State in southern central USA, bordered to the south by Louisiana, to the southwest by Texas, to the west by Oklahoma, to the north by Missouri, and to the east by Tennessee and Mississippi; area 134,856 sq km/52,068 sq mi; population (2006) 2,810,900; capital and largest city Little Rock. The state's nicknames come from its abundance of natural resources. Arkansas is physically divided into two areas: the Highlands, a mountain region; and the Lowlands, a coastal plain. The Red, St Francis, and Mississippi rivers form part of the state's natural borders. Major cities include Fort Smith on the Oklahoma border, an important manufacturing centre, North Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Jonesboro, Fayetteville, Hot Springs, Springdale, Jacksonville, and West Memphis. Arkansas's economy is centred on the service industry, but manufacturing is also important, with products including processed foods, electronics, and paper; it is the leading US producer of broilers (chickens reared for meat) and rice. Historically Arkansas was a cotton plantation state, dependent on slavery. Arkansas was admitted to the Union in 1836 as the 25th US state but was governed by federal troops during the Reconstruction period 1865-77 because it refused to permit African Americans to vote. Arkansas only achieved independent statehood when it permitted the black vote in the state constitution of 1874, still in force today. The state was the site of civil-rights struggles in the 1950s and 1960s, and was the home of Bill Clinton, US president 1992-2000.
The mountainous Highlands includes part of the Ozark Plateau and the Ouachita Mountains, while the Lowlands include the fertile Mississippi Alluvial Plain and West Gulf Coastal Plain.
The Ozarks extend across the northwest of the state and are characterized by limestone and dolomite, with many caves and features formed by the eroding effects of swift rivers. The plateau is subdivided into the Salem Plateau, consisting mainly of dolomites, limestone, and sandstones with elevations below 244 m/800 ft; the Springfield Plateau, mainly limestone with summit elevations from 305-457 m/1,000-1,500 ft; and the Boston Mountains, mainly sandstones and shale, with summits of over 610 m/2,000 ft. The mountainous Arkansas River Valley divides the Ozark Plateau from the Ouachita Mountains in the west, and reaches 839 m/2,753 ft at Magazine Mountain, the highest point in the state. The Ouachita Mountains rise to 799 m/2,623 ft at Blue Mountain.
Along with its limestone cliffs and caverns, Arkansas's most notable features are its hot springs, found in Hot Springs National Park in the west of the state. The Ozark National Forest covers more than 400,000 ha/1,000,000 acres, mainly in northwestern Arkansas. The southern portion of the forest runs along the Arkansas River Valley south to the Ouachita. Arkansas's extensive hardwood forests include ash, elm, hawthorn, hickory, holly, maple, witch hazel, wild cherry, and willow trees. A warm, moist climate allows flowering trees such as dogwood and magnolia to flourish. Ferns and herbs are common in forested areas, and wild flowers, including orchids and water lilies, are widespread. Black bears, bobcats, minks, muskrats, and many types of blue jay, goldfinch, cardinal, and game birds, as well as various lizards and snakes, thrive throughout the state.
In the Lowlands, the Mississippi Alluvial Plain includes the delta area between Crowley's Ridge and the Mississippi River. The St Francis National Forest stretches for 8,100 ha/20,000 acres along the Mississippi River in the Mississippi delta of eastern Arkansas, and harbours large populations of whitetail deer, wild turkey, squirrel, raccoon, rabbit, and waterfowl. The southwestern part of the state, the West Gulf Coastal Plain, has pine forests and rich gas and mineral reserves.
The Arkansas River, the largest river in the state, flows southeast through the Arkansas River Valley, while the Ouachita River flows south through the Ouachita Mountains. The Mississippi River forms the eastern border of Arkansas. Other Arkansas rivers include the Red, St Francis, Saline, White, and Buffalo rivers. Arkansas has many natural lakes, the largest of which is Lake Chicot, a 600-year-old natural oxbow lake in southeastern Arkansas lying adjacent to the Mississippi River. Many kinds of freshwater fish, including bass, bream, perch, and trout, are found in the state's rivers and lakes.
Arkansas's natural beauty and historic, picturesque towns attract large numbers of tourists. Its national forests and parks are Ouachita in western Arkansas, Ozark in northern Arkansas, and St Francis in eastern Arkansas, and there are 52 state parks. The Ozark National Forest is popular in the spring, when dogwood and redbuds bloom, and in the autumn, when the forest turns into a brilliant display of colour.
Arkansas has two 19th-century spa towns: Hot Springs, located in the Hot Springs National Park in the Ouachita Mountains, and Eureka Springs, on the Ozark Plateau. Apart from its abundant waters, Hot Springs is notable for its renovated art deco hotels, while places of interest at Eureka Springs include the Eureka Springs Historical Museum, Harps Doll Museum, Hammond Bell Museum, and the North Arkansas Railway. In Mammoth Spring State Park, northwest Arkansas, Mammoth Spring flows at an average hourly rate of almost 40.5 million litres/9 million gallons of 58°C/125°F water, and is the source of Spring River, popular for canoeing and trout fishing. Blanchard Springs Caverns, located on the Sylamore Ranger District near Mountain View, has impressive stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and flowstones.
The Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park contains the largest American Indian mound of the remaining sites in the Lower Mississippi Valley, and the National Historic Landmark Menard-Hodges Mounds contains evidence of early contact with Europeans. Indian Rock House at Fairfield Bay, on the southern edge of the Ozarks, is a natural sandstone grotto with evidence of prehistoric cave dwellers. Bayou Sel is another prehistoric American Indian site and the location of a historic salt refinery. Other rock houses are found at Blanchard Springs Caverns and at Buffalo Point on the Buffalo National River. The University Museum in Fayetteville, the Arkansas State University Museum in Jonesboro, and the Museum of Prehistory and History at Arkansas Tech University, Russellville, have major American Indian exhibits and artefacts.
One of the first military posts in the American West was Fort Smith (established 1817), preserved as a National Historic Site in western Arkansas. Arkansas Post National Memorial, near Gillett, is a trading post dating from 1686, when Poste de Arkansea (Arkansas Post) at the American Indian Quapaw village of Osotouy became the first semi-permanent French settlement in the Lower Mississippi Valley. Arkansas Post was part of the French territory sold to the USA under the Louisiana Purchase (1803); it became the capital of Arkansas Territory 1819-21, and for a while was the largest city of the Arkansas region. Batesville is one of the oldest pioneer cities in the state. Old Davidsonville, south of Pocahontas, is a historic river port and a former key outpost on the Old Southwest Trail.
Civil War history in Arkansas is chiefly preserved at Pea Ridge National Military Park in the northwest, a 1,720 ha/4,300 acre Civil War battlefield site marking the Union victory of March 1862. Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park Site commemorates another Civil War battle of 1862, with 52 ha/130 acres of battlefields, monuments, a museum, and historic homes. Old Washington Historic State Park is located in Washington, the state's Confederate capital during the Civil War after Little Rock was taken by Union forces in 1863. Other historic towns include Harrison, Calico Rock, Gilbert, Mountain Home, Yellville, Marshall, Hardy, Pocahontas, Heber Springs, Newport, Evening Shade, Clinton, Leslie, and Mountain View.
Hardy Old Town is virtually unchanged from the 1920s. Walnut Ridge resettlement village reflects Depression-era history, when displaced farmers were given new homesteads; several of the original buildings are preserved, one of which serves as the local museum. Fayetteville features the Arkansas Air Museum with vintage aircraft, including pre-World War II racing planes in flying condition. Little Rock has many historic homes and districts. The MacArthur Park Historic District is the oldest surviving neighbourhood, and MacArthur Park, located on 14 ha/36 acres, was used for a US arsenal in 1837.
Hope is the birthplace of former US president Bill Clinton and Little Rock his childhood town. The National Landmark State House Museum, Little Rock, was the scene of President Clinton's 1992 and 1996 election night celebrations. The William J Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, opened in 2004 on the banks of the Arkansas River in downtown Little Rock, is the nation's largest presidential archive. Other features of the state capital include the Quapaw Quarter, a restored 19th-century neighbourhood with the Villa Marre mansion (1881). Little Rock is rich in civil rights' history, and is nationally famous for the Little Rock Nine (see History, below). An African-American cultural centre in Jonesboro offers information on the history of African Americans in Arkansas, from the arrival of the first slave in 1860 to the present day, while the Fargo Agricultural School reflects early civil-rights efforts; the school was started by Floyd Brown in 1919 to provide quality high-school education for African-American students.
Arkansas's cultural heritage is part Southern, part Midwestern, part Southwestern, and part Appalachian, with German, Irish, English, and African roots. The folk culture of the long-isolated Ozark area is especially well preserved. Mountain View, considered the home of traditional folk music, hosts a wide range of folk and country entertainment at the Ozark Folk Center, with musical performances by area residents given regularly in its 1,064-seat auditorium. The centre also offers craft demonstrations, including quilting, furniture making, blacksmithing, pottery, woodworking, and other frontier skills. The Arkansas Folk Festival and Arkansas Craft Guild Spring Show are both held in Mountain View annually in April, and the Arkansas State Fiddler's Championship takes place there each September. The Ozark Heritage Arts Center and Museum is situated in Leslie.
Musical festivals and events in Arkansas include the Pine Mountain Jamboree, the Ozark Mountain Hoe-Down in Eureka Springs, the Music Festival of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and festivals in Sugar Creek Country, Lowell, Little O'Oprey, West Fork, Salem, Walnut Ridge, and Hardy. Rodeos and country fairs are popular in the state and include the Rodeo of the Ozarks in Springdale, Four States Fair and Rodeo in Texarkana, the National Wild Turkey Calling Contest and Turkey Trot Festival in Yellville, and the World's Championship Duck Calling Contest in Stuttgart in November. The Hope Watermelon Festival is held annually in August.
Eureka Springs gained a reputation as an artists' colony in the 1930s and 1940s and maintains fine arts centres and galleries. It is also the location of the Great Passion Play, running from April to October, the seven-storey-high Christ of the Ozarks statue, and the Sacred Arts Center and Bible Museum. The Opera of the Ozarks and the Inspiration Point Fine Arts Colony offer summer opera presentations, while Fayetteville is home to the Walton Arts Center and the North Arkansas Symphony.
A former plantation state, Arkansas has a complex African-American and civil-rights' history, highlighted in the Persistence of the Spirit interpretive study, a project developed by humanities scholars that includes a permanent exhibit at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Gospel singing and the blues are particularly important African-American cultural activities close to the Mississippi border.
Recreational culture in Arkansas is dominated by the presence of hot springs and caverns, and by tourism. Hunting and angling are important state sports. Canoeing, kayaking, climbing, camping, horseback riding, biking, and hiking opportunities attract many visitors.
Arkansas's state constitution The current constitution was adopted in 1874 at the end of the Reconstruction period, when Arkansas agreed to allow the black vote and was admitted to the Union. Four earlier versions were drafted in 1836, 1861, 1864, and 1868.
Structure of state government Called the General Assembly, the legislature comprises a 35-member Senate and a 100-member House of Representatives. The state's 35 senatorial districts and 100 representative districts elect one senator and one representative each. Senators serve four-year terms (with elections to half the Senate each year) and representatives two-year terms. Representatives are limited to three terms (six years). The General Assembly meets for a 60-day session each year, so service in the legislature is part-time, with most state senators and representatives having full-time jobs during the rest of the year. The Arkansas legislature has been reapportioned after every federal census since 1970.
The governor of Arkansas is chief executive of the state and commander in chief of its armed forces. The governor is elected to a four-year term and is limited to serving two terms. The governor appoints the adjutant general, controller, and the heads and members of various departments and commissions. Other elected state officers include the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer, auditor, and land commissioner, who serve four-year terms and may serve no more than two terms.
Arkansas has six electoral votes in presidential elections. Two senators and four representatives are elected to the US Congress.
Arkansas is a socially conservative state, but, for historical reasons, the dominant party since Reconstruction has been the Democrats. It has consistently controlled the General Assembly and Democrats have been sent to Congress, but the state has favoured Republican candidates in many of the presidential elections from 1972.
The highest court in Arkansas is the state Supreme Court led by a chief justice and six associate justices, all elected to eight-year terms. Voters in 24 districts elect 24 circuit court districts serving four-year terms and 24 chancery court districts serving six-year terms. County court judges serve two-year terms, municipal court judges two- or four-year terms, and justices of the peace and common pleas court judges two-year terms.
Local government is divided into 75 counties administered by the county judge, who presides over a court determining the county budget via a court consisting of all the county justices of the peace. Most Arkansas cities are run under the mayor-council form of government, although some use the council-manager form.
Although Arkansas's economy is led by the service industry, and by wholesale and retail trade in cars and agricultural and mining products, manufacturing remains a major economic force. Several major corporations are based in Arkansas, including the discount department store Wal-Mart in Bentonville, the transport company J B Hunt in Lowell, and the meat producer Tyson Foods in Springdale. Processing is the leading manufacturing activity and includes canned vegetables and soft drinks, cottonseed oil, soybeans, and rice. Arkansas is also a leading lumber producing state with an important paper industry. It has a valuable industrial and agricultural chemicals industry, and produces electrical equipment ranging from household appliances to light bulbs. Other important manufacturing activities include the production of automobile parts, metalworking machinery, natural gas, bromine, and quartz. Arkansas is the leading producer of broilers (chickens reared for meat) and rice in the USA.
Indigenous peoples Arkansas's American Indian population was mainly located in villages near the Mississippi River when the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto reached the state in 1541. Recovered artefacts indicate that people were living in the Arkansas area by 9500 BC, but first became widespread between 5000 and 4000 BC. From AD 650 to 1050, the Plum Bayou people had a political and cultural centre in east-central Arkansas where they built 18 platform mounds, one 15 m/49 ft tall. Other prominent groups in 1541 were the Parkin and the Nodena peoples. By the time pioneer settlement began, the state's major indigenous groups were the southeastern Quapaws, the southwestern Caddos, and the Osage.
Louisiana Purchase and Missouri Territory The first permanent European settlement was Poste de Arkansea (Arkansas Post), founded in 1686 by companions of the French explorer René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. As part of the Louisiana Territory, Arkansas belonged to France. The Louisiana Territory was won by Spain after 1763, but returned to France in 1800. Arkansas remained largely undeveloped at the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, when the United States bought it from France and it became part of the Missouri Territory. Fort Smith was erected in 1817 in order to maintain order among warring American Indian tribes, and an area roughly resembling Arkansas today was created in 1819 and called the Arkansas Territory. The capital of Arkansas Territory was initially at Arkansas Post, but moved to Little Rock in 1821.
Civil War and Reconstruction Bordering the plantation states of Mississippi and Tennessee, and with its fertile lowlands, Arkansas quickly developed a plantation economy, with large numbers of African slaves introduced to the state as slave labourers and slaveholding planters rapidly forming a political elite. On 15 June 1836 Arkansas was admitted to the Union. During the 1830s American Indians expelled from their lands in the eastern USA and frontier pioneers moved westwards through the state along the Arkansas River Valley route, and immigrants attempted to farm upland areas. As Civil War tensions mounted, Arkansas found itself divided. It seceded from the Union in 1861 on the grounds of slavery, then voted to remain a part of the Union in March 1861, but finally refused to send troops to the Union and officially crossed to the Confederate side in May 1861. A major Civil War battle took place at Pea Ridge in March 1862, a Union victory. After Little Rock was captured by Union forces on 10 September 1863, the Confederates set up a capital in Washington, Arkansas. The state was occupied by federal troops during a long Reconstruction period. Politically Arkansas remained confused, with an influx of northern carpetbaggers (entrepreneurs and politicians) and scalawags (Republican and emancipation supporters). Statehood was achieved in 1874 when Arkansas drafted its present day constitution, permitting the black vote.
Industrialization As the lumber and copper industries grew, employers sought to attract skilled labour to Arkansas using newspaper advertisements, exhibits, books, promotional articles, and pamphlets. Railroads, the timber industry, and mining developed, and the population expanded. The coastal plain was drained to allow increased agricultural diversity, and timber clearing created new belts of fertile farmland. There was an influx of German and Slovak immigrants to the east and Irish to the southeast, from 1905. The lifestyle of the highland Ozarks, however, remained largely unchanged. Sharecropping and farm tenancy replaced the plantation system, but the emancipation of African-American slaves was accompanied by a rise in Ku Klux Klan activity and political conflict between Democrats and Republicans. Although oil was discovered near El Dorado in 1921, leading to a brief boom that attracted many new immigrants, natural disaster caused substantial setback when the Mississippi flooded one-fifth of the state. Growth in manufacturing in the first half of the 20th century was too slow to create a significant alternative to agricultural employment in the state, and many were forced to leave in search of work in northern cities. Arkansas's cotton industry all but collapsed in the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the state suffered severe drought. Arkansas relied heavily on federal aid, but also benefited from improved farming methods and agricultural diversification. The use of mechanical cotton pickers, invented by the brothers John and Mack Rust in 1927, though only adopted widely from the 1940s, also contributed to the migration northwards. Mechanization revolutionized cotton farming; whereas a field hand could pick 9 kg/20 lb of cotton in an hour, a mechanical picker could pick 450 kg/1,000 lb. It was not until the 1960s that Arkansas's manufacturing revenue was able to surpass that of its agricultural income.
Post-World War II and civil-rights era During World War II so-called relocation centres for West coast Japanese-Americans were established at Rohwer and Jerome, with a peak population of 8,500 people interned (see internment, Japanese). A white-supremacist States Rights Democratic Party, known as the Dixiecrats, was organized to counter the effects of civil-rights reforms, causing a mass migration of African Americans. Along with many former plantation Southern states, Arkansas resisted desegregation in its schools. In 1957 a group of local parents, working with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) leader Daisy Bates, won a court order mandating the admission of nine black students to Little Rock Central High School (the Little Rock Nine). In response, Governor Orval E Faubus employed the National Guard to block their admission. President Eisenhower sent in army troops to ensure compliance with the court order, but after the school year ended, the governor closed the public schools to avoid further integration.
In 1966, Winthrop Rockefeller was elected Arkansas's first Republican governor since Reconstruction, and subsequently Republicans have had gubernatorial success in 1980 and 1996, but the Democrats still remained the dominant party. In 1971 the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas Navigation System, a massive federal project, opened the Arkansas River for ocean-going vessels all the way to Tulsa, Oklahoma, making several major Arkansas cities true ports in the process.
Contemporary Arkansas In 1978, at the age of 32, Bill Clinton, a Democrat, was elected the youngest-ever governor of Arkansas. He was elected governor five times, and in 1992 was elected president of the USA. He was re-elected in 1996, but his presidency was dogged by a series of scandals, one of which, the Whitewater affair, became the focus of a special prosecutor investigation that threatened to destroy his presidency during the 1990s.
In 1988 the Fort Smith Fourteen, a group of radical right-wing white supremacists and armed militia militants, who were on trial for sedition against the US government, were acquitted by an all-white federal court jury in Fort Smith.
By the end of the 20th century, several major corporations chose Arkansas as their base, including Wal-Mart, the world's largest revenue-producing public corporation.
sport Scottie Pippen (1965-), basketball player
the arts Johnny Cash (1932-2003), country singer; John Grisham (1955-), writer
society and education Daisy Bates (1914-), NAACP leader and journalist
economics John D Rust, inventor of the mechanical cotton picker in 1927
politics and law Powell Clayton (1833-1914) Republican governor and US senator; Hattie Caraway (1878-1950), US senator 1932-45, the first woman elected to the US Senate; Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), army general and World War II commander; Orval E Faubus (1910-1994), Democratic governor; Winthrop Rockefeller (1912-1973), Republican governor; Bill Clinton (1946-), 42nd president of the USA; Hillary Clinton (1947-), US senator.
We're sorry this article wasn't helpful. Tell us how we can improve.