Arkansas History in Brief
The Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto was the first European to set foot in Arkansas, arriving in 1541. Evidence left in mounds, bluffs, pottery and stone implements suggests that people had been living here thousands of years prior to De Soto’s visit. The Indians who lived here before the European expansion include the Folsom people, Bluff Dwellers, Mound Builders, Caddo, Quapaws, Osage, Choctaw and Cherokee.
Arkansas became a territory in 1819, and by 1836, a state – the 25th to join the union. The population grew steadily over the next 24 years and, by 1860, had risen to 435,000. Planters who lived in the rich bottomlands of the eastern and southeastern portion of the state and farmers who lived in the central and northern hills constituted the majority of the population, although 25 percent were slaves.
In 300 years, Arkansas has grown from a vast wilderness to a thriving state with a population of 2.8 million. Advancements in farming, lumbering, manufacturing, tourism and government have gained Arkansas a viable place in the international market.
Many place names in our state, including Arkansas, are French pronunciations of Indian words. At the time of the early French exploration, a tribe of Indians, the Quapaws, lived west of the Mississippi River and north of the Arkansas River. The Quapaws, or OO-GAQ-PA, were also known as the downstream people, or UGAKHOPAG. The Algonquian-speaking Indians of the Ohio Valley called them the Arkansas, or “south wind.”
During the early days of statehood, Arkansas’ two U.S. senators were divided on the spelling and pronunciation of our state. One was always introduced as the senator from “ARkanSAW” and the other as the senator from “Ar-KANSAS.” In 1881, the state’s General Assembly passed a resolution declaring that the state’s name should be spelled “Arkansas,” but pronounced “Arkansaw.”
The pronunciation preserves the memory of the Indians who were the original inhabitants of our state, while the spelling clearly dictates the nationality of the French adventurers who first explored this area. Originally part