The history of Arkansas began millennia ago when humans first crossed into North America. Many tribes used Arkansas as their hunting lands but the main tribe was the Quapaw who settled in Arkansas River delta upon moving south from Illinois. Early French explorers gave the territory its name, a corruption of Akansea, which is a phonetic spelling of the Illinois word for the Quapaw. What began as a rough wilderness inhabited by trappers and hunters became incorporated into the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and became Arkansas Territory in 1819. Upon gaining statehood in 1836, Arkansas began to prosper under a plantation economy that was heavily reliant on slave labor.
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“The thing that struck me forcefully was the feeling of great age about the place. Standing on that old parade ground, which is now a cricket field, I could feel the dead generations crowding me. Here was the oldest settlement of freedmen in the Western world, no doubt. Men who had thrown off the bands of slavery by their own courage and ingenuity. The courage and daring of the Maroons strike like a purple beam across the history of Jamaica.”
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“The man who would change the name of Arkansas is the original, iron-jawed, brass-mouthed, copper-bellied corpse-maker from the wilds of the Ozarks! He is the man they call Sudden Death and General Desolation! Sired by a hurricane, damd by an earthquake, half-brother to the cholera, nearly related to the smallpox on his mothers side!”
—Administration in the State of Arka, U.S. public relief program (1935-1943)
“In nature, all is useful, all is beautiful. It is therefore beautiful, because it is alive, moving, reproductive; it is therefore useful, because it is symmetrical and fair. Beauty will not come at the call of a legislature, nor will it repeat in England or America its history in Greece. It will come, as always, unannounced, and spring up between the feet of brave and earnest men.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882)