Brief history of Arkansas

Prior to discovery of the land we know today as Arkansas, native americans inhabited the area for thousands of years. Some of the Indians who dwelt in Arkansas were the Folsom People, Bluff Dwellers, Mound Builders (whose large mounds are still in evidence throughout the state), Caddos, Quapaws, Osage, Cherokee and Choctaw.

Arkansas’ name was derived from the Quapaw word “acansa.” It means downstream place or south wind. Arkansas is well-known for it’s beautiful, crystal clear lakes and streams, giving it the nickname “The Natural State.”

In 1541, Spanish explorers arrive in Arkansas. Led by Hernando De Soto, the expedition searched for gold without success.

In 1682, France laid a claim in Arkansas. De Tonti, known as “The Father of Arkansas,” began a settlement called Arkansas Post.

In 1762, Spain was given the Louisiana Territory, which included present day Arkansas. They offered free land to settlers who would come and live on the land. Within 35 years, the white population of Arkansas was about 386.

Arkansas was part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase by the United States. Arkansas became a territory in 1819, with Arkansas Post as the capital. In 1821, the capital was changed to Little Rock, which remains the state capital of Arkansas today.

Arkansas was the 25th state admitted in the United States on June 15th, 1836.

The residents of this rich fertile land, were mostly farmers and planters. The primary cash crop was cotton.

Prior to the Civil War, the crops were worked mostly by slave labor. At the end of the war, when slaves were freed, sharecropping or tenant farming became prevalent. Tenant farmers generally would rent 40 acres from a planter and would farm the land with their own tools and mules.

In return, they would give 25% of their crops to the planter, while sharecroppers, having no farm implements of their own, would use the planter’s tools and retain only 50% of the crop for themselves. Often, by the end of the season, the tenant farmers and sharecroppers would have little left, and in fact, often would owe money to the rich planters. This state of affairs caused many conflicts such as the Elaine Massacre.

At the end of the 19th century, there was much diversification. The railroad linked the cities together and new inventions created new jobs, bringing more prosperity to the state. Arkansas became known as the “Land of Opportunity.”

As Arkansas entered the 20th century, farming was still important but new crops were found to grow well in the area. Rice became the newest cash crop and is still widely grown. Industry became wide spread, including paper mills, aluminum plants, clothing and many others.

The state of Arkansas has increased to a population of over 2.5 million.

Arkansas Ethnic Groups

African Americans
Caddo Indians
Cherokee Indians
Chickasaw Indians
Delaware Indians
Romani Gypsy
Koroa Indians
Marshall Islanders (Marshallese)
Osage Indians
Quapaw Indians
Shawnee Indians
Tunican Indians
Search for a name in over 1.1 million gravestone photos from all over the state of Arkansas. Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s modest gravestone is there, along with a biography.
Arkansas State Archives
Search for a name in county, military, land and church records, as well as obituaries, manuscripts and photographs. The records aren’t online, but this catalog is a helpful finding tool.

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Italians in Arkansas

According to the National Italian American Foundation, the 2000 Census reports that just 1.3 percent (36,674 people) of the Arkansas population was of Italian-American descent. Though an ethnic minority, Italians in Arkansas have had a consistent and significant impact on the economic and cultural development of the state. While the Arkansas numbers are not overwhelming, Italian Americans have maintained a presence since the nineteenth century.