Native born and proud to be an Arkansan.
In 1836, the Federal Government cut a swath of land from the Louisiana Purchase and named it after an Indian tribe that at one time roamed the green hills and mountains of the beautiful, fertile land.
Our state was named for the Quapaw Indian tribe, which inhabited the northern part of the state—from the Mississippi River to the east and the Arkansas on the south. During the early time of French exploration in the mid 1600’s, this tribe came in contact with the Algonquin tribes from the Ohio Valley. In the language of the Algonquin, the word meaning “South Wind” was used to name the Arkansas tribe. In that language, the term for south wind sounded much like our state’s name.
Over the next three hundred plus years, Arkansas took on several names, mostly influenced by French explorers trying to mimic the Indian language they were unfamiliar with. In 1673, Marquette and La Salle recorded the name AKANSEA in their travel journals. La Salle came on the scene a decade or so later and put his French twist on the word and called the area ACANSA. La Harpe almost got it right when he named the river in the central part of the state Arkansas and the Indians who spawned the word Les Akansas. Not until Zebulon Pike arrived in 1811 did we earn our R that let us become Arkansas. Unfortunately, Pike preferred the W at the end, instead of our beloved second S.
The controversy remained until 1881. At that time the Arkansas General Assembly passed the resolution solving the question once and for all. They mandated our state would be spelled with its second S —ARKANSAS, but it would be pronounced with the W. The people approved. We didn’t want to be AR-Kansas, after all. Their action honored the original inhabitants of this land we now call home and also the earliest explorers who were among the first Europeans to visit this place.
Unfortunately, by the time of statehood in 1836, few Quapaw remained in Arkansas. The lands where they hunted and raised their families were rich and ideally suited to plantation development. The tribe was an obstacle. Years of turbulence and fighting with the white man and other Indian tribes, which were also being displaced, took its toll. In 1833, the Quapaw agreed to their final removal from Arkansas, still only a territory.
The tribes mistrust of the government was a major cause of the dissolution the Quapaws. Many refused to settle on the assigned reservation offered in the treaty. Some returned the Red River region where they had once lived. Others went to Texas. A number of families joined the Choctaws in Oklahoma. A few even tried to remain in Arkansas. The division of the tribe brought on the eventual demise of the Quapaws.
Thanks to the well- written history of Arkansas by Whayne, Deblack, Sabo, and Arnold, Arkansas: A Narrative History, University of Arkansas Press, 2002.