Political Geography

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Arkansas State Boundaries

Arkansas’s boundaries have been the subject of international treaties, treaties with Native American tribes, acts of Congress, and a multitude of decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court. Generally, Arkansas is bordered on the north by Missouri; on the east by Tennessee and Mississippi; on the south by Louisiana; and on the west by Texas and Oklahoma, but that is not entirely correct. Arkansas is also bordered on the east by Missouri and the south by Texas, but parts of the state are also north of Missouri, east of Mississippi, north of Oklahoma and west of Texas. Tennessee-Mississippi BoundaryAs early as the Treaty of Paris of 1763 ending the French and Indian War, the middle of the Mississippi River was established …

Big Rock

Big Rock is the name now given to a 200-foot bluff located on the north bank of the Arkansas River in North Little Rock (Pulaski County). It is the first major outcrop of rock along the river, 121 miles upstream from the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers and about two miles upstream from a smaller outcrop known as the Little Rock, where the capital city of Arkansas developed. The first European to record the bluffs was French explorer Jean-Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe on April 9, 1722, when he took possession in the name of the French king, Louis XIV. His journal records that he named it “Le Rocher Français” (“French Rock”) and described it as having three …

Island 37

aka: Andy Crum (Lynching of)
aka: Bert Springs (Lynching of)
Island 37 is a stretch of land that is in the legal possession of the State of Tennessee but is physically joined to Arkansas. Because competing claims of jurisdiction left it in something of a legal void, Island 37 became, in the early twentieth century, an outpost for bootleggers and other criminals. Police action taken against those criminals resulted in one of the many U.S. Supreme Court cases regarding ongoing boundary disputes between Arkansas and Tennessee. The Mississippi River is a dynamic waterway, often cutting new channels and thus either forming islands or causing former islands to merge with the eastern or western banks. The legal principle of avulsion holds that land cut off by the river from one state …

Louisiana Purchase

In 1803, the United States government purchased over 800,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River from France in what would become the largest land acquisition in American history, also known as the Louisiana Purchase. Named “Louisiana” after the French “sun king,” Louis XIV, the territory comprised most of the present-day western United States, including Arkansas. The Louisiana Purchase allowed the U.S. government to open up lands in the west for settlement, secured its borders against foreign threat, and gave the right to deposit goods duty-free at port cities (mainly New Orleans). In Arkansas, the Louisiana Purchase signaled an end to French and Spanish dominance as Americans filtered into the area. Between 1686 and the 1790s, the French …

Louisiana Purchase Survey

The purchase of the vast Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 practically doubled the size of the United States, yet little of it was marked off by the American land survey method, which divides land into square tracts, an orderly prerequisite for land ownership in the nineteenth century. The survey of this vast, new American West began in what would later become the state of Arkansas and is commemorated at Louisiana Purchase State Park on U.S. Highway 49 between Brinkley (Monroe County) and Helena (Phillips County). Since Arkansas was first, the survey enabled early sale of land that contributed to Arkansas’s being the third state admitted into the Union west of the Mississippi River (after Louisiana and Missouri). The survey …

Missouri Bootheel

While most of Arkansas’s boundary with Missouri runs along the line of latitude thirty-six degrees, thirty minutes north, in the extreme northeast corner, the border between states extends downward along the St. Francis River to thirty-six degrees north, where it then runs east to the Mississippi River. A straight line boundary, as was originally envisioned, would have added some 980 square miles, or 627,000 acres, to the state of Arkansas. Instead, Missouri gained a “bootheel.” Culturally and economically, the region has much more in common with Arkansas than with the rest of Missouri. “Arkansas in denial” is how area residents explain their anomalous condition. Carl Bailey (1894–1948), the thirty-first governor of Arkansas and a native of Bernie, Missouri, was one …