Discovering our World

Travel, beauty, fashion, style and lifestyle blog by Ashley Liddle

United States – Arkansas. Part 1 – history and facts

Arkansas, except for Louisiana and Hawaii, it is the smallest state west of the Mississippi River. Its neighbors are Missouri to the north, Tennessee and Mississippi to the east, Louisiana to the south, Texas to the southwest and Oklahoma to the west. The name Arkansas was used by the early French explorers to refer to the Quapaw people – a prominent indigenous group in the area – and to the river along which they settled. The term was likely a corruption of akansea, the word applied to the Quapaw by another local indigenous community, the Illinois.

The earliest inhabitants were indigenous bluff dwellers along the Mississippi River c. 500 CE. Mound-building cultures later left burial mounds along the river. Spanish and French explorers traversed the region in the 16th–17th century; the first permanent European settlement was founded at Arkansas Post in 1686. 

As part of the land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase, Arkansas became a separate territory in 1819 and achieved statehood in 1836. A slave state, Arkansas became the ninth state to secede from the union and join the Confederate States of America.

Statehood and Civil War

By the time Arkansas achieved statehood in 1836, all land titles of the local indigenous peoples – including the Quapaw, Osage, Caddo, Cherokee, and Choctaw – had been withdrawn by the U.S. Congress, and the groups were forced westward into the Indian Territory, the future state of Oklahoma. Violence broke out intermittently along the state’s western border until the late 19th century, when the frontier atmosphere disappeared with the white settlement of the Indian Territory.

Many white settlers brought with them (or purchased) slaves of African descent, which ultimately led Arkansas, like other states of the South, to develop an agricultural economy that was heavily dependent on the institution of slavery. The issue of slavery figured prominently in the decision of 11 Southern states to secede from the union in 1860–61 to form the Confederate States of America; this act ultimately ignited the American Civil War. Arkansas was the ninth state to secede, in May 1861, after the Confederate capture of Fort Sumter and Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s subsequent call for volunteers. Union sentiment was strong in northern Arkansas, however, and some 10,000 Arkansans – both white and Black – joined Federal forces. Although many more Arkansans fought for the Confederacy, Little Rock fell to Union troops in 1863, and for the next decade the state was a political battleground between the supporters of secession and the imposed Republican government of the North.

Arkansas was readmitted to the union in 1868, but the state was still racked with internal strife. As was the case in most of the other former Confederate states, defeat in the Civil War triggered the establishment of a sharecropping system of tenant farming, the emergence of a race problem of new and formidable dimensions, and the spread of poverty. It also led to the development of a virtually one-party political system; Arkansas returned to the fold of the Democratic Party in 1874, and it remained there for more than a century.

Arkansas in the 20th and 21st centuries

In the 20th century Arkansas shifted away from its cotton-focused agricultural base to a diverse economy with significant manufacturing and services components. The change began in the 1930s, by which time a vast gulf had emerged between the sharecroppers and other tenant farmers on one end of the social scale and the managers and landlords on the other. (The owners of small farms or businesses constituted another class.) Through the establishment of the Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union, the sharecroppers were able to improve their conditions considerably, as well as influence the national farm policy of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt and his successors. Over the next several decades, mechanization of agriculture and the shift from cotton farming to the cultivation of rice and soybeans virtually eliminated the sharecropper – though not the rural poor.

Meanwhile, the effects of the Great Depression (1929–c. 1939) in Arkansas were amplified by several years of drought, forcing many farmworkers to turn fully and permanently to other sorts of labour. During the next decade, World War II (1939–45), with its large number of soldiers and defense-related industries, extended changes to the most isolated parts of Arkansas. By the early 21st century, not only had agriculture been eclipsed by the combined total of the state’s diverse service activities as the principal component of the economy, but, like many of its neighbors to the north, the state had become largely urbanized.

The era of the civil rights movement was a tense time in Arkansas’s history. Orval E. Faubus, governor from 1954 to 1967, resisted a federal court order to integrate Black and white students in the public schools.

A landmark political event of the mid-20th century was the election of Winthrop Rockefeller, a Republican, to the governorship; he took office in 1967, breaking a long tradition of Democratic leadership in Arkansas. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries the state produced political figures of national prominence. Arkansas native and long-time governor Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was elected president of the United States for two terms (1993–2001). Although the Democratic Party continued to control most of the local political offices, Republicans increasingly captured statewide offices, and Arkansas began to vote Republican in the presidential elections.

  • Date of Statehood: June 15, 1836
  • Capital: Little Rock
  • Population: 2,915,918 (2010)
  • Size: 53,178 square miles
  • Nickname(s): The Natural State; The Land of Opportunity
  • Motto: Regnat populous (“The people rule”)
  • Tree: Pine
  • Flower: Apple Blossom
  • Bird: Mockingbird

Interesting Facts

  • Established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, Ouachita National Forest reigns as the oldest national forest in the South. The Ouachita Mountains are unusual in that their ridges run east to west as opposed to north to south.
  • Arkansas is home to a wide array of natural resources including petroleum, natural gas, bromine and silica stone. Throughout the 20th century, the state was responsible for providing roughly 90 percent of all domestic Bauxite, from which aluminum is made.
  • Although it was not officially designated a national park until 1921, the territory now known as Hot Springs National Park was originally set aside by Congress as a U.S. government reservation in 1832 – 40 years before Yellowstone National Park was established as the “first” national park. With an average temperature of 143 degrees Fahrenheit, the hot springs have been used for centuries as therapeutic baths.
  • Following the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which outlawed segregation in public education, Little Rock’s Central High School became a battleground in the fight for civil rights when the Arkansas National Guard denied nine African-American students entry in 1957. Weeks later, on September 25th, the students attended their first full day of school under federal troop escort ordered by President Dwight Eisenhower.
  • The Ozark National Forest covers 1.2 million acres and includes more than 500 species of trees and woody plants.
  • Arkansas is the nation’s leading producer of rice and poultry and grows nearly every crop produced in the United States with the exception of citrus fruits.
  • From 1874 to 1967, every Arkansas governor was a member of the Democratic Party.