The first people to live on the land now called Arkansas arrived around 11,650 B.C. Thousands of years later, around A.D. 650, a group of Native Americans called the Plum Bayou built mysterious mounds of dirt that can still be seen today at Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park. Other Native American tribes who lived on the land included the Caddo, Chickasaw, Osage, Quapaw, and Tunica.
The first European to reach the area was Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1541. In 1682 the land was claimed for France as a part of the Louisiana Territory, a huge mass of land including most of the central United States. That territory was purchased by the United States in 1803. Almost thirty years later Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which forced Native Americans leave the area, moving to land west of the Mississippi River. Thousands of Native Americans died on this journey, known the Trail of Tears. A few years later Arkansas became the 25th U.S. state.
In 1861 at the start of the Civil War, Arkansas was a Confederate state. That meant it wanted to break away from the United States and form another country with other nearby states. But the loyalties of Arkansas’ residents were divided: Many fought in favor of the Union. (The Confederacy would lose the war, keeping the Union intact.)
History was made in 1957 when nine African-American students were escorted by Army troops into Little Rock Central High School, which previously only allowed white students to attend. This was an important milestone in the nation’s civil rights movement.
WHY’S IT CALLED THAT?
Arkansas’ name came from the Quapaw Indians, whom the French called the “Arkansaw.”
Arkansas is nicknamed the Natural State because of its beautiful lakes, rivers, mountains, and wildlife.
GEOGRAPHY AND LANDFORMS
Arkansas is bordered by Missouri in the north, Tennessee and Mississippi in the east, Louisiana in the south, and Texas and Oklahoma in the west. Its eastern border is almost completely formed by the Mississippi River. The state can be divided into five regions.
The Ozark Mountain region rises in the northwest, and it’s a forested region with plateaus and deep valleys. This area features Mammoth Spring State Park. Nine million gallons of water flow through the park each hour.
The Arkansas River Valley is south of the Ozarks, and it includes the state’s largest river, the Arkansas. The state’s highest point, Magazine Mountain, is here.
The Ouachita Mountains are in western and central Arkansas, and are known for parallel ridges and valleys. The smallest national park in the United States, Hot Springs, is also in this region. The natural springs here can reach 143℉.
The West Gulf Coastal Plain is in the south and southwest. This is a lowland with pine forests and farms.
The Mississippi Alluvial Plain runs north to south, following the Mississippi River. Mostly fertile lowland, it’s also called the Delta.
Elk, badgers, and eastern spotted skunks are some of Arkansas’ mammals. The state’s birds include red-tailed hawks, ivory-billed woodpeckers, and indigo buntings. Amphibians such as cricket frogs and Ouachita dusky salamanders can be found in Arkansas. Western pygmy rattlesnakes and eastern collared lizards are among the reptiles that skitter through the state.
Common trees include hickory, plum, hawthorn, and pine. The maple-leaf oak tree exists only in Arkansas. Wildflowers are plentiful and include American beautyberry, wild bergamot, and orange coneflower.
Petroleum, natural gas, and coal are among Arkansas’ chief natural resources. But the state also leads the country in bauxite, a material used to make aluminum. Arkansas is the world’s biggest producer of bromine, which is used in pesticides, water purification, medications, and flame retardants.
—Arkansas is also the only U.S. state that actively mines diamonds.
—Rock House Cave in Petit Jean State Park contains well-preserved rock drawings that were created by Native Americans more than 500 years ago.
—Famous Arkansans include President William Jefferson Clinton, General Douglas MacArthur, and former U.S. Surgeon General M. Joycelyn Elders.
—Why is Arkansas pronounced differently from Kansas? Because Kansas (pronounced KAN-zuhs) is the English pronunciation, and Arkansas (pronounced AHR-kuhn-saw) is the French pronunciation (which is closer to the way Native Americans said it.)