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Tontitown (Washington County)

Tontitown was founded in 1898 by a group of Italian Catholic immigrants led by their priest, Father Pietro Bandini. The town is named in honor of Henri de Tonti, the Italian who helped René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle explore the Mississippi River and later founded Arkansas Post in 1686. Post Reconstruction through the Gilded Age The Tontitown Italians began their lives in America as tenant farmers on the south Arkansas plantation of Sunnyside (Chicot County). Groups from northern and central Italy arrived there in 1895 and 1897 and soon found themselves battling poor sanitation, disease, unfamiliar farming methods, language barriers, and contract disputes. In early 1898, some forty families chose to follow Father Bandini, the plantation’s resident priest, to …