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1803 Louisiana Purchase Sealed Dismal Fate for Tribes in Arkansas
January 2004

By Jim Taylor, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

Note: This is the second article of a two-part series surveying the history of Native Americans in Arkansas, including the loss of their homelands and expulsion from the state's territory after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.

By adding Arkansas' territory to the United States, the Louisiana Purchase forever removed the fate of the future state's indigenous peoples from the hands of the French and Spanish, who had been unable to appropriate native lands on a large scale, and placed it into the hands of the Americans. In addition, the acquired lands gave the young country's leaders new options for relocating tribes from Eastern states.

Several Arkansas festivals and events feature living history actors.
Several Arkansas festivals and events feature living history actors.

By the mid-1700s, the Kadohadacho and the Quapaw were Arkansas' only native groups of long-term residency. The Osage claimed territory within the state but resided primarily in western Missouri. Treaties would later give Arkansas land to two Eastern tribes, the Cherokee and the Choctaw. (During the late 1700s and early 1800s, members of various Eastern tribes inhabited the state for brief periods but, except for the Cherokee, they never had tribal territorial claims in Arkansas.)

In the three decades that followed the 1803 purchase, Arkansas' new settlers would prove effectively inhospitable to both their native predecessors and the relocated tribes. "As their attitudes toward the indigenous Quapaws and the transplanted tribes made clear," Arkansas historian Charles S. Bolton has observed, "the new Arkansans...were greedy for land, jealous of Indian claims, and lacking in both charity and sentimentality."

Though the circumstances of each tribe's removal from Arkansas by the time of statehood in 1836 would vary, those who inhabited its territory in the years from 1803 to 1835 found themselves not only living on coveted land, but on borrowed time as well.

The Kadohadacho

In the late 1770s, the Kadohadacho vacated their territory north of the Red River in southwestern Arkansas in order to consolidate with allied tribes in northwestern Louisiana. Together, the tribes would subsequently become known as the Caddo.

The Kadohadachos' move appears to have been caused by a combination of European diseases, which had reduced their population perhaps by as much as 90 percent from historic levels, and their resulting vulnerability in conflicts with the more numerous Osage.

Thus, when the Caddo ceded their homelands to the United States in 1835, the only part of present-day Arkansas covered by the treaty was Miller County, which lies south of the Red. (Arkansas' territorial legislature had created in 1820 a larger version of the county than now exists, but its ownership was in dispute with Spain and then the Republic of Texas until 1841.)

The Quapaw

There were an estimated 6,000 Quapaws living in villages near the confluence of the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers shortly before Arkansas Post, the first permanent European settlement in what would become Arkansas, was founded nearby in 1686. They became valued defensive allies of and trading partners with the post's French inhabitants, even as European diseases and warfare were reducing their numbers to about 500 by 1803.

When the United States took control of the settlement in 1804, the Quapaw were so weakened that the Americans found them of little economic or military use. It was their land that drew the Americans' interest.

Map shows key boundaries of Native American Treaties
Map shows key boundaries of Native American Treaties

Under a treaty negotiated in St Louis in 1818, the Quapaw ceded vague claims to land north of the Arkansas as well as a vast, well-established territory between the Red and Arkansas rivers stretching west into Oklahoma. The treaty left them about 8,000 square miles lying between the Arkansas, Ouachita and Saline rivers and bounded by lines running from Arkansas Post to the Ouachita and from Little Rock to the Saline.

The Quapaw were apparently satisfied with the treaty, but after Arkansas Territory was established in 1819 the territorial government soon made clear it was not. In 1820, the territorial legislature protested to Congress that the land set aside for the Quapaw represented about 20 square miles for each native. The Quapaw land, the legislators said, was "the best soil in the Territory." The Arkansas Gazette protested that the treaty would inhibit future pioneer settlement.

In 1821 and again in 1822 territorial officials made the questionable assertion to Congress that the Quapaw had expressed interest in relocating to join another tribe. In 1823, Robert Crittenden, the territorial secretary, informed federal officials that he had the Quapaw "in training for a Treaty."

In 1824, a treaty was negotiated which extinguished Quapaw land claims in Arkansas. In exchange for their 8,000 square miles, the tribe was promised $4,000 in merchandise, six months’ living supplies, and $1,000 a year for 11 years. And, the Quapaw were to relocate onto Caddo territory in Louisiana.

"The land we now live on belonged to our forefathers," said Heckaton, the Quapaws' leader. "The lands you wish us to go to belong to strangers. Have mercy -- send us not there." After residing in the area for well more than two centuries, the Quapaw left Arkansas Post in January 1826.

By 1830, most had returned to Arkansas. The Caddo had been unaware they were coming and assigned them to lands along the Red River, which repeatedly flooded crops on which the Quapaw were dependent.

With no land at stake, the territorial governor urged federal pity for the Quapaw. A treaty ratified in 1834 granted them land in what is now Oklahoma. Some moved there and some returned, temporarily, to the Red River region.

The Osage and Cherokee

Osage hunters in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas had for many decades been coming into armed conflict with the Kadohadacho, the Quapaw and Europeans. As settlers moved into Missouri after the Louisiana Purchase, the Americans sought to limit their territory. In 1808, a treaty was negotiated in St. Louis by which the Osage agreed to give up their lands east of a line extending south from their Missouri homes to the Arkansas River. In Arkansas, the line passed near modern-day Springdale and intersected the river just east of Van Buren.

The treaty brought relative calm to northwestern Arkansas until the coming of the Cherokee. In 1809, President Thomas Jefferson offered the Cherokee a trade: for any land they would surrender in the eastern United States, they would receive an equal amount in Arkansas from the territory the Osage had vacated under the 1808 treaty.

In 1817, that arrangement became a new treaty assigning to the Cherokee lands located between the Arkansas and White rivers west of a line from near Morrilton on the Arkansas to near Batesville on the White. The treaty specified no western boundary, thus guaranteeing the Cherokee an outlet to unsettled territory.

Conflict between the Osage and Cherokee, which had been simmering, intensified after the treaty. A large engagement occurred in 1817 when the Cherokees raided an Osage village in northeastern Oklahoma while its warriors were away. Sixty-nine Osage were killed, 100 were taken prisoner. The Osage-Cherokee conflict led to the December 1817 founding of Fort Smith, a U.S. Army outpost charged with keeping peace between the two tribes.

In 1818, an agreement was reached in St. Louis under which the Osage sold to the Americans the remainder of their lands (west of the 1808 treaty line) in what is now Arkansas. The hostilities continued until 1822, however, in lands farther west and then a part of Arkansas Territory.

By 1820, there were some 3,000 Cherokee living along both sides of the Arkansas River generally between Morrilton and the mouth of the Mulberry River. Disputes over the boundaries of the Cherokee lands continued until the Cherokee Treaty of 1828, which removed the tribe to the west of a line running from the southwest corner of Missouri to Fort Smith. That line eventually became and remains the northern leg of Arkansas' western border.

The Choctaw

During the War of 1812, the Choctaw were American allies against England and provided military support to Andrew Jackson during his Battle of New Orleans victory. In 1820, they agreed to a treaty, after being threatened by U.S. negotiator Jackson, exchanging some 5.3 million acres of their homelands in southwestern Mississippi for some 13 million acres lying between the Arkansas and Red rivers and west of a line from near Morrilton to near the confluence of the Little and Red rivers. Those lands had been among those ceded to the United States under the 1818 Quapaw treaty.

The Choctaw treaty outraged the new Arkansans. More than a fourth of Arkansas Territory's pioneers were then settled in the area given to the tribe. Protesting the federal policy of relocating Eastern tribes into Arkansas, William Woodruff, the Gazette's founder and editor, variously referred to the Choctaws as "poor deluded wretches" and "a fierce and savage enemy." The territorial government lodged complaints with Congress. Meanwhile, the Choctaw repudiated the treaty and few ever relocated onto their new lands.

A lengthy period of negotiations began to establish a new eastern limit of the Choctaws' territory. In 1825, a treaty set that boundary as a line from immediately west of Fort Smith due south to the Red River.

1824 Treaty ceded all Quapaw lands in Arkansas to United States
1824 Treaty ceded all Quapaw lands in Arkansas to United States

However, James Sevier Conway, who would later become Arkansas' first governor, surveyed the line and gave it a slant so that it intersected the Red some four miles west from where it should have. That line is now Arkansas' western boundary from Fort Smith to the Red. (In 1886, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Choctaws to be compensated for lands they lost because of Conway's survey.)

The Trail of Tears

Arkansas' lone remaining chapter in its relations with Native Americans -- and somewhat ironically its most often recalled -- began with the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The act put legal teeth into President Andrew Jackson's policy that members of tribes from Eastern states should be relocated westward, mostly into what is now known as Oklahoma. (In 1834, most of present-day Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska were officially designated Indian Territory, but it would later be reduced to only Oklahoma.)

Having successfully closed their own territory to the resettlement of tribes, Arkansans watched -- and in some cases profited handsomely by supplying goods and transportation -- throughout the 1830s as thousands of uprooted Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Seminoles and Chickasaws crossed Arkansas in a forced migration that became known as "the Trail of Tears."

Traveling by land and steamboat, the Native Americans were en route from their ancestral homelands to alien ground in the Indian Territory. Adding to the natives' sorrow, many died along the way. In 1907, Indian Territory became the state of Oklahoma, marking an end to Arkansas' time as the border of an American frontier.

Under Article VI of the Louisiana Purchase treaty, the United States had agreed to honor existing treaties with Native Americans "until, by mutual consent of the United States and the said tribes or nations, other suitable articles shall have been agreed upon." It was in the arriving at "other suitable articles" that Native American tribes were purged from Arkansas, a state known by a Native American name for its indigenous Quapaw people.

Acknowledgement: Research and writing by members of the Arkansas Archeological Survey and historians Charles S. Bolton, Morris S. Arnold and F. Todd Smith were invaluable sources of information included in the preceding series.


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