Arkansas is a state in the southern United States. Arkansas entered the Union on June 15, 1836, as the 25th state. Little Rock is the capital and largest city of Arkansas.
The Mississippi flows and winds its way across Arkansas. The Arkansas River is a major tributary of the Mississippi River. It rises as a small stream in the Rocky Mountains, and by the time it reaches Arkansas it is a great river flowing between broad banks. The water level on the river fluctuates seasonally. Other major rivers of the state are the Red River, which forms part of the boundary with Texas; the Ouachita River and its tributary, the Saline, which drain south-central Arkansas; the White River and its tributaries, the Black and the Little Red, which gather the runoff of northern Arkansas; and the Saint Francis River, in the northeast, which flows almost parallel to the Mississippi before joining it near Helena.
During the prehistoric period, successive waves of human culture spread over Arkansas. Nomadic hunter-gatherers, whose culture is called Paleo-Indians by archaeologists, were present about 10,500 to 12,000 years ago. Divided into small bands, they ranged widely over the area, hunting many now-extinct animals. Next was the Dalton era, which started about 10,500 years ago and lasted about 1,000 years. The Dalton-era Sloan site in northeast Arkansas ranks as one of the oldest prehistoric cemeteries in the United States. The Dalton period saw the introduction of improved stone tools, notably the adze, a woodworking tool. In the Archaic period, 9,500 to 3,000 years ago, woven baskets and highly specialized stone tools abounded. The people of the Woodland era, beginning about 3,000 years ago, practiced horticulture and mound building, and made clay pottery. The mound complex in Toltec State Park on the Arkansas River was erected during this era. These mounds were apparently used for ceremonies. Large burial mounds were a prominent feature of the final prehistoric culture, the Mississippian, which began about 700 ad. The Mississippians used bows and arrows, conducted organized warfare, and erected cities that depended on an agriculture of corn and beans. The first European to witness the Mississippian culture was the ill-fated Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1541. Landing his army in Florida in 1539, de Soto explored the area of the southeastern United States, searching for mineral treasure. After crossing the Mississippi in 1541, the expedition explored Arkansas for gold and silver. Finding none, they turned back, and de Soto died in 1542. Some archaeologists and historians believe he died in Arkansas. His soldiers furtively sank his body in a river in fear that the local people would desecrate it if they found it. He had made enemies all along his route by his attempts to dominate the residents and confiscate food and supplies from them. The expedition left in 1543, and only a pitiful remnant survived to return to their starting point in Mexico. The expedition was also a disaster for the Native Americans because the Spanish brought European diseases to which they had no immunity. A severe population decline soon occurred, almost certainly caused by the spread of these diseases. The central Mississippi Valley was almost empty of people by the time the French arrived in 1673. The Spanish did not return after 1543. France, however, was interested in exploring the Mississippi as a route for trade. In 1673 a French party of seven explorers, led by Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, came down the river from the north. At the southern end of their journey they visited the four villages of a people now called the Quapaw, who lived where the Arkansas River flows into the Mississippi. One of their villages had a name recorded as Arkansea, which the French called Arkansas. That name was given to the river, the region, and later the state. The Quapaw spoke a language of the Siouan group, and most of the languages in that group were spoken near the Great Lakes or the Atlantic coast. Thus historians and archaeologists are divided as to whether the Quapaw were a remnant of the Mississippian culture or had recently come to the area. Tempted by the prospect of a trading empire on the Mississippi, French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, continued where Marquette left off. From Arkansas he followed the Mississippi to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico in 1682. On the basis of this exploration he claimed all the land drained by the Mississippi for France, naming it Louisiane (in English, Louisiana). La Salle granted land in Arkansas to his trusted lieutenant Henri de Tonty, who in 1686 founded a trading station at Poste des Arkansas (Arkansas Post), near the Quapaw villages. This was the first French settlement west of the Mississippi and in the lower Mississippi Valley. Besides the Quapaw, the French encountered other Native American peoples. The most powerful were the Osage, a Siouan-speaking tribe who lived in Missouri but sought to exclude the Quapaw and others from hunting in western Arkansas. Osage dominance limited the growth of the little colony at Arkansas Post. On the Red River lived the Caddo, who were probably descended from the peoples encountered by de Soto. They were weakened by disease and about 1805 were driven out of the state into Texas by Osage aggression. Another small tribe, the Taensa, had been pushed into the present-day state of Louisiana by 1673. In 1717 a Scottish financier named John Law, director of a French bank, evolved an elaborate plan to populate Louisiana with white settlers and exploit the wealth of the Mississippi Valley. He sent white colonists and black slaves to Arkansas Post and planned to establish a duchy there for himself. The project, which came to be known as the Mississippi Bubble, collapsed in 1720 because Law issued thousands of shares of overpriced stock to finance it. Most of the colonists abandoned Arkansas Post and camped on the lower Mississippi above the new city of New Orleans. Later, the colonists at Arkansas Post supplied bear oil, tallow, buffalo meat, skins, and furs to the New Orleans market. Other settlements arose at the mouth of the White River in 1766; at Hopefield, opposite the future site of Memphis, in 1797; and at Helena, also in 1797. But settlement was slow, and by 1800 Arkansas had fewer than 400 settlers. In 1762 France ceded Louisiana to Spain; at the end of the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the part east of the Mississippi was ceded to Great Britain. After the Spanish joined the French and Americans against Great Britain in the American Revolution (1775-1783), a British force attacked Arkansas Post in 1783. The attack was unsuccessful, and the territory remained in Spanish hands at the end of the Revolutionary War. It was returned to France in 1800 by the Treaty of San Ildefonso. Three years later the region, including all the land that is now Arkansas, was bought by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. In 1806 most of the present state became the Arkansas District. Further explorations were made, mainly along the rivers, and new settlements were established. In 1804 President Thomas Jefferson sent William Dunbar and George Hunter to survey the Ouachita River and the Hot Springs area. In 1806 Lieutenant James B. Wilkinson, the son of territorial governor James Wilkinson, explored the Arkansas River from Kansas down to the Mississippi, and in 1818 Henry Rowe Schoolcraft traveled down the White River. In 1812 the Arkansas District became Arkansas County of the Territory of Missouri. In 1819 the separate Arkansas Territory was organized, with its capital at Arkansas Post. In 1821 Little Rock, a new town 128 km (80 mi) up the Arkansas River from Arkansas Post, became the territorial capital. In 1824 and 1825 the Osage and Quapaw concluded treaties surrendering their lands in Arkansas. However, after 1817 the federal government moved parts of the Cherokee and Choctaw nations into western Arkansas from east of the Mississippi. This caused conflict between whites and Native Americans and hindered white settlement. After the Choctaw and Cherokee, in 1825 and 1828 respectively, traded their lands in Arkansas for new lands in the west, settlement proceeded rapidly. As the whites came in, the Quapaw were moved—first to Louisiana and, in the mid-1800s, to a reservation in Oklahoma. The Osage were moved by 1836, first to a reservation in Kansas and later to land they bought from the Cherokee in Oklahoma. The settler population of Arkansas Territory, which had been only 1,062 in 1810 and 14,273 in 1820, jumped to more than 50,000 by 1835 as more settlers streamed in. Spurred by the population boom, Arkansas petitioned for admission to the federal Union and received it on June 15, 1836, becoming the 25th state. From 1836 until the American Civil War started in 1861, settlement continued and slaveholding spread as plantation owners developed the rich cotton lands of southern and eastern Arkansas and the river bottoms of the northwest. The number of slaves rose from 4,576 in 1830 to 47,100 by 1850 and to 111,115, more than 25 percent of the state’s population, by 1860. Arkansas became the sixth-ranking cotton state, with an output in 1860 of 367,393 bales or 83,323 metric tons. Although independent small farmers greatly outnumbered plantation owners, the plantation owners controlled the state politically. Slaves and cotton were concentrated in the southeast, but every county had slaves and grew some cotton, and was therefore affected by the mounting attacks on slavery by representatives of Northern states in the Congress of the United States. The early years of statehood were marked by hard times. Two banks were chartered in 1836, but they failed in the national depression of 1837, leaving the new state with a $3,000,000 debt and no banks. Money was scarce in the 1840s, and merchants became both moneylenders and suppliers of provisions. The cotton boom of the 1850s, however, brought prosperity. Steamboats took the state’s cotton and other farm products to New Orleans and brought back manufactured goods. Mills and factories in Arkansas produced lumber, flour, meal, cotton and woolen thread, and leather. From the state’s mineral-rich land came zinc, lead, iron, coal, manganese, and whetstones. Commerce flourished with ports on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Schools and academies were opened, newspapers and magazines multiplied, and the professions expanded. Beginning in 1849 Fort Smith, on the western border, became a center for outfitting gold prospectors on their way to California. By 1861 Arkansas had both telegraph lines and railroads, marking a new age in communication and transportation. Slavery was one of the most important issues dominating national politics in the first half of the 19th century. Politicians of the Northern states pressed to end it, both because it was considered immoral and because white labor could not compete with unpaid black labor. Politicians of the cotton-growing Southern states, including Arkansas, felt that slavery was necessary to their agricultural system and that the North was trying to dominate the country economically. Many in the plantation owner class were in favor of secession from the federal Union and formation of a separate Southern nation. In 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected president as the candidate of the Republican Party, which opposed the spread of slavery. The Southern state of South Carolina had threatened to secede if the Republicans won the presidency, and in December 1860 it did so. Other Southern states followed. In Arkansas, secession was postponed by strong Unionist feeling in the mountainous northwestern part of the state, where there were few slaves. On May 6, 1861, however, a state convention voted for secession with only one delegate, Isaac Murphy, dissenting. Arkansas was the ninth state to withdraw from the Union. It joined the Confederate States of America, or Confederacy, which had been formed by the seceding states on February 8, 1861. Confederate and Union armies fought for control of the state in more than 60 encounters. The biggest and bloodiest was the Battle of Pea Ridge, in northwestern Arkansas, which took place March 6 through 8, 1862. Here the Confederate army of Major General Earl Van Dorn attacked a smaller Union army under Major General Samuel Curtis and suffered a serious defeat. In July Curtis reached Helena, having devastated the plantation system in eastern Arkansas. Later, at the Battle of Prairie Grove (December 7, 1862), Confederate General Thomas C. Hindman unsuccessfully attacked the Union Army forces in northwestern Arkansas. By the end of 1863 Little Rock, Helena, and Fort Smith were under Union control. The Confederate state capital was moved to Washington in the southwestern part of the state. An antislavery government loyal to the Union, under Isaac Murphy as governor, was established at Little Rock in 1864. Thus, until the Confederacy surrendered in April 1865, Arkansas had two governments. After the surrender, the Murphy government was opposed at home by ex-Confederates and in Congress by the Radical wing of the Republican Party, which refused to readmit Arkansas to the Union until blacks were given the right to vote. In 1866 and 1867 the legislature, controlled by ex-Confederates calling themselves Conservative-Democrats, passed repressive measures against blacks and sent former Confederates to Congress. Because of these actions, which were duplicated elsewhere in the South, the Radical Republicans in Congress substituted harsh measures for the lenient plan that President Andrew Johnson had made for the restoration, or Reconstruction, of the Union. In 1867 Arkansas, along with all other former Confederate states except Tennessee, was placed under federal military rule. An election for a constitutional convention was held in which blacks voted for the first time. The newly organized state Republican Party won the election. Early in 1868 the convention drew up a constitution that extended the vote and full civil rights to blacks, provided for tax-supported public schools for the first time, and called for a state election. In that election, the constitution was ratified and the Republicans were victorious. The new legislature met and ratified the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which guaranteed civil rights for blacks. On June 22, 1868, Arkansas was readmitted to the Union and its Republican delegation was seated. In July, Republican Powell Clayton succeeded Murphy as governor. Many whites opposed the military occupation and what they viewed as Northern rule based on black votes. Opposition groups, including the notorious Ku Klux Klan, were organized secretly to intimidate blacks by violence. Nevertheless, Republicans controlled the state government until 1874. They set up free public schools; founded a university that became the University of Arkansas; established a school for the deaf; protected the rights of black citizens; prosecuted the Ku Klux Klan; encouraged immigration; provided for payment of the state’s debts; and extended state financial aid to the building of railroads and levees. The Conservatives denounced the Republicans for plunging the state into debt and accused them of financial corruption. Furthermore, the Conservatives maintained that the Republicans ruled through fraudulent political practices such as barring white opponents from voting, exploiting black voters, and using multiple voting and dishonest vote counting. The charges of the Conservatives were only partly justified. The debt problem was in large part due to a nationwide depression of 1873 and to the critical need for railroads, levees, and rebuilding of public facilities. The charges of stealing money were never proved. There was some corruption in the state Republican Party, however, and it culminated in what was known as the Brooks-Baxter War. Elisha Baxter, a Republican, won the 1872 election for governor; his opponent, Joseph Brooks, also a Republican, charged fraud. In early 1874 armed forces of the two rivals clashed on Main Street in Little Rock. Other clashes occurred elsewhere around the state, and about 200 people were killed. President Ulysses S. Grant eventually declared that Baxter was the governor. The Republican turmoil permitted the Conservatives, who by then identified themselves with the Democratic Party, to regain control of the state that year and draw up a new constitution. They repudiated the debts incurred by the Republicans for levees and railroads, paid off the pre-Civil War bank debt, retrenched on expenditures for needed state services, halted funding to the public schools and the state university, and used ruthless methods to keep themselves in office. Although the Democrats were under the control of railroad and business interests, they retained the support of white Arkansas farmers by calling for white solidarity. The Democrats acclaimed the future of Arkansas in a “New South” that they pictured as throbbing with economic progress. However, Arkansas remained a cotton-growing state, with its farmers suffering great hardship because of low crop prices, high railroad rates, and exorbitant prices for manufactured goods. The state’s blacks made some progress during Reconstruction. They enjoyed the rights of citizens, founded schools and churches, developed a black professional class, and adjusted to the new agricultural system of sharecropping and tenant farming. Three-fourths of black families in Arkansas, and nearly half of white families, labored under this system. An entire family provided labor on a farm in return for a share of the crop they produced, and the owner of the land provided equipment, animals, seed, and housing. If the profit on the crop was low, the landowner took his share first. The cropper or tenant took what was left or, if none was left, got an advance to keep going until the next harvest. Extensive railroad building in the 30 years before 1900 helped encourage economic growth. Railroad companies and the state government sought farmers from other states and foreign countries to settle on railroad lands. The population of Arkansas grew from less than 500,000 in 1870 to 1,300,000 in 1900. Farming boomed, lumbering became important, and coal and bauxite mining grew profitable. Cotton remained the chief money crop, although rice was introduced in 1894 and became important in the Grand Prairie region, near the town of Stuttgart. Central to agricultural growth after 1890 was large-scale drainage. By 1930 Arkansas had 8,005 km (4,974 mi) of ditches and ranked second only to Florida in area drained. Drainage, however, resulted in high taxes, overproduction, and falling crop prices that hurt all farmers. Agricultural prosperity in the 1880s was followed by a period of drought and falling crop prices. Arkansas farmers began to organize agrarian self-help societies, which acquired political influence, and to rebel against Democratic control. Their political movement was called populism. Populists sought, among other measures, to institute farmers’ cooperatives on a national scale; to lower transportation costs by nationalizing the railroads; and to achieve a more equitable distribution of the costs of government by means of a graduated income tax. In the 1888 elections they united with labor groups and came within 15,000 votes of electing their candidate for governor. Over the next 12 years the state Democratic Party adopted many of the reform planks in the farmers’ platform. As a result, many farmers returned to the party, dividing the agrarian movement. With the votes of the formerly populist white farmers, Jeff Davis of the Democratic Party was elected governor. Adopting the methods and ideas of the agrarian movement, Davis challenged the power of the railroads, trusts, and insurance companies. Although he was denounced as an unprincipled demagogue, Davis achieved political and penal reform, collected unpaid taxes from the railroads, regulated business practices, secured needed labor legislation, and paid off most of the state’s bonded indebtedness. On the negative side, Davis attempted to destroy the already weak black educational system and publicly defended groups that killed blacks as punishment for a presumed crime, without due process of law. This practice was known as lynching. During these years segregation of the races became pervasive and racial tensions rose. By 1900, blacks had effectively lost the vote through state-imposed techniques such as a poll tax, which denied the vote to those too poor to pay it. Arkansas experienced a number of economic advances in the first quarter of the 20th century. In 1901 natural gas was first exploited, in the Fort Smith area. In 1907 and 1908 the Ouachita and Ozark national forests were established and tourists began to take an interest in the hill country. In 1909 lumbering reached an all-time peak. In 1921 oil was discovered near El Dorado. The state’s first large hydroelectric dam, on the Ouachita River, was completed in 1924. In 1927 the flooding waters of the Mississippi River burst the levees and spread over the Delta flatlands. Arkansas barely had time to recover from this blow when it was plunged into the nationwide Great Depression of the 1930s. Arkansas was hard hit by falling farm prices and unemployment, especially because fewer farm workers were needed as crop controls and decreased acreage were instituted under the Agricultural Adjustment Act, a federal program intended to raise crop prices. Hard times during the 1930s in the Delta produced a notable radical agrarian group, the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union, which successfully focused national attention on plantation practices. The price of cotton had fallen soon after the Civil War and stayed depressed until the end of the century. Thus the tenants and sharecroppers found themselves in an endless cycle of debt. Laws were passed limiting the freedom of croppers and tenants and restricting their economic opportunities. For instance, they forfeited any share in crops they abandoned, and their personal property could be seized through chattel mortgages. It was not until World War II (1939-1945) that the tenant farming and sharecropping system began to disappear. Dislocations were widespread during the Depression. Highways to the West were lined with so-called Arkies, packing all their possessions in old cars, headed for California to find work. When World War II came, Arkansans flocked to defense jobs in the country’s industrial cities, causing a further sharp decline in the state’s population. In 1955 the state government established an industrial development program to encourage the building of factories and to increase job opportunities. By the 1960s the program had brought discernible results, so that by 1970 the population was almost as large as in 1940. Since the 1930s, as Arkansas has moved from a rural, agricultural economy to an urban, industrial one, the chief problem has been finding funds to support state services. The state’s fiscal problems in part relate to the low per-capita income of its people and the large numbers needing public assistance. They also relate partly to the state’s unwieldy constitution and subsequent amendments, which greatly limit the state’s taxing power. Legislation that would have modernized state government was rejected by the voters in 1970, 1980, and 1995. The economy of the Ozarks and Ouachitas has been transformed by the rise of mass-production chicken farming, pioneered by Tyson Foods, and the enormous growth of Sam Walton’s Wal-Mart discount chain stores. By the 1990s the growing economy brought more than 100,000 Hispanic people into a region that formerly had a homogenous white Protestant population. The racially divided Delta, by contrast, continued to lose population.
Arkansas - Video
Arkansas - Video
Capital & largest city: Little Rock
State Nickname: The Natural State
State bird: Mockingbird
State flower: Apple blossom
State tree: Pine Tree
State mammal: White-tailed Deer
State butterfly: Diana Fritillary Butterfly
State insect: Honey Bee
State Seal (Coat of arms)
Arkansas became 25th state on
Median Household Income (2015 est.)
Governor: Asa Hutchinson (Republican)
Current Arkansas time
Area of Arkansas