Arkansas Post National Memorial commemorates nearly three-hundred years of European occupation in the Arkansas and lower Mississippi valleys. The trading house, fort, and civilian hamletknown collectively as Arkansas Posthas been a strategic military and commercial center as well as the focal point of numerous encounters between Indians and Europeans.
Occupied by France, Spain, the United States, and the Confederacy during the Civil War, Arkansas Post has figured prominently in the politics of four nations and contributed significantly to the history of North America. As the first European settlement in the lower Mississippi valley, Arkansas Post helped establish the claim of France to the most important waterway on the continent. Under French ownership, Arkansas Post served as a center of Indian policy; as a port for Mississippi River convoys; and as a point of embarkation to trade and hunt on the upper Arkansas River. Adventuresome French explorers eventually reached Santa Fe and established the Arkansas River as one transportation link to the Spanish southwest. Under the jurisdiction of Spain, Arkansas Post bolstered the Spanish barrier and helped prevent English penetration to Spanish colonies in the southwest. During the American Revolution, Spain aided the patriots and Arkansas Post served as an intelligence center and stopping point for American supply boats. Controlled by the United States, Arkansas Post became a bustling frontier town; a center of cotton production; a thriving river port; and the first capital for the Territory of Arkansas. Arkansas Post enjoyed a new prosperity interrupted only by the Civil War. For the first few months of the conflict, a Confederate earthwork at Arkansas Post guarded the approach to the upriver capital of Little Rock. In January, 1863, Arkansas Post fell to Federal troops following a three-day engagement.
The story of Arkansas Post is the story of the river that flowed past it. Over 1,450 miles long, the Arkansas River was a major transportation artery. Originating deep within the heart of Spanish territory, the Arkansas pulsed through the dominions of numerous native American cultures, and eventually emptied into the great Mississippi River. Located at the confluence of both rivers, Arkansas Post served as a point of entry for trappers and traders bound for the upper Arkansas. On the return journey, this riparian highway carried the rich harvest of pelts to New Orleans and markets abroad. Following the purchase of Louisiana by the United States, the Arkansas River became one avenue of westward expansion. Immigrants in search of cheap land populated the Arkansas floodplain, and the river that once served the Indian trade helped feed the cotton hungry textile mills of the east. Ironically, the river that attracted Europeans to its banks often destroyed their crops, homes, and forts. Almost annually the temperamental Arkansas became a raging torrent, spilled over its banks and consumed the land for miles around. No location within thirty miles of the mouth of the river remained dry. To escape the omnipresent threat of inundation, the flood weary inhabitants of Arkansas Post changed location several times. No less than seven different posts have existed in the lower Arkansas valley.
Numerous difficulties were encountered in this undertaking. Chief among these were deficiencies in the historical record. Documents provided only a brief and incomplete glimpse into the remote history of Arkansas Post. Key events were often poorly detailed. At other times, the historical record identified its participants by a single name as is evident in many of the characterizations herein. Names nearly always reflected a variety of misspellings making it necessary to hypothesize continuity between people and places. Lastly, the various locations and movements of Arkansas Post have troubled researchers for years. Fortunately for the present study, recent historical and archeological analyses have resolved this issue.
Three colleagues in the National Park Service have contributed significantly to The Arkansas Post Story. For tirelessly critiquing earlier manuscripts, the writer gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Edwin C. Bearss, Chief Historian, Washington D.C.; of Melody Webb, Chief Historian, Southwest Regional Office, Santa Fe; and of Gregorio S.A. Carrera, Historian at Arkansas Post National Memorial, Gillette, Arkansas. A special thanks is extended To Eastern National Parks and Monument Association for funding this project.
Last Updated: 13-Feb-2006