Arkansas Facts

The first people of Arkansas were two early tribes that lived in the area around 10,000 B.C. The so-called ‘Bluff Dwellers’ occupied the northwestern portions of the state and lived in caves and under the cliffs of the Ouachita and Boston mountains (the only mountains in the area between the Rockies and the Appalachians) along the Ozark Plateau’s White River. A few thousand years later and more to the south, the ‘Mound Builders’ settled in the Mississippi River area where some Stone Age monuments were found near Little Rock.

These peoples had already disappeared when the first European explorers visited the region that was occupied by the Quapaw to the south, the Caddo to the south and west, the Ozark to the north, and Choctaw and Chicksaw to the northeast.

In 1541 the Spanish, under command of Hernando de Soto, came first to the region we now call Arkansas. His expedition explored the southern and central portions of the region for some time until de Soto died in 1542. In the year 1673 Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette sailed down the Mississippi River all the way south to the Arkansas River.

Then Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle, went down the Mississippi in 1682 and followed it all the way to the river’s mouth. He then claimed all the land of the Mississippi Valley for his King, Louis XIV of France, and called the territory, in honor of the King, Louisiana. Check also my review of free online GED classes.

In 1692 Henri de Tonti founded the Arkansas Post near the Arkansas River and this was the first permanent European settlement in the Arkansas region. The British explorer John Law set up a colony near the Arkansas Post in 1717 as he wanted to develop the Mississippi Valley, but his plan failed a couple of years later when more than 1,200 colonists abandoned the location. France then transferred all territory west of the Mississippi River, including Arkansas, to Spain in 1762, but France was claiming the territory back in 1800 to sell it to the United States a few years later (the Louisiana Purchase).

The 1803 Louisiana Purchase almost doubled the United States’ area with some 828,000 square miles and is a watershed moment in U.S. history. In 1806 the Arkansas District was created and in 1812 it fell under the Missouri Territory which was a Louisiana Territory subdivision but gained territorial status in 1819 when Congress established its boundaries.

In 1821, Little Rock became the capital instead of Arkansas Post, and the territory was used as a corridor during the 1830s when many Indian tribes were forced from their lands and had to abandon their properties to set out on horrific journeys westwards where the U.S. had set up specific Indian Territories. Arkansas, a slave state, became the 25th U.S. state in 1836.

In May 1861, one month after the Civil War had broken out, Arkansas chose to secede from the Union and the state was the site of the worst Civil War battles, the Battle of Pea Ridge, also referred to as the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, which took place in 1862 near Leetown from March 6 to 8. Union forces beat the Confederates at the battle, and by 1864, the Arkansas area was split up in a northern part that was Union-controlled (including the capital Little Rock) and a southern part that was controlled by the Confederates (with their capital in Washington).

After the Civil War, the Union wrote a new constitution, and slavery was abolished. In 1866, however, a new legislature passed laws that denied blacks all rights and privileges again. Consequently, Congress introduced the 1867 Reconstruction Act to overrule the governments of Arkansas and some other southern states. When it had adopted a new constitution giving rights back to the blacks, Arkansas was allowed back into the Union in 1868.

Since 1800, cotton had become a major economic factor in Arkansas and remained important all through the 19th century, and railroad transportation contributed boosted this, and other agricultural activities. The severe 1927 floods of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers, as well as severe droughts throughout the 1930s, had a negative influence on cotton prices, and the industry was devastated.

Following the Great Depression of the ’30s came a period of recovery in the agricultural sector and at the times of World War II, the Arkansas economy could expand due to military manufacturing industries and the production of bauxite.