new jail was built next to the barracks in 1888. Visitors can see all of these magnificent buildings in their tour that included the restored courtroom of Judge Parker, and the "Hell on the Border" jail, and some of the cells have been renovated in the old jail so that you can see, smell and feel what it was like back then, although it isn't as easy to do all these senses when you know that you won't be leaving right away. There are numerous exhibits and videos about the history of the military here, and the rest of the aforementioned occurrences that are part of its history.

  • Fort Smith Trolley Museum
    The Fort Smith Trolley Museum is actually a railroad museum in Fort Smith, Arkansas; but does have four streetcars that did run in Fort Smith, an open streetcar and a Frisco steam locomotive. It runs the heritage railroad that goes on excursions in the Fort Smith National Historic Site that uses a Birney streetcar. Housed in the building is the Fort Smith Streetcar Restoration Association that has devoted itself to the preservation and appreciation of electric powered streetcars, transportation and other technology that was used during this period, and railroad equipment. The association strives to give a unique and special educational experience to those that come here to view and learn. The Journal is a bi-annual publication of the Fort Smith Historical Society, and in 1979, co-editor, Amelia Martin wanted to publish an article about the history of the local public railway transportation, and asked her husband if he would research it and write the article. Although a busy doctor and community leader, Dr. Art Bradley Martin, Sr. was soon deep into the intrigue of trains, trolleys and buses. Much to his surprise and delight, a local citizen named Charles Winters had finished the research needed, and the society published his entire manuscript. In September, 1979, the Journal volume 3, number 2 was published and later republished as a book. Right before the publication was to come out, one of Doc Art's relatives called to say he had read of an ad in an antique journal, selling a Fort Smith streetcar, the Light & Traction #224.  Soon an organization was formed, the Fort Smith Streetcar Restoration Association, that bought the old streetcar and more were later added, creating a collection of antiquities that soon formed the museum.

  • Miss Laura's Social Club
    Miss Laura's Social Club was a house of prostitution located in Fort Smith, Arkansas, during the turn of the 20th century. It now is the visitor's center on First Street, reminding citizens and visitors of the town's diverse history, and the only bordello that has ever been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Back in the days when the United States and the Indian territory had a border running across it, Fort Smith was one of those historical towns that grew up in the old west. It was home to a military fort, with large amounts of troops, that soon enticed prostitution to venture into the town. It was during this era that many such businesses were established around the country. The Riverfront Commercial Hotel was built in 1896, and sold to one Laura Ziegler in 1898, who had borrowed $3000 from the local bank to purchase the building. She renovated it and opened it as a brothel in 1903; and was able to repay the loan in 17 months. The building was on what was called "the Row" in the town, which had become an infamous red light district, and one of the most celebrated brothels in the southwest, with her "ladies" known as the most sophisticated and healthiest in the town. By 1910, the town's folks wanted to rid their fair city of that district, and two houses suspiciously burned down that year, with others somehow damaged in January, when an oil storage tank exploded and put these ladies and their customers out into the street. It soon became called the night of the lingerie parade, and Laura saw the writing on the wall and sold out to Bertha Gale Dean, alias Big Bertha, in 1911 for $47,000; and Laura was never heard of again. As the area went down, more drunks and drifters came to the area, and it was soon a slum, although the house still remained a brothel until Bertha passed on in 1948. She bequeathed the house to Jules Bartholemy, who lived there and was rumored to have been having a relationship with Bertha. Soon it was abandoned, and in 1963, the town said that if a buyer couldn't be located, then it would be torn down. Donald Reynolds, founder of Donrey Media Group, purchased the building and saved it from demolition. In 1973, it was selected for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, and the renovation started in 1983. Then a year later, the Miss Laura's Social Club and Restaurant opened for business; although it didn't last a long time and in 1992 opened as the town's visitor/welcome center.

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  • Fort Smith Museum of History Fort Smith Museum of History, Arkansas
    Starting in 1910, the Fort Smith Museum of History has been saving, getting, showing and describing the relics and items of historical importance that relate to the founding and growth of the city and area. Housed in the old commissary museum and the old fort museum, the present name has been identified with the museum since 1999. In 1910, a group of local women, found out that the city was going to bring down the oldest military structure in the region, the old commissary building, which had become a historically important site. It was built in 1838, and had been used by the army before being abandoned, and bought by the city in 1898. The City Federation of Women's Clubs leased the structure and started the Old Commissary Museum, which eventually acquired many cultural relics. Sometime later, when the old gallows were rebuilt and other structures in the town restored, plans were developed in 1960 for a National Historic Site to be located here under the direction of the National Park Service, and the women were asked to release the city from their lease for the building. It wasn't long before the museum and collections were moved to another temporary locale on Garrison Avenue; and in 1979, when they were able to get the present historic building, the Atkinson-Williams building next door to the historic site, the old commissary became the old fort museum; and the name changed to the Fort Smith Museum of History. There is a timeline that shows by relays, through the relics and supporting images, the wonderful and exciting history of Fort Smith. It has been supplemented by the Transportation Gallery, the Boyd Gallery and a working 1920s period pharmacy/soda fountain, like the one shown in "It's a Wonderful Life". One of the rooms honors William O. Darby, famous organizer of Darby's Rangers in WWII, and a hands-on telephone display that is taken care of by the Telephone Pioneers, an organization of retired southwestern Bell workers. There is also a 1500 piece doll display and one of the biggest collections in the world of Niloak pottery. The second floor is devoted to the part that Fort Chaffee played in the town's history and its part in the second World War as a training facility; plus its usage as a German POW camp. A couple of decades later, it was used for temporary asylum for Vietnamese and Laotian refugees, and then later on a place for Cuban refugees. It is the first place that Elvis Presley received his GI haircut and many more fabulous details and events that occurred here.

  •  Ft. Smith Air Museum
    The Fort Smith Air Museum was the dream of Carl Riggins, Wayne Haver and Ralph Freeman, and finally put together in 1999. The next year, they received a non-profit tax status and in a few months acquired a $10,000 grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation that helped them to buy aviation relics. It opened in a local mall, then moved to another mall, and finally came to settle in the new regional airport terminal after it opened in 2002. There reside 56 marvelous display cases with various artifacts that honor the military and pioneer aviators of western Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. The cases are located across from the American Eagle and Northwest Airlink ticket counters, and they have Piper J-3 cub on loan from Ann Weaver of Roland, Oklahoma that hangs in the main entry way to the Central Mall in Fort Smith. They have some wonderful archival records and information about the history of aviation and numerous reference materials.

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Local Restaurants in Fort Smith
  • R. Landry's
    Menu; blackened chicken salad; blackened shrimp salad; New Orleans filet; red beans & rice w/blackened sausage; ribeye & shrimp; taste of New Orleans; ribeye Royale; blackened chicken; filet & shrimp; filet Royale; Creole chicken; crawfish etouffee; NY strip & shrimp; NY strip Royale; gumbo & blackened shrimp; seafood pasta; catfish Royale; blackened shrimp; Cajun trio; crawfish trio; shrimp trio; blackened trio; fried oysters & gumbo.

  • Calico County
    The main menu includes hot rolls, and choice of two sides; chicken fried steak is US choice beef, twice tenderized, dipped in house batter, deep fried and topped with special cream gravy; granny's fresh crispy catfish is farm grown catfish without bones and meal dipped; chicken fried chicken is boneless breast in house batter, deep fried with cream gravy on side; grilled catfish is farm grown no bones, cooked in house sauce hot & spicy; chicken strip dinner are grilled, fried, blackened or buffalo style w/ choice of sauce; KC strip is 3/4 pound USDA prime steak; Dusty's hamburger steak is 1/2 pound of lean ground beef mixed with onions, and spices, topped with grilled onions and house made brown gravy; grilled chicken is skinless & boneless grilled hot & spicy with lemon wedge; chicken livers prepped in house batter, deep fried w/ cream gravy on side; Effey May's meatloaf is specially prepared with fresh ground beef and mixed with Calico's own spices; country pork chops is two center cut chops fried, grilled or blackened to taste; Yphon's smothered steak is tender country steak slowly oven cooked and smothered in special gravy; mother's juicy pot roast is cooked long and slow with special seasonings and served with brown gravy; Genne Lee's veggie special is choice of five delicious veggies or other sides; Real McCoy chili served with onions, sliced jalapenos and cornbread.

Crawfish Etouffee R. Landry's Ft. Smith, Arkansas

 Chicken Fried Steak Calico County Ft. Smith, Arkansas

Mother's Pot Roast Calico County Ft. Smith, Arkansas

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  • Clayton House Clayton House Ft. Smith, Arkansas
    The William Henry Harrison Clayton house was constructed in the 1850s, but Clayton, federal prosecutor in Judge Parker's court, didn't buy it until 1876. He wanted it enlarged and restored, not moving in until 1882, with 8 rooms, with an elaborate coal-burning fireplace in each room, servants' quarters and kitchen. There was a magnificent black walnut staircase that went to the second floor, and an attic that has been closed off to visitors. The two chimneys that handle the smoke flow are tilted around two feet, so that they could draw air from the 4 fireplaces that were handled by each one. The ornate furniture, atypical for houses of that period were donated by Miss Agnes Oglesby, who lived in Fort Smith. Clayton was born in 1840, in Pennsylvania, where he spent the majority of his childhood, and moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas in 1864 to study law. He became the superintendent of Public Instruction for seven counties and was able to have another 30 new schools built. Clayton was admitted to the bar in 1871, and soon became the prosecuting attorney for the First Judicial District of Arkansas; then Governor Elisha Baxter made him Judge of the court in 1873. He married Florence A. Barnes, a southern belle and moved to Fort Smith in 1874, after President U.S. Grant made him the U.S. District Attorney of the Western District of Arkansas; court of the infamous hanging judge, Isaac Parker. He was able to prosecute more than 10,000 cases, 80 of which were murders, and reappointed by President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1897. He then went to Oklahoma to become Judge of the U.S. Court for the Central District of Indian Territory in 1897. In 1920, Clayton passed away in McAlester, Oklahoma, and was buried in Fort Smith, alongside his wife who passed on in 1934. When Clayton purchased the property in Fort Smith there was an older house sitting on the property, which had been abandoned for sometime and he had the second, newer house built onto the first. The house has been renovated to the period that Clayton bought it, with every minute detail being the same as it first was. The floor joists are mortised, with all the framework being mortise and tenon, with the original iron square nails still in them. Frescoes in the music room have been painstakingly restored, with glass inserts replacing the double front doors and the back door. There weren't any lights, since the house used candles and kerosene to bring light into the magnificent structure and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

  • Darby House
    William Orlando Darby was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas in 1911, and went on to become a famous general in the U.S. army, who led the famous group known as the Darby's Rangers, that eventually became the forerunner of the Army Rangers. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy with a BS, in 1933 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the field artillery. He became the assistant executive and supply officer for the 82nd Field Artillery in Fort Bliss, Texas, and in 1934 was transferred to Cloudcroft, New Mexico, and commanded the 1st Cavalry Division. Gaining intensive artillery training, from 1937 until 1938, at the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, he was promoted to Captain in 1940 and went to serve with the 80th Division in Camp Jackson, South Carolina; then Fort Benning, Georgia, next to Camp Beauregard, Louisiana and finally Fort Des Moines, Iowa. The second World War assisted Darby in rising through the ranks, and he was made a lieutenant colonel, then sent to Northern Ireland with the first troops to go to the European campaign. While there, he soon grew an avid interest in the British Commandos, and this helped his assignment to build and train the army's own Ranger units. Darby's Rangers trained with their British allies in Scotland during 1943, and the 1st Ranger Battalion was called to make the first assault on Arzew, North Africa; and Darby received the Distinguished Service Cross for his deeds in that assault. He went on to other battles and more awards, until April 30, 1945, when he was giving orders for an attack on Trento when an 88 mm shell burst in the middle of the group, killing Darby and a sergeant. Sadly, two days after his death, the German forces surrendered in Italy. He was only 34 years old. His boyhood home is on General Darby Street, which had been East 8th Street, in the older section of residential homes. The ground floor of the house holds much of the memorabilia of his life, with records, letters, his military career and the office of the Darby Foundation. It is somewhat ironic that on the day that Darby was killed, Adolph Hitler was also killed.

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  • Belle Grove Historic DistrictBelle Grove Historic District Ft. Smith, Arkansas
    The Belle Grover Historic District in Fort Smith, Arkansas is made up of a 22 square block area that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, that occurred in 1973, and since that time, there has been numerous homes added to the district that comprise 130 years of different architectural styles that have been meticulously maintained and/or restored. Among these buildings there are many that have been opened for tours and these include; the Clayton House, the Darby House, the Fort Smith Art Center and the McKibben-Bonneville House. The houses have been written about further up this page, and contain some very interesting information about their owners, builders or the famous people that lived in them. The art center is located in the Vaughn-Schaap House in this district and is a wonderful example of the Victorian architectural styles of the majority of the buildings in the city.  

  • Vaughn-Schaap House
    The Fort Smith Art Center is an art museum residing in an 1850s Victorian style home, with art classes, displays and studio art school for residents of all ages. It has become the regional hub of the art appreciation and education of all residents in the city's area. In 1948, the Arkansas Association of University Women, AAUW, started, and they had their first exhibit in 1950, at the KFPW Studios Fine Art Gallery and started a sketch class at the Fort Smith Junior College, which has since become the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith. The next year, they became the Associated Artists of Fort Smith, AAFS, and started showing art and having classes throughout the city. The association was able to buy its first permanent building in 1960, which was the Vaughn-Schaap House. The house was the first in Belle Grove to become listed on the National Register of Historic Places and that was in 1963. In 1964, they received a $3000 donation, and mortgaged the house for another $13,000, so they were able to built more space and buy the property next door. The association was incorporated in 1968 as the Fort Smith Art Center and in 1970 was able to hire their first director, Casimir Rutkowski, a well known artist and instructor. The museum is hosting the Boehm porcelain gallery which contains 134 beautiful pieces of porcelain and the biggest collection of Boehm porcelain in the state. Their permanent collection holds marvelous lithographs by Marc Chagall, Charles Banks Wilson and Joan Miro; and a beautiful collection of wooden toy soldiers that were carved by internationally known wood carver Patrick Jacobs. Ginny Crouch Stanford's oil on canvas "200 Years a Hard Row to Hoe" is located there, as is Noel Rockmore's "Market Israel" and "Wailing Wall III". The art students that come here hold an exhibit each year, and sell their works in the galleries, with over 100 local artists and artisans selling their works in the gift shop, and a perfect place to get a fantastic piece of artwork for a reasonable price.

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  • Fort ChaffeeFort Chaffee Fort Smith, Arkansas
    Fort Chaffee is located next to Fort Smith, Arkansas, about a mile from the Regional Airport towards the southeast. On the eastern side flows the Arkansas River and it is used mostly for training by the National Guard and Army Reserve, with an occasional active duty unit coming from other posts to train. It was originally called Camp Chaffee, started to train more troops for the upcoming entrance into the war. The construction started in 1941, in September, and the first troops arriving here in that infamous month of December, 1941. The name was changed to make it a fort in 1956, so that its permanent location could be noted and recognized. In WWII, besides being a training facility for American troops, it was also used as a POW camp for some 3000 Germans. It has been the site of two different refugees, the first group coming from Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975, and again in 1980, when the Cubans came here with the Muriel Boatlift. Because the Cubans were rioting that year, Bill Clinton wasn't returned to the governor's office. In 2005, after the terrible destruction left in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, American refugees came there to live until they could find something better. Some of these people were sponsored or housed at the fort, and others decided to make this their home, increasing the economy and population only slightly. From 1987 until 1993, it was the home of the U. S. Army's Joint Readiness Training Center, and in 1997, the command was given to the Arkansas National Guard. Over the following years, big parts of the fort's land has been forfeited to the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority with high hopes of stimulating the economy. On January 29, 2008, high winds and a brush fire burned over 100 acres of the fort's land and consumed 150 abandoned buildings. A Soldier's Story, Biloxi Blues and the Tuskegee Airmen were filmed here, and in 1958, Elvis Presley, stopped here to get his famous GI haircut on his way to Fort Hood, Texas.

  • Chaffee Crossing Museum District
    The Chaffee Crossing Museum District has a wonderful history with numerous attractions located there that appeal to folks of all ages and backgrounds. Educators are hoping to have schools, training facilities and other education venues constructed here in hopes that with the tourism that these will attract businesses to come here. The Chaffee Barbershop Museum was started in 2008, to showcase the place where Elvis actually got his GI haircut as well as thousands of others, and where visitors have come from around the world to see this famous shop. News reporters and relations of the barber then came here and told the crowds all that happened on that peculiar day. The shop sits in the middle of the district, and has been put back into the condition that it was in at the time when many thousands came here to get their signature army buzz cut; as well as containing a historical museum with many artifacts and photos of the 70 year history of Fort Chaffee. This memorabilia is leftover from the three groups of refugees and POWs that were here. There is also some items from the movies that were filmed here; Biloxi Blues, Tuskegee Airmen and A Soldier's Story. Another marvelous attraction is the Enchanted Wedding Chapel that was a military chapel as well. Constructed in 1942, the chapel has a 20 foot cathedral ceiling, entry room and pews that would hold up to 250 people. The Enchanted Doll Museum is a private collection of over 5000 dolls that have come here from all over the world. A Fort Chaffee Barracks Museum is planned in the barracks that Elvis slept in while here, and contain displays of the people that passed through the post like the soldiers, POWs, Vietnamese and Cuban Refugees. The Maness School House was built in 1937, and is the sole survivor of 72,000 acres that the DOD acquired to create Camp Chaffee. It was German POWs that added the back porch in 1943, and the entire school was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. There is a wonderful tribute to the Vietnam Veterans in a museum that holds a personnel carrier and helicopter as well as many exciting artifacts inside.

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  • Knoble BreweryKnoble Brewery Fort Smith, Arkansas
    The building was constructed in 1848, by Joseph Knoble, a German immigrant; with three stories made of stone and an underground cellar to store the beer. The outdoor beer garden was a favorite in the 1800s for the local townspeople and it is used today for a very popular steak house, Doe's Eat Place. The brewery built by the Wittenburg, Germany native had native materials and frontier craftsmanship that still stands today as a testament to the ingenuity and abilities of Knoble. It was built on a hillside in the German fashion, so that the ground floor is hidden by earth on the east and south sides. The first floor had windows and front door openings using segmentally arched native stones, while the rest of the house had flat stone lintels. The windows were covered by movable board shutters, and the inside was fashioned in a way to make the entire house more functional. The third floor was accessed by an outside stairway that came up from the second floor beer garden, where the brewing plant was located. Part of this floor was used for malting, where the barley is sprouted and dried before it is converted to mash. Next to that was an area where the mash was mixed with the hops and put into a brewing kettle, where yeast was later added and the fermentation process began. 70 to 80 hours later, it was ready for kegging, and the second floor was where the brew was kegged, and was set up in such a unique way that the beer could be flowed from the third floor right into the kegs on the floor below. The kegs were then taken to the first floor, where the coolness would cease the fermentation. East of the second floor, where the top of the hill sat, was the outside beer garden in the summer months, while the inside first floor became the inside beer garden. Next to the tap room, a long passageway existed, is the beer vault and ice storage, since in the early days of the city, the river was the only place to get ice and then stored in the deep cavities of the hillside and other cellars. The beer vault was constructed such that when it melted, it ran down the flooring and into the sand below, a completely Germanic and old world way of building that is the only existing type of its kind in the city. The brewery was refurbished by the Carl H. Wortz Jr. family and has been taken care of for 20 plus years.   

  • University of Arkansas at Fort Smith Sports
    The university's basketball team, the Lions have been involved in championship playoffs for many years, winning the national championships in 1981 and 2006. But since 2000, the team has won 7 bi-state conference championships, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, and three regional championships in 2001, 2002 and 2006. The team has had 8 seasons of winning over 30 games a season, and been an All-American team for 10 seasons. Starting in 1974, the team has a .791 winning percentage with an overall record of 845 wins against 223 losses. However, the team isn't doing so well this year, with a 2-12 record so far this season. In the Heartland Conference this year, the Lions are bringing up the rear, without any wins at all, and their only wins this year was their first game against the University of the Ozarks, a Division III team, beating them 87-65, and their hopes for the year were off and running. Junior Josh Simmons scored his best game so far with 28 points, and another junior Chris Williams had a double-double to help the team win its first game of the season. Good thing they got to feel the excitement of the win, since it would be a long time before they could again. Losing the next four games to NCAA division I teams, they didn't feel too bad, although when you lose, you never feel good about anything. First UMASS beat them 94-68, then losing to the NCAA division II Southwestern Oklahoma State University 73-66, next was Troy University, where they lost 115-76. Next they played the NCAA Division I team of Georgia Southern, and lost to them 86-77, and another loss to another Division I team, the Valparaiso Eagles, 86-74 in overtime. Playing against in-state team, the University of Arkansas - Monticello, another Division II team, they lost 62-53 and two days later, lost to them 64-55. Another came at the hands of the Dallas Baptist, 93-75, and another to Missouri Southern, 101-62. The new year didn't bring much change as the team lost to the Texas A & M International Dustdevils, 63-40. The next game was really close and looked like the Lions would be on the winning side, but within the last few seconds, they lost it, 85-82 to St. Edward's University. Finally on January 7, 2009, the team got rolling and beat the University of Texas - Permian Basin 46-38 and were on a roll.

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