Overview

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Politics and Government

“Arkansas,” its leading newspaper once lamented, “has too much politics.” But while the state has seen plenty of noisy contention, healthy two-party competition has occurred only fitfully throughout its history. And the hoopla and hair-pulling of campaigns have typically been out of proportion to what state and local government actually did for—or required of—Arkansans. Pre-European Exploration Relatively little is known about how Arkansans were governed through the larger part of their past, there being no written records dating from before the era of European exploration. Archaeological evidence indicates that, by the Mississippian Period (AD 900–1600), the region harbored large settlements and intensive agriculture, its residents living in hierarchical societies governed by hereditary leaders exercising both political and religious authority. This …

Post-Reconstruction through the Gilded Age, 1875 through 1900

In the years that followed Reconstruction, Arkansas experienced changes that paralleled trends taking place elsewhere in the nation. Nationally, the creation of the mass market and the economic growth that followed gave the era its basic character. The economy, and particularly the rise of industry, produced great prosperity for some whose spending habits gave the period its name—the Gilded Age. These developments also encouraged the movement of many people from the countryside to the city, producing a cultural and social transformation. But all of this came at a cost. Changes disrupted traditional economies and society, and many, particularly farmers and workers, failed to share in the bounty of the new world. In a state with an economy still largely agricultural, …

Pre-European Exploration, Prehistory through 1540

The pre-European history of Arkansas begins 13,500 years ago in the Pleistocene epoch, when cold weather prevailed over most of North America. Our understanding of life in Arkansas since then will never be complete because many archaeological sites have been lost through erosion, human development, and vandalism, and most ancient fragile and perishable objects have decomposed over the centuries. It is possible, however, to describe the general characteristics of life in Arkansas over the last 12,000 years based on discoveries made here, similar finds made elsewhere in North America, and lifestyles of modern nonindustrial hunters who lived in remote areas of the earth in recent times. Archeologists divide this time into five periods, each having distinctive lifestyles, cultural practices, and …