The Arkansas Post Story
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Chapter 9:

In 1766, Spanish Governor Don Antonio de Ulloa took possession of Louisiana in the name of King Carlos III. Problems confronting the new government were grave. The allegiance of Indian tribes, distrustful of Spaniards, had to be cultivated. To make matters worse, aggressive British traders, now ensconced on the east bank of the Mississippi, vied for the loyalties of Indians living under Spanish jurisdiction. To accomplish her objectives, Spain adopted the French system of administration: control through the distribution of presents and the fur trade. As vehicles of this policy, French traders already residing among the Indians were retained. To insure loyalty to Spain, all major officials were replaced. The population remained predominantly French.

News of the transfer soon reached Arkansas Post. French and Quapaw alike were greatly concerned about the Spanish takeover. In the spring of 1764, Commandant Pierre Marie Cabaret de Trepi proceeded to New Orleans with the Quapaw chiefs who pleaded with the governor, asking him not to deliver them to the Spaniards. Their request was of no avail. In 1768, Alexander De Clouet, a French officer under service to the Spanish ruler assumed command of Arkansas Post. As his first official act, De Clouet conducted a census that revealed 138 people at the post, including 85 white civilians; 35 black, mulatto, and Indian slaves; and 18 military personnel. All were required to swear allegiance to Spain.

So insurmountable were the problems De Clouet encountered, that he soon wrote in exasperation: "I sweat blood and water." [1] Fearful of the Spanish takeover, deserters from Arkansas Post joined an outlaw band far up the Arkansas River. The outlaws were ruled by "Brindamur, a French Canadian, who by his gigantic strength, made himself a petty king over the rest." [2] A traveler in the new Spanish province described the Arkansas River as:

the asylum of the most wicked persons without a doubt in all the Endes [sic]. They [the outlaws] pass their scandalous lives in public concubinage with captive Indian women who, for this purpose, they purchase among the heathen, loaning those of whom they tire to others of less power, . . . [for] quieting their lascivious passion; in short they have no other rule than their own caprice and . . . [conduct] themselves like brutes. [3]

These renegade Frenchmen pledged allegiance to no government and openly defied the new administration by conducting contraband trade with the Indians and entering into intrigues with tribes unfriendly to Spain. The outlaws befriended the Osage Indians, long-time rivals of France and Spain. In 1770, they persuaded the Osage to raid the Caddo Indians, Spanish allies on Red River. As a result of this foray, numerous Caddo women were brought to the outlaw camp and enslaved. [4]

Under normal circumstances, the Spanish government would never accept such a blatant disregard of authority. Unofficially, however, the Spanish tolerated Brindamur and his cutthroats. More serious problems threatened Louisiana and the safety of Arkansas Post.

Seven years of neglect under a lame-duck French administration left the post in a ruinous condition. Almost useless for defense, the fort offered little protection from marauding bands of Osage Indians who, encouraged by French inactivity, increased their depredations against Arkansas trappers.

Osage warrior
Figure 17. An Osage warrior. From Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs and Condition of the North American Indians by George Catlin.

The Osage Indians were a numerous tribe comprising nearly one-thousand men. The tribe occupied the Missouri Country, and frequently ventured into the Arkansas region to hunt. [5] To the Spanish, the Osage were particularly aggressive. An official document described the tribe as "daring and insolent, . . . one of the most evil-intentioned of all the nations." Spanish inability to control the Osage may have been the result of the "war-mourning" ceremony. The Osage believed that a deceased warrior required company for his afterlife journey. Such company was provided by the subsequent murder of the first person intercepted by a war party. The scalp of the victim was then buried with the deceased, thus providing the required companionship. [6]

In 1771, Osage aggressions were particularly numerous. In January, Antoine Lepine limped back to the post "in very bad shape," having been robbed by the Osage. Others were less fortunate. Only 180 miles above Arkansas Post, Osage Indians murdered the trapper Doget, his wife, and children. So frequent were their depredations that the commandant expected the Osage to attack Arkansas Post at any moment. The inhabitants feared for their lives throughout the course of the year. The stockade of the fort was practically useless, "having more entrances than those who defend it have fingers." Only 293 of the pickets were fastened down by nails. The cannon, lacking carriages, were useless. Moreover, swollen rivers prevented the Spanish from retreating. In spite of these problems, Commandant DeLeyba stated defiantly that he would engage in "open combat." "There remains for us no other recourse than to die killing." Fortunately for the garrison, the Osage attack never materialized. [7]

Osage war party
Figure 18. An Osage war party. Osage Indians robbed and murdered many trappers on the Arkansas River. From Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs and Condition of the North American Indians by George Catlin.

The Spanish reacted to Osage aggressions by persuading the Quapaw to wage war on their western relatives. Spain agreed to compensate Quapaw warriors for any scalps delivered to the post. In April, 1772, Quapaw warriors brought back five scalps and one woman and child as prisoners. In a short time the main gate of the fort was burdened by the grim trophies of war, as it had become the custom to hang scalps there. By March 1777, the Osage, weary of Quapaw harassment, petitioned for peace. Peace, however, eluded Arkansas Post. [8]

Competition with aggressive British traders increased markedly following the Seven-Years War. The Chickasaw, motivated by British propaganda, continually harassed hunters from the Spanish post. On January 13, 1769, a Chickasaw war party robbed Francis, a resident hunter. Two Englishmen and a Canadian named Charpentier commanded the party. In 1770, the post commandant reported that seven Chickasaw war parties passed through the Arkansas country. Many French hunters were robbed, losing their arms and ammunition to the invaders.

Now with control over the east bank of the Mississippi, British merchants established posts and traded with Indians living under Spanish jurisdiction west of the river. Unfettered by strict trade policies, the British could offer cheaper trade goods and liberal quantities of alcohol. Spanish Indians frequented British posts and were plied with gifts and ardent spirits. At other times, unscrupulous merchants boldly trespassed, carrying their wares and propaganda to the Indian allies of Spain.

In 1769, an Englishwoman, known only as "Magdelon," established a trading post on the east bank of the Mississippi opposite the mouth of the Arkansas River. Mindful of the presence of this aggressive woman, the commandant of Arkansas Post sadly commented: "I see no longer a day of tranquility." Later in the year, Magdelon's barge, referred to by the commandant as a "Floating canteen," entered the Arkansas River. Pretending to be out of provisions, Magdelon and 10 British traders visited the Quapaw villages where they distributed liquor and anti-Spanish propaganda. According to the commandant:

this English woman wishes to persuade the Arkansas [Quapaw] that she will expulse us from this fort, that the savages are going to depend on the English and that [from her trading post] she would have only one step to make. I would laugh at such talk. [9]

Unfortunately for the Spanish, Magdelon's work among the Quapaw met with some success. In a short time, the commandant bitterly complained that the British "have won ground in the hearts of these wretches [Quapaw Indians]." The rift soon widened to dangerous proportions. [10]

In 1770, Joseph Orieta replaced Francois de Mazellieres as commandant at Arkansas Post. Orieta was the first officer of Spanish nationality to command the garrison. The supplanted De Mazellieres resented Orieta and complained to the governor, writing that "the inhabitants and savages, who dislike him [Orieta], speak only of abandoning the post." The Quapaw preferred a French commandant and never accepted Orieta. Relations between these Indians and Spain worsened. The great chief Angaska actually accepted a British medal of friendship. The sub-chief Caiguaioataniga followed suit and allowed 5,000 deerskins to pass into British hands in exchange for a cask of whiskey. Orieta was replaced within a year by Fernando de Leyba, another Spaniard. [11]

Fernando de Leyba arrived at Arkansas Post in 1772 with his wife, Maria Concepcion Cesar. The post had a population of 78 persons: 32 white males, 30 females and 16 slaves. De Leyba stood no more chance with the Quapaw than had Orieta. Soon after he assumed command, Chief Angaska complained to the governor. Angaska thought that De Leyba disliked the Quapaw, and he wanted him replaced. Matters soon worsened.

On June 13, 1772, De Leyba arrested Nicolas Labauxiere, the post interpreter. The commandant learned that Labauxiere operated among the Quapaw as a British agent. The interpreter had great influence among the Quapaw, however, and was even regarded as a member of the tribe. Apparently, De Leyba understood the delicacy of the situation since he attempted to capture Labauxiere secretly. Unfortunately for De Leyba, the attempt at secrecy was unsuccessful. On the way to the post the prisoner met a Quapaw. Labauxiere spoke to him in passing: "tell my father your chief, in what trouble you see me." The Quapaw Indians responded that very night by surrounding the fort. A chief and five warriors entered the grounds demanding the release of Labauxiere. Should their demand be denied, the Indians threatened to "cut every throat on the post." Unwilling to free the renegade interpreter, De Leyba ended the stand-off by the timely distribution of presents. Even after the Quapaw departed, one malcontent returned demanding "a barrel of whiskey or my head" wrote De Leyba.

The Quapaw did not soon forget Labauxiere's plight. Several days later, some Quapaw visited De Leyba and presented him with a dead horse, demanding whiskey in exchange for it. This was the ultimate Quapaw insult! The warriors threatened to kill everyone in the post if their demands were not honored. The commandant's poor wife fainted and the rest of the women, fearful of their safety, were crying. Apparently, the commandant gave the Indians liquor since Spanish blood was not shed. At the first opportunity, De Leyba sent the prisoner "down the river" for trial. The name of Nicolas Labauxiere disappeared from official records and relations with the Quapaw normalized, somewhat. [12]

The Quapaw continued friendly relations with the British. On November 26, 1773, De Leyba reported that the Quapaw chief, Gran Megre, had adopted an Englishman as his son. The latter built a cabin next to his adopted father's and sold goods to the Indians. In 1774, three Englishmen who married Quapaw women were living among the Indians. They spread propaganda among the tribe, telling them that the dilapidated condition of the fort was proof that the British would soon seize the province and expel the Spanish. The post commandant grasped the opportunity to impress the Indians. He hastily repaired the stockade and called a council with the Quapaw chiefs. Extolling the virtues of the Spaniards, the commandant asked that the British be expelled from the Quapaw villages. To end the council and impress upon the Indians the strength and commitment of Spain, the commandant ordered a discharge of three cannon. According to De Leyba:

The Indians were marveled when, from the resulting commotion some glasses and some hats that were hanging up from nails in the wall fell down and the room started trembling . . . And when the Indians saw the effect of the cannon discharges and the repairment of the stockade . . . they said that the Englishmen had been lying to them. Then we had a toast at your Lordship's sake, meanwhile we had another discharge; and the Indians departed happy and rejoiced. [13]

The Englishmen were promptly banished from the Quapaw villages. British competition for the Arkansas fur trade, however, only increased.

In 1775, the Arkansas Post commandant reported that five British traders established a settlement of 18 cabins called Concordia on the east bank of the Mississippi opposite the Quapaw villages. From this base of operations, traders and hunters poured into the Arkansas country, frightening game away and appropriating a significant portion of the Spanish trade in peltries. According to the post commandant, trespassing hunters obtained 12,000 deerskins and 6,000 pounds of beaver furs on the White and St. Francis rivers during February and March, 1766. [14]

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Last Updated: 13-Feb-2006