By Jim Taylor
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
This is the first 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 1803 Louisiana
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 no reservations.
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.
handiwork preserved at Toltec Mounds State Park
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.
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
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.
pot at Hampson Museum reflects Nodena culture.
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 built.
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.
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.
evidence 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.
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.
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.
State Park exhibits interpret Plum Bayou culture.
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.
2 - 1803 Louisiana Purchase
Sealed Dismal Fate for Tribes in Arkansas