Natives Thrived, Declined Before Louisiana Purchase
By Jim Taylor,
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
after the United States claimed possession of the state's territory
through the Louisiana Purchase, Arkansas's most significant vestiges
of more than 11,000 years of Native American presence are geographical
names derived from native languages, some earthen mounds among thousands
of archeological sites, and collections of pottery, tools and other
artifacts. Unlike many other states, in Arkansas there are no traditional
communities of indigenous peoples, no tribal cultural centers and
Behind the paucity
of the state's living native legacy lies a history seldom told.
Within about 30 years after the 1803 purchase, Americans settling
in what would become Arkansas had displaced the area's natives from
their ancestral homelands and had denied permanent residence to
two tribes being forced from states to the east. By the time statehood
was achieved in 1836, no organized native or transplanted tribes
still resided in or routinely visited Arkansas.
Yet, the story
of Native Americans in Arkansas began long, long ago.
From the discovery
of a few artifacts, archeologists have concluded that humans first
came to Arkansas around 9,500 B.C. They first became widespread
around 8,000 B.C. when the Dalton people, as archeologists call
them, were present throughout Arkansas. During what archeologists
have designated the Archaic Era (8,000 B.C.-500 B.C.), hunting and
foraging cultures became "settled-in" in their distinctive
regional environments. One such group was the Tom's Brook people,
who lived in southern and western Arkansas from 5,000 to 4,000 B.C.
Archeological sites related to late Archaic-era cultures are found
across the state.
types of Woodland Era (500 B.C.-A.D. 900) sites have been discovered
in Arkansas. Among them, small villages of two to four acres appear
to have been common. Pottery use became standard during this period
and, near its end, the bow and arrow appeared.
The first large
platform mounds built in the state were part of a political and
religious center constructed and occupied by the Plum Bayou people
(prominent from A.D. 650-1050) at a site southeast of Little Rock
now preserved as Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park. One of
the largest and most complex mound sites of its era in the lower
Mississippi River Valley, the center once included 18 mounds. Three
mounds, including one 49 feet high, and portions of a mile-long
earthen embankment are still prominently visible.
During the Mississippian
Era (A.D. 900-1541), Arkansas's Native American population reached
a peak that has been estimated as low as 75,000 and as high as 350,000.
Evidence suggests that by 1541, tens of thousands of people lived
in compact, often fortified villages along and near the Mississippi
River. An economy based on the cultivation of maize, beans and squash,
still supplemented by hunting and the gathering of wild foodstuffs,
contributed to the growth.
Mississippian groups in Arkansas were the Parkin people, who lived
along the St. Francis River, and the Nodena people, who resided
along the Mississippi in extreme northeast Arkansas. Both groups
built large towns combining platform mounds, plazas and numerous
square houses with thatched roofs. Their arts included elaborately
shaped pottery, shell engraving, weaving, sculpture and woodcarving.
State Park at Parkin preserves a 17-acre village site occupied by
the Parkin people from A.D. 1000 to sometime after 1550. The village
was possibly the capital of a province of some 25 settlements and
may have had a peak population of some 2,000 people. The culture
of the Nodena people was first explored through the excavation of
a village site likely established around A.D. 1350 some five miles
east of the present-day town of Wilson. The Hampson Museum State
Park in Wilson exhibits a large collection of Nodena artifacts.
the Mississippian Era, Plaquemine peoples, probable ancestors of
the Tunica Indians, inhabited the Mississippi Valley south of the
Arkansas River. In southwest Arkansas, ancestors of the Caddo Indians
are believed to have settled by 500 B.C. along and between the Red
and Ouachita rivers. The Caddo culture began to emerge between A.D.
900 and 1000, and by 1200 they were sedentary farmers with a highly
complex culture that included ceremonial centers where mounds were
In 1541, members
of an expedition led by the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto became
the first Europeans known to enter Arkansas. Evidence suggests they
visited the Parkin village in northeast Arkansas and later encountered
the Tula Indians, likely Caddo predecessors, somewhere in what is
now western Arkansas. Journals kept by expedition members tell of
frequent contact with native peoples, an indication that populations
were spread across the state.
More than 130
years would pass before Europeans again visited. Descending the
Mississippi in 1673, the French explorers Marquette and Joliet found
almost no one in northeastern Arkansas, where thousands had previously
lived. The first villages they encountered were those of the Quapaw,
near the mouth of the Arkansas.
It is believed
that European diseases such as smallpox, to which the natives were
particularly vulnerable, had virtually erased the Mississippian
peoples from northeast Arkansas and also had caused a precipitous
population decline in southwest Arkansas. A long-term drought in
the later 1500s may have contributed to the losses.
colonial powers France, Spain and England began solidifying their
presence in and around Arkansas, the Quapaw, the Kadohadacho (a
confederation of tribes that would later unite with two other confederations
and become known collectively as the Caddo) and the Cahinnio were
the future state's only resident native groups. The Osage frequented
the state, but their villages were in Missouri.
indicates the Quapaw and Osage descended from a common Dhegiha Siouan
group that may have migrated from northeast of the Mississippi and
Ohio rivers. By the 1600s, the Dhegiha had formed five tribes. Quapaw
traditions hold that, when the Dhegiha separated, their tribe migrated
south and settled near the mouth of the Arkansas. The Quapaw, whose
name means "the Downstream People," may have numbered
as many as 6,000 when Marquette and Joliet arrived in 1673.
The Osage, also
a Dhegihan-speaking tribe, had settled in western Missouri by the
1700s. From there, they launched hunting excursions into the Ozark
Mountains in Arkansas. Later, some Osage drifted southwest from
Missouri and settled in northeastern Oklahoma.
The tribes of
the Kadohadacho confederation resided along the Red River in southwestern
Arkansas and adjoining areas in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. The
Cahinnio had been encountered by French explorers in 1687 in a village
along the Ouachita River near present-day Arkadelphia. They apparently
vacated the Ouachita basin in the early 1700s and may have merged
with the Kadohadacho, with whom they likely had been allied.
Into this circumstance
of native populations came European claims upon the region. After
its 1521 conquest of the Aztec empire in Mexico, Spain had eventually
extended its presence into Texas. Arkansas, meanwhile, was among
lands in the Mississippi's basin that had been claimed for France
by the explorer LaSalle in 1682.
The next century
brought France's defeat in the Seven Years' War. The French lost
to Spain their territory west of the Mississippi, including Arkansas,
from 1763 until it was ceded back to France in 1800. East of the
Mississippi, the French lands were transferred to English control
until, in the aftermath of the American War of Independence, they
became part of the fledgling United States.
of the Quapaw and Kadohadacho during the colonial period were alike
in many ways. Both became valued as allies by European powers seeking
to maintain territorial control with limited forces. Both engaged
in shrewd diplomacy to advance tribal interests when opportunities
allowed them to play competing European nations against each other.
Both became dependent on manufactured European trade goods at the
expense of ancestral tribal ways. And, both were enemies of the
Osage, who were feared across the region by natives and Europeans
As the 17th
and 18th centuries unfolded, the Quapaw and Kadohadacho continued
to suffer severe population losses from disease, from warfare made
more deadly by the introduction of firearms, from abductions to
supply slaves in colonies to the east, and, as their social fabric
came under increased stress, from alcoholism.
native peoples managed to survive the colonial period in part because
they contributed to the economic, political and military goals of
the French and Spanish. Moreover, their homelands were never appropriated
on a large scale because neither the French nor the Spanish succeeded
in settling large numbers of European colonists in the region.
Then, in 1803
the United States agreed to pay Napoleon's France $15 million for
some 830,000 square miles that would become all of Arkansas and
all or part of 12 other states. As increasing numbers of Americans
began settling in Arkansas in the wake of the Louisiana Purchase,
the natives would soon discover they were living on coveted ground.
1803 Louisiana Purchase Sealed Dismal Fate for Tribes in Arkansas
By adding Arkansas's 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.
By the mid-1700s,
the Kadohadacho and the Quapaw were Arkansas's 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's 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
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
from1803 to 1835 found themselves not only living on coveted land,
but on borrowed time as well.
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.
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's 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.)
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.
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
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
Osage and Cherokee
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.
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's western border.
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.
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.
Sevier Conway, who would later become Arkansas's 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's 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.)
Trail of Tears
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.)
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."
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's
time as the border of an American frontier.
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.
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