On This Day in
The first European to reach Arkansas was the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto at the end of the 16th century. Arkansas is one of several U.S. states formed from the territory purchased from Napoleon Bonaparte in the Louisiana Purchase. The early Spanish or French explorers of the state gave it its name, which is probably a phonetic spelling for the Illinois word for the Quapaw people, who lived downriver from them. Other Native American nations that lived in Arkansas prior to westward movement were the Quapaw, Caddo, and Osage nations. In their forced move westward (under U.S. Indian removal policies), the Five Civilized Tribes inhabited Arkansas during its territorial period.
The Territory of Arkansaw was organized on July 4, 1819, and on June 15, 1836, the State of Arkansas was admitted to the Union as the 25th state and the 13th slave state. Planters settled in the Delta to cultivate cotton, and this was the area of the state where most enslaved African Americans were held. Other areas had more subsistence farmers and mixed farming.
Arkansas played a key role in aiding Texas in its war for independence with Mexico, sending troops and materials to Texas to help fight the war. The proximity of the city of Washington to the Texas border involved the town in the Texas Revolution of 1835-36. Some evidence suggests Sam Houston and his compatriots planned the revolt in a tavern at Washington in 1834. When the fighting began, a stream of volunteers from Arkansas and the southeastern states flowed through the town toward the Texas battle fields.
When the Mexican-American War began in 1846, Washington became a rendezvous for volunteer troops. Governor Thomas S. Drew issued a proclamation calling on the state to furnish one regiment of cavalry and one battalion of infantry to join the United States Army. Ten companies of men assembled here where they were formed into the first Regiment of Arkansas Cavalry.
The state developed a cotton culture in the east in lands of the Mississippi Delta. This was where enslaved labor was used most extensively, as planters brought with them or imported slaves from the Upper South. On the eve of the Civil War in 1860, enslaved African Americans numbered 111,115 people, just over 25% of the state's population.
Arkansas refused to join the Confederate States of America until after United States President Abraham Lincoln called for troops to respond to the attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina, by Confederate forces. The State of Arkansas seceded from the Union on May 6, 1861. While not often cited in historical accounts, the state was the scene of numerous small-scale battles during the American Civil War. Arkansans of note during the Civil War included Confederate Major General Patrick Cleburne. Considered by many to be one of the most brilliant Confederate division commanders of the war, Cleburne was often referred to as "The Stonewall of the West." Also of note was Major General Thomas C. Hindman. A former United States Representative, Hindman commanded Confederate forces at the Battle of Cane Hill and Battle of Prairie Grove.
Under the Military Reconstruction Act, Congress readmitted Arkansas in June 1868. The Reconstruction legislature established universal male suffrage, a public education system, and other general issues to improve the state and help more of the population. Years later, as conservative Democrats began to regain political power, the legislature passed a new constitution in 1874.
In 1874, the Brooks-Baxter War, a political struggle between factions of the Republican Party shook Little Rock and the state governorship. It was settled only when President Ulysses S. Grant ordered Joseph Brooks to disperse his militant supporters.
In 1881, the Arkansas state legislature enacted a bill that adopted an official pronunciation, to combat a controversy then raging around the proper pronunciation of the state's name.
After Reconstruction the state began to receive more immigrants and migrants. Some were originally recruited to work as farm labor in the developing Delta region. Some immigration continued into the early decades of the 20th century. The state witnessed numbers of Chinese, Italian, Syrian and immigrants from eastern Europe who made the Delta more diverse than the rest of the state. In addition, some black migrants moved into the area because of opportunities to develop the bottomlands and own their own property. The Chinese and Italians moved quickly out of positions as farm labor. Many Chinese became such successful merchants in small towns that they were able to educate their children at college.
Construction of railroads enabled more farmers to get their products to market. It also brought new development into different parts of the state, including the Ozarks. In a few years at the end of the 19th century, for instance, Eureka Springs in Carroll County grew to 10,000 people, having become a tourist destination and the fourth largest city of the state. It featured newly constructed, elegant resort hotels and spas planned around its springs. The town's attractions included horse racing and other entertainment. It appealed to a wide variety of classes, becoming almost as popular as Hot Springs.
In the late 1880s, the worsening agricultural depression catalyzed Populist and third party movements, leading to interracial coalitions. Struggling to stay in power, in the 1890s the Democrats in Arkansas followed other Southern states in passing legislation and constitutional amendments that disfranchised blacks and poor whites. Democrats wanted to prevent their alliance. In 1891 state legislators passed a requirement for a literacy test, knowing that many blacks and whites would be excluded, at a time when more than 25% of the population could neither read nor write. In 1892 the state constitution was amended to include a poll tax and related residency requirements, which adversely affected poor people and forced them from electoral rolls. By 1900 the Democratic Party expanded use of the white primary in county and state elections, further denying blacks a part in the political process, as only in the primary was there any competition. The state was one-party for decades.
Between 1905 and 1911, Arkansas began to receive a small migration of German, Slovak, and Irish immigrants. The German and Slovak peoples settled in the eastern part of the state known as the Prairie, and the Irish founded small communities in the southeast part of the state. The Germans were mostly Catholic and the Slovaks were Lutheran. The Irish were mostly Protestant from Ulster, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
After the case of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education in 1954, the Little Rock Nine brought Arkansas to national attention when the Federal government intervened to protect African-American students trying to integrate a high school in the Arkansas capital. Governor Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to aid segregationists in preventing nine African-American students from enrolling at Little Rock's Central High School. After attempting three times to contact Faubus, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent 1000 troops from the active-duty 101st Airborne Division to escort and protect the African-American students as they entered school on September 25, 1957. In defiance of federal court orders to integrate, the governor and city of Little Rock decided to close the high schools for the remainder of the school year. By the fall of 1959, the Little Rock high schools were completely integrated.
Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States, was born in Hope, Arkansas. Before his presidency, Clinton served nearly twelve years as the 40th and 42nd Governor of Arkansas.
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