New Face at the Fort: Lisa Conard Frost
During her 20-year career with the National Park Service, Lisa Conard Frost has helped to tell the stories of Native America, Civil War history, historical conflict and justice. As the new superintendent of the Fort Smith National Historic Site, she can draw on her knowledge to help interpret a history that includes all those elements.
“We tell hard stories,” Frost observed. One of the most difficult histories she helped to present was at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. Frost joined the core team that initiated the memorial’s start-up interpretive operations in 2000. She served as the site’s first coordinator of volunteers.
“The 25 core volunteers were survivors, first responders or rescuers,” she said, from the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. “I hold them in highest regard.”
The bombing, for which Timothy McVeigh was tried and executed, killed 168 people, including 19 children under the age of 6, and injured almost 700 others.
Most recently, Frost was superintendent at Washita Battlefield National Historic Site near Cheyenne, Okla., which commemorates the 1868 attack where the 7th U.S. Cavalry under Lt. Col. George A. Custer destroyed Peace Chief Black Kettle’s Cheyenne village. Black Kettle and more than 100 Cheyenne were captured or killed. The controversial attack is regarded as both a battle and a massacre.
Her new office at the Fort Smith park’s historic federal courthouse came with a portrait of President Ulysses S. Grant over its fireplace, a coincidence reminding Frost of her first park post of seven years at the Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis.
Even closer, personal connections make Frost and her family happy to be in Fort Smith. She is a tribal member of the Cherokee Nation.
“My mom was born in Vian and I was raised in the culture, growing up in northeastern Oklahoma,” she said. Recent genealogical research revealed her Raincrow family line came through Fort Smith before entering their new home in Indian Territory. The family’s land allotments were approximately 20 miles from Fort Smith. The Trail of Tears experience of the Cherokee people from 1831-1845 is detailed at the Fort Smith National Historic Site.
Her husband, Robert, is delighted that a photograph and information in courthouse exhibits depicts his great-grandmother, “Cattle Annie,” a storied female outlaw in her youth. The Frosts’ young daughters, Emma and Brooke, can learn ties to their heritage here.
Frost takes over at the Fort Smith site following the 20-year service of superintendent Bill Black, who took oversight of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri.
In 2000, the National Park Service completed a $7.5 million rehabilitation of the Fort Smith historic site, securing its preservation and use for many years to come. The upgrade allowed the military barracks, courthouse and jail to serve as a museum and visitor center. Exhibits help interpret its military history and the federal court’s importance to Indian policy. The “Hell on the Border” jail became accessible to visitors and Judge Isaac C. Parker’s courtroom was recreated. Historic trials are often re-enacted there and include the testimony of U.S. Marshals charged with apprehending suspects who were to be tried in the court. At its replica gallows, interpretive rangers explain the crimes, trials, victims and execution of the 79 convicted criminals executed here by hanging.
Frost said she was very pleased to join the excellent staff, who share her feeling of responsibility to the significant park that gave the city its name.
“We really believe we’re taking care of this for the public,” she said. “It’s a public trust and an honor.”