Arkansas is a state located in the Southern region of the United States. Its name is an Algonquian name of the Quapaw Indians. The state's diverse geography ranges from the mountainous regions of the Ozark and the Ouachita Mountains, which make up the U.S. Interior Highlands, to the densely forested land in the south known as the Arkansas Timberlands, to the eastern lowlands along the Mississippi River and the Arkansas Delta. Known as "the Natural State", the diverse regions of Arkansas offer residents and tourists a variety of opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Arkansas is the 29th most extensive and the 32nd most populous of the 50 United States. The capital and most populous city is Little Rock, located in the central portion of the state, a hub for transportation, business, culture, and government. The northwestern corner of the state, including the Fayetteville–Springdale–Rogers Metropolitan Area and Fort Smith metropolitan area, is also an important population, education, and economic center.
The Territory of Arkansas was admitted to the Union as the 25th state on June 15, 1836. Arkansas withdrew from the United States and joined the Confederate States of America between 1861-1868 during the Civil War. Upon returning to the Union, the state would continue to suffer due to its earlier reliance on slavery and the plantation economy, causing the state to fall behind economically and socially. White rural interests continued to dominate the state's politics until the Civil Rights movement in the mid-20th century. Arkansas began to diversify its economy following World War II and now relies on its service industry as well as aircraft, poultry, steel and tourism in addition to cotton and rice.
The culture of Arkansas is available in museums, theaters, novels, television shows, restaurants and athletic venues across the state. Arkansans share the state's culture with tourists, whether it be viewing architecture, attending a local festival, or eating barbecue and watching a football game. One of the most overt components of Arkansas's culture is the frequent application of a "poor, banjo-picking hillbilly" reputation to the state and her citizens. Arkansans have developed "a mass inferiority complex unique in American history" regarding their state's enduring image.
Early Arkansas through territorial period
Prior to European settlement of North America, Arkansas was inhabited by the Caddo, Osage, and Quapaw people. Explorers to visit the state include Hernando de Soto in 1541, Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet in 1673, and Robert La Salle and Henri de Tonti in 1681. Arkansas Post was the first European settlement upon its establishment by de Tonti in 1686. As Europeans settled the east coast, many other Native American tribes were relocated to Arkansas. Settlers, including fur trappers, moved to Arkansas in the early 18th century. These people used Arkansas Post as a home base and entrepôt. During the colonial period, Arkansas changed hands between France and Spain following the Seven Years' War, although neither showed interest in the remote settlement of Arkansas Post. In April 1783, Arkansas saw its only battle of the American Revolutionary War, a brief siege of the post by British Captain James Colbert, with the assistance of Choctaw and Chickasaw. The early Spanish or French explorers of the state gave it its name, which is probably a phonetic spelling of the Illinois tribe's name for the Quapaw people, who lived downriver from them.Cite error 3; Invalid call; invalid keys, e.g. too many or wrong key specified
Napoleon Bonaparte sold French Louisiana to the United States in 1803, including all of Arkansas, in a transaction known today as the Louisiana Purchase. Following the purchase, the balanced give-and-take relationship between settlers and Native Americans began to change all along the frontier, including in Arkansas. Following a controversy over allowing slavery in the territory, the Territory of Arkansas was organized on July 4, 1819.Cite error 3; Invalid call; invalid keys, e.g. too many or wrong key specified Gradual emancipation in Arkansas was struck down by one vote, the Speaker of the House Henry Clay, allowing Arkansas to organize as a slave territory. Slavery became a wedge issue in Arkansas, forming a geographic divide that would remain for decades. The cotton plantation economy of southeast Arkansas firmly supported slavers as slave labor was the only method of harvesting their crop. The "hill country" of northwest Arkansas was unable to grow cotton and relied on a cash-scarce, subsistence farming economy. Native American removals began in earnest during the territorial period, with final Quapaw removal complete by 1833. The capitol was relocated from Arkansas Post to Little Rock during the territorial period.
Statehood, Civil War and Reconstruction
When Arkansas applied for statehood, the slavery issue was again raised in Washington DC. Congress eventually approved the Arkansas Constitution after a 25 hour session, admitting Arkansas on June 15, 1836 as the 25th state and the 13th slave state. Arkansas immediately struggled with taxation to support its new state government, a problem made worse by a state banking scandal and worse yet by the Panic of 1837. In early antebellum Arkansas, the southeast Arkansas economy grew rapidly on the backs of slaves. On the eve of the Civil War in 1860, enslaved African Americans numbered 111,115 people, just over 25% of the state's population. However, plantation agriculture would ultimately set the state and region behind the nation for decades. The growth of southeast Arkansas also caused a rift to form between the northwest and southeast.
Many politicians were elected to office from the Family, the Southern rights political force in antebellum Arkansas, but the populace generally wanted to avoid a civil war. Arkansas voted to remain in the Union when the gulf states seceded in early 1861. Arkansas would not secede until Abraham Lincoln demanded Arkansas troops be sent to Fort Sumter to quell the rebellion there. The following month a state convention voted to terminate Arkansas's membership in the Union and join the Confederate States of America. Arkansas held a very important position for the Rebels, maintaining control of the Mississippi River and surrounding Southern states. The bloody Battle of Wilson's Creek just across the border in Missouri shocked many Arkansans who thought the war would be a quick and decisive Southern victory. Battles early in the war took place in northwest Arkansas, including the Battle of Cane Hill, Battle of Pea Ridge, and Battle of Prairie Grove. Union General Samuel Curtis swept across the state to Helena in 1862. Little Rock was captured the following year, forcing the Confederate capitol to move to Washington for the remainder of the war. Throughout the state, guerrilla warfare ravaged the countryside and destroyed cities. Passion for the Confederate cause waned after implementation of unpopular programs like a draft, high taxes, and marshal law.
Under the Military Reconstruction Act, Congress declared Arkansas restored to the Union in June 1868. The Republican controlled reconstruction legislature established universal male suffrage (though disenfranchising all former Confederates, who were mostly Democrats), a public education system, and passed general issues to improve the state and help more of the population. The state soon came under almost exclusive control of the Radical Republicans, (those who moved in from the North being derided as "carpetbaggers" based on allegations of corruption), and led by Governor Powell Clayton they presided over a time of great upheaval and racial violence in the state between Republican state militia and the Ku Klux Klan.
In 1874, the Brooks-Baxter War, a political struggle between factions of the Republican Party shook Little Rock and the state governorship. It was settled only when President Ulysses S. Grant ordered Joseph Brooks to disperse his militant supporters.
Following the Brooks-Baxter War, a new state constitution was ratified re-enfranchising former Confederates.
In 1881, the Arkansas state legislature enacted a bill that adopted an official pronunciation of the state's name, to combat a controversy then simmering. (See Law and Government below.)
After Reconstruction, the state began to receive more immigrants and migrants. Chinese, Italian, and Syrian men were recruited for farm labor in the developing Delta region. None of these nationalities stayed long at farm labor; the Chinese especially quickly became small merchants in towns around the Delta. Some early 20th century immigration included people from eastern Europe. Together, these immigrants made the Delta more diverse than the rest of the state. In the same years, some black migrants moved into the area because of opportunities to develop the bottomlands and own their own property. Many Chinese became such successful merchants in small towns that they were able to educate their children at college.
Construction of railroads enabled more farmers to get their products to market. It also brought new development into different parts of the state, including the Ozarks, where some areas were developed as resorts. In a few years at the end of the 19th century, for instance, Eureka Springs in Carroll County grew to 10,000 people, rapidly becoming a tourist destination and the fourth largest city of the state. It featured newly constructed, elegant resort hotels and spas planned around its natural springs, considered to have healthful properties. The town's attractions included horse racing and other entertainment. It appealed to a wide variety of classes, becoming almost as popular as Hot Springs.
In the late 1880s, the worsening agricultural depression catalyzed Populist and third party movements, leading to interracial coalitions. Struggling to stay in power, in the 1890s the Democrats in Arkansas followed other Southern states in passing legislation and constitutional amendments that disfranchised blacks and poor whites. Democrats wanted to prevent their alliance. In 1891 state legislators passed a requirement for a literacy test, knowing that many blacks and whites would be excluded, at a time when more than 25% of the population could neither read nor write. In 1892 they amended the state constitution to include a poll tax and more complex residency requirements, both of which adversely affected poor people and sharecroppers, and forced them from electoral rolls.
By 1900 the Democratic Party expanded use of the white primary in county and state elections, further denying blacks a part in the political process. Only in the primary was there any competition among candidates, as Democrats held all the power. The state was a Democratic one-party state for decades, until after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed.
Between 1905 and 1911, Arkansas began to receive a small migration of German, Slovak, and Irish immigrants. The German and Slovak peoples settled in the eastern part of the state known as the Prairie, and the Irish founded small communities in the southeast part of the state. The Germans were mostly Lutheran and the Slovaks were primarily Catholic. The Irish were mostly Protestant from Ulster.
After the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1954, the Little Rock Nine brought Arkansas to national attention when the Federal government intervened to protect African-American students trying to integrate a high school in the Arkansas capital. Governor Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to aid segregationists in preventing nine African-American students from enrolling at Little Rock's Central High School. After attempting three times to contact Faubus, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent 1000 troops from the active-duty 101st Airborne Division to escort and protect the African-American students as they entered school on September 25, 1957. In defiance of federal court orders to integrate, the governor and city of Little Rock decided to close the high schools for the remainder of the school year. By the fall of 1959, the Little Rock high schools were completely integrated.
Note: Arkansas was acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and was included in Louisiana Territory, established in 1805 and comprising the whole of the Louisiana Purchase north of present- day Louisiana. Arkansas (then spelled Arkansaw) became a territory in 1819 and at first included most of present-day Oklahoma; in 1828 it reached essentially its present boundaries, although the boundary with Texas was incorrectly interpreted at that time. Arkansas was admitted as a State on June 15, 1836. In 1810, census coverage of Louisiana Territory was limited to portions of present-day Arkansas and Missouri, mainly close to the Mississippi River. The 1810 census was reported by districts; the total for 1810 is for Arkansas District, which was entirely within present-day Arkansas. New Madrid District, which included the northern part of present-day Arkansas, was mainly in Missouri. In 1820 census coverage included much of the present State and a small number of people in present-day Oklahoma and Texas. By 1830 census coverage included the whole of Arkansas, and also included (in old Miller County) a portion of today's Texas.. Total for 1810 is population of Arkansas District, Louisiana Territory. Total for 1890 includes 32 Indians in prison, not reported by county.
Births, Marriages, and Deaths
Ancestry.com has a variety of Arkansas marriage databases including:
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available online for free to the public including:
Outstanding guide to Arkansas family history and genealogy (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Birth, marriage, and death records, wills, deeds, county records, archives, Bible records, cemeteries, churches, censuses, directories, immigration lists, naturalizations, maps, history, newspapers, and societies.