Arkansas is located in the central part of the United States, to the southwest. It is actually widely considered to be the point where the Midwestern, western, and southern states meet. The southwest part of the state has a Western Plains feeling and is known for its oil fields and cattle. The northwestern part of the state is similar to the Corn Belt region and is known for its orchards and dairy farms. The eastern part of the state, which is near the Mississippi River, is home to cotton plantations similar to those found in the South.

Arkansas has several natural resources, including forests full of hardwoods and pines, as well as natural gas, oil, and water. It is also a state that is rich in mineral deposits.

On June 15, 1836 Arkansas became the 25th state to enter the Union. Arkansas was mainly known for its agriculture until the 1950s. Farming was a major industry in the region, but farmers couldn’t make enough money to live on. So, many of them left the area. The state then became industrialized, thanks to advances in technology, including power production and transportation. Manufacturing soon passed farming as the main income source for the state. In more recent years, the tourism industry in the state has also increased.

Arkansas is known as the Natural State because of it’s beautiful natural resources and surroundings. The state’s name is derived from the word “Arkansa” which was the name the French gave to the Quapaw tribe of Native Americans who lived in Arkansas. The “s” was added to pluralize the name, but the state’s legislature pronounced the name as if the “s” was not present. The largest city in Arkansas is Little Rock, which is also the capital of the state.

Arkansas is located just north of Louisiana. The Mississippi River borders it to the east. The development of Arkansas took around 300 years. It all began in 1541, when Hernando de Soto came to Arkansas via the Mississippi River. His expedition stayed in the area for several months. French explorers also came to the area, long before the frontiersmen of the United States came to the area across the Blue Ridge Mountain range.

During the 1600s, explorers from France came to Arkansas. In 1673 two canoes full of French explorers came down the Mississippi River from Canada. Their leader was a Catholic priest named Jacques Marquette. Another member of the group was a fur trader by the name of Louis Joliet. Almost 10 years after that the land was claimed for France by LaSalle’s expedition. Then Arkansas Post was founded by Henri de Tonti in 1686. That was the first settlement in the area. It was both a way-station for travelers along the Mississippi and a trading post. For a few years it was also home to a Jesuit mission. In 1699 several French settlements were established to the south of Arkansas Post. Two of them were Orleans and Natchez.

In 1762, before the French were beaten by the British in the French and Indian War (Seven Years War) Spain was given the land to the Mississippi River’s west and New Orleans by France. In 1766 the Spanish government began the takeover of the area, but it took several years for them to really establish themselves. A lieutenant governor from St. Louis supervised the area now known as Arkansas at that time. The district’s administrative center stayed at Arkansas Post. At the time, the District of Arkansas encompassed all of what is now Oklahoma and all of what is now Arkansas.

Settlers who came to the United States from England were mainly concerned with gaining their freedom from Great Britain. However, once they gained independence they began moving westward, to the Blue Ridge Mountain area. The land had belonged to the Native Americans, but was soon distributed to war veterans through land grants.

Around 1792 the number of land grants given out to Americans increased. Many of those Americans were from Tennessee and Kentucky. Settlers from those areas came and settled along the southern and eastern rivers in Arkansas. Some of those early settlers took up residence where Helena is today, and others settled along the St. Francis River.

After 1803, when the Louisiana Purchase was made, what is now Arkansas was part of the Louisiana Territory and fell under the jurisdiction of the United States. However, when Louisiana became a state, in 1812, Arkansas went from being part of that territory to being part of Missouri Territory.

When Arkansas’ northern quarter was part of Louisiana Territory, it was known as New Madrid District. The District of Arkansas, which ran to the south until it got to the Arkansas River looked similar to Virginia’s mirror image. After the creation of Missouri Territory those districts turned into counties. Native Americans controlled the other half of Arkansas, which was to the Arkansas River’s south.

Both the Quapaw and Osage tribes existed in Arkansas from an early date. The Choctaw and Cherokee tribes moved to the area later, after they were forced out of their eastern homelands by the federal government. Other tribes also moved into the area, such as the Caddo, Delaware, and Shawnee. The land to the Arkansas River’s south for 100 miles and to the west for an indefinite distance was claimed by the Quapaw tribe. An area to the north of the river was claimed by the Osage tribe. Land was ceded by that tribe in the District of Arkansas in 1808. New treaties in 1816, 1818, and 1825 led to them losing their land in Arkansas and moving to what is now Oklahoma.

During the War of 1812 there were 2 million acres of land that were offered as bounty land for those who had served in the military. That and was between the St. Francis River and the Arkansas River. 160 acres was granted to each approved veteran using a lottery system.

The Missouri Territory Cherokee agent in 1818 was Major William Lovely. At that time, he went to a conference with the Cherokee and Osage tribes. That led to the Osage ceding what is now the northwestern part of Arkansas, which was part of Missouri Territory, to the federal government, along with the northeastern part of what is now Oklahoma.

In 1819 Missouri Territory was divided, creating Arkansas Territory. At that time, Arkansas Territory was home to about 14,000 non-Native Americans. Most of Oklahoma, except for its panhandle, was also part of Arkansas Territory at the time. The capital of the territory was Arkansas Post. Crawford County was formed out of former Cherokee lands. In 1821, the capital of Arkansas became Little Rock, instead of Arkansas Post. More settlers came to the area between 1819 and 1836, as more land was ceded by the Native Americans. That eventually led to Arkansas becoming a state.

In 1836 Arkansas became the 25th state in the country. In 1837 many people moved to the Arkansas area from the south and the east. When the Mexican War took place many Arkansas men who fought in it received bounty lands before 1855. When the California Gold Rush took place, several residents of Arkansas left, many from Fort Smith, to seek their fortunes in California.

Residents of Arkansas served on both sides of the Civil War, but most of them were on the side of the Confederacy. Arkansas ceded from the Union in May of 1861. At that time, it was split into western and eastern districts by the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America. The governmental seats were located at Van Buren and Little Rock. Near the end of 1862 federal forces took over Van Buren. The following year, on September 10, they also took over Little Rock. That caused to governmental seat to be transferred to Hampstead County and set up in Washington. Most of the state was controlled by the Union, as of late 1863.

In 1862, the Battle of Pea Ridge was fought in Benton County, Arkansas. Other battles were fought at Little Rock, Prairie Grove, Fort Smith, and Pine Bluff. Arkansas troops won the Pine Bluff battle.

Some families moved out of Arkansas during the war and several other tried to avoid trouble by sending their sons to Texas. Many families moved to either Illinois or Missouri in order to get out of harm’s way. When the war ended, efforts were made to repopulate the state by attracting immigrants from Europe to it. Some came and settled near the White River and the Arkansas River. Near the end of the 1800s railroads came to the area, which caused more immigrants to settle there. That trend continued into the 1900s, with most settlers becoming farmers. The cotton industry was especially prevalent until World War II began. Approximately one-fifth of the population of Arkansas is made up of African Americans, many of whom can trace their Arkansas roots back to when it was a territory.

Arkansas Ethnic Group Research

Arkansas African American
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There is a large collection of Native American records for Arkansas on file at the Arkansas History Commission. Those records include: Agency Records, Correspondence, Census of Creek Indians, 1832, Census of Cherokees East of the Mississippi, 1835 and Index, Cherokee Census, 1890, Old Settler Cherokee Census Roll, 1895, Index to Payment Roll, Old Settler Cherokees, 1896, Compilation of Choctaw Nation Records, 1896, Choctaw Nation Census Index for 1896, Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Tribes, and the Creek and Seminole tribes in Indian Territory, 1906, Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes (in Oklahoma), 1896-1914, U.S. Census Indian Territory, 1900

The Arkansas History Commission has also placed some of that information on its website.

Prior tot he Louisiana Purchase there were a few African American slaves in Arkansas. However, most came to the area with families from Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi after Arkansas became a state. They mainly worked on plantations in the southeastern part of Arkansas, known as the “Delta Region.” The Arkansas History Commission holds copies of slave enumerations that were part of federal census records. The National Archives also has Freedman’s Bureau records on file.

A “Selected Arkansas Black Bibliography” is available online, along with other information, through the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. A list of African American newspapers from 1869 to present is also available, along with a list of Arkansas African American schools. The website of the Arkansas History Commission also lists African American newspapers.

Other information on African Americans in Arkansas can be found online. That information includes the marriage records from the Arkansas Freedman’s Bureau.

The state of Arkansas also has an Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society chapter. The Arkansas Department of Education and the Arkansas Black History Advisory Committee to supply the Arkansas History Commission with records relating to African Americans in Arkansas. They also create historical educational material for use in schools across the state. The committee collects materials that may include: Letters, Diaries, Journals, Business Records, Photographs, Church and Lodge Records, Personal Memoirs

Arkansas History Databases and other Helpful Links

The websites below will provide state-specific details to those in search of information for Arkansas genealogy work.

State Genealogy Guides

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