John Dodson, was one of Fort Smith's oldest citizens when he died of pneumonia on April 12, 1889, in his late 70s.
Starting as a spinner and weaver, Dodson moved up to become the manager of textile mills in the British Isles. During an economic downturn, he traveled to the United States to look for work, first spending time in the East before landing permanently in Fort Smith as a merchant, with stops in Little Rock and Van Buren in between.
A biographical entry in "Goodspeed's Histories of Sebastian County," written before his death, describes him as a native of Belfast, Ireland, and the "Irish leader" of Fort Smith before the Civil War.
Before the long struggle over slavery led in the early 1860s to the outbreak of that military conflict, race and nationality became an issue in a different way as anti-immigration sentiment peaked with the formation of the "Know-Nothing" Party. Dodson found it harder than the war that would follow.
Although the sources are vague as to exactly how Dodson as Irish leader protected his community, Goodspeed does say that he formed some alliance with the German immigrant community in Fort Smith and that hardly any injury occurred to person or property.
Despite having felt the threat of ethnic hatred and not owning a slave himself, Dodson sided with the Confederacy in the Civil War. Probably too old at that point to take up arms, he gave $15,000 in support of the South's war effort. In the chaos of that war, he lost nearly everything he had in terms of money and property but was able to earn it back in the peace that followed and in the booming local economy of the 1880s. Two of his sons and a brother died in the war.
Dodson married three times, fathering a daughter with his last spouse while in his 60s. Two sons survived him.
Dodson Avenue, the street in Fort Smith named for him, was an important street as much for what it marked as for where it led travelers.
Where exactly the southern boundary of Fort Smith was in the 19th century is arguable, but on some maps it lied a few paces south of Dodson. Both an 1894 map and "The Atlas of Sebastian Count" for 1887 show it there. An annexation map in the city's engineering department records its southernmost point at South Z Street.
The articles of incorporation for the city, dated 1842, give no specific city limits but state that they should be surveyed and fixed if they haven't been already.