By the late 1600s European powers were racing to carve up the New World. In 1686 the French moved south from the St. Lawrence Valley to plant the first European settlement in the lower Mississippi Valley. Arkansas Post was to be a staging point for Mississippi River trade between New France and the Gulf of Mexico. Over the two centuries of the settlement's life the events surrounding it typified the conflicts and changes that transformed precarious European trading posts and garrisons into new American towns.
Exploration and Settlement
1682 French explorer Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, grants land along the Arkansas River to Henri de Tonti. Four years later Tonti establishes a trading post there near the Quapaw Indian village of Osotouy. Quapaw and French become allies; Quapaw protect the French from other Indian tribes. In 1687 survivors of La Salle's 1684 expedition reach Arkansas Post: "Looking over to the further side [of the river] we discovered a great cross . . . and a house built after the French fashion."
1699 By this date the post is abandoned due to a glut in beaver pelts and British competition. In 1721 the post is reestablished with a French military garrison. Nearby settlers grow some crops, but most continue semi-nomadic hunting and trapping life. Flooding and Chickasaw raids in 1749 force the post to move upriver. After war with England begins, the post moves downriver, nine miles from the Mississippi, to protect French river convoys.
1763 France cedes west Louisiana (most of present-day central United States) and New Orleans to Spain after French and Indian War (1756-63). Spain develops fur trade along river routes and forms alliance with the Quapaw.
1779 Because of flooding, Spain moves the fort back near the site of the old French settlement, renaming the post Fort Carlos III.
1783 During the American Revolution (in which Spain aids the colonies) James Colbert and a band of British partisans and Chickasaw Indians attack the fort but are driven back by Spanish and Quapaw.
1803 France, having regained Louisiana from Spain in 1800, sells the territory to the US.
1803-19 Arkansas Post is part of Louisiana. The US Government opens a trading post in 1805 but cannot compete with private traders. The 1810 population is about 500, mostly French, with some African American slaves and free people of color. By 1817 hunting and trapping culture gives way to a farming economy.
1819 Arkansas Post is named capital of the new Arkansas Territory. Arkansas Gazette begins publishing. Log houses join existing French dwellings with high pointed roofs. Naturalist Thomas Nuttall notes: "Blankets . . . moccasins, and overalls of the same materials, are . . . the prevailing dress." Tensions build between the French and growing numbers of American farmers. Washington Irving notes that the more insular French thought Americans "trouble themselves with cares beyond their horizon and import sorrow thro the newspapers from every point of the compass."
1821 Little Rock becomes the capital, dampening Arkansas Post's economy. The area population falls to 114 by 1830. A visitor notes the town's "forlorn and desolate appearance."
1824 US forces Quapaw to relocate.
1830s With the availability of prime land, slave labor, and transportation, Arkansas Post thrives as a center of cotton production and a major river port. By the 1840s the boom subsides, and in 1855 the county seat moves to another site; the town declines.
Civil War and Decline
1861 In May Arkansas joins the Confederacy.
1862 As Union forces get uncomfortably close to Little Rock, Confederates build earthwork forts along the Arkansas River to defend the capital. Fort Hindman is 190 feet square, armed with 11 rifled guns and smoothbores. Some 5,000 soldiers are housed at the fort and in nearby huts. They dig rifle pits from the fort to Post Bayou.
1863 With the fort a threat to Union supply lines, Gen. John McClernand brings 30,000 infantry upriver, supported by Rear Adm. David Porter's gunboat fleet. On January 10 they attack. Gunboats keep up heavy fire on the fort as the infantry pushes back Confederate front-line troops. The next day, Union gunboats destroy the fort's big guns, then loft exploding shells over the fort. Shrapnel rains down on the trenches, taking a toll: by late afternoon white flags begin going up. Confederates60 killed and 80 wounded, with 4,971 taken prisoner. Federals134 killed, 898 wounded, and 29 missing.
Post-Civil War The town never recovers from the shelling. River traffic declines as railroads undermine its importance as a port. Erosion claims parts of the town, including the fort. The Arkansas changes course in 1912, leaving the post half a mile away from the river.
Exploring Arkansas Post
About Your Visit
In 1960 Congress designated Arkansas Post a national memorial. It preserves parts of the town from the 1800s and the approximate site of two trading and military posts from the 1700s.
Seeing the Park
For Your Safety
Please help us preserve the park for your enjoyment and for future generations. • Federal law protects all cultural and natural features in the park. • Metal detectors are prohibited. • Alcohol is not permitted in visitor center area, and open containers of alcohol are prohibited in the passenger compartments of motor vehicles. • For firearms regulations check the park website.
Arkansas Post lies in the Mississippi Delta region of the state. Over the past 300 years, natural forces and human intervention have greatly changed the area. Flooding, erosion, and a natural change in the river's course have altered the site of the old posts and town, as have attempts to improve navigation and control the river with levees, dams, and a canal.
Today the park protects a variety of native plants and trees like cypress, pecan, and lotus. An Osage orange near the visitor center is the largest of its species in the state. As you explore the park, listen for songbirds. Watch for deer, turkey, alligator, and our resident pair of bald eagles. In fall and winter you will see flocks of migrating ducks and geese. Enjoy the sights and sounds in this place of natural beauty.
Source: NPS Brochure (2014)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
A Many-Storied Place: Historic Resource Study, Arkansas Post National Memorial, Arkansas (Theodore Catton, 2017)
Administrative History, Arkansas Post National Memorial (Gregorio S.A Carrara, 1976)
An Assessment of Tick Density and Tick-Borne Disease Frequency at Arkansas National Memorial (Gregory Kevin Eads, Master's Thesis University of Arkansas-Monticello, 1992)
Archeological Assessment of Arkansas Post National Memorial (William A. Westbury, 1976)
Bird Community Monitoring at Arkansas Post National Memorial, Arkansas: Status Report NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/HTLN/NRDS-2015/997 (David G. Peitz, December 2015)
Bird Monitoring at Arkansas Post National Memorial, Arkansas: 2007 Status Report NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/HTLN/NRTR-2008/099 (David G. Peitz, May 2008)
Cultural Landscape Report: Arkansas Post National Memorial - Gillett, Arkansas, Parts I and II (Quinn Evans / Architects, December 2005)
Geologic Resources Inventory Report, Arkansas Post National Memorial NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/GRD/NRR-2013/731 (T.L. Thornberry-Ehrlich, November 2013)
Historic Structures Report/Historical Data: Montgomery's Tavern and Johnston & Armstrong's Store (Edwin C. Bearss, May 31, 1971)
Junior Ranger Activity Book, Arkansas Post National Memorial (Date Unknown)
National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form
Arkansas Post (John H. House, December 3, 1998)
Park Newspaper (The Arkansas Post Gazette)
Special History Report: The Colbert Raid, Arkansas Post National Memorial, Arkansas (Edwin C. Bearss, November 1974)
Structural History of Post Arkansas, 1804-1863 and Civil War Troop Movement Maps, January 1863: Arkansas Post National Memorial, (Edwin C. Bearss and Lenard E. Brown, April 1971)
The Battle of Arkansas Post (Civil War Times Illustrated, ©Historical Times Inc., 1969)
White-tailed Deer Monitoring at Arkansas Post National Memorial, Arkansas: 2008 Status Report NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/HTLN/NRTR-2008/103 (J. Tyler Cribbs and David G. Peitz, April 2008)
Handbooks ◆ Books
Last Updated: 02=Mar-2022