Entries - Time Period: European Exploration and Settlement (1541 - 1802)

Bossu, Jean Bernard

Jean Bernard Bossu was a French captain and adventurer who explored the region of the Mississippi River while Louisiana was a French colony. During his voyages, Bossu wrote extensive letters about his adventures among the natives of the Mississippi River Valley. The letters were published in two volumes, and both were translated into English. Influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s image of the “noble savage,” Bossu claimed that the Quapaw Indians were “capable of heroism, humanism, and virtue”; these people were not “barbarians” or “savages” but actual human beings. Although scholars have pointed out some inconsistencies and historical inaccuracies in his letters, the letters remain an important primary source on the early period of the history of French Louisiana. His work is …

Caddo Nation

Caddo Indians enter written history in chronicles of the Hernando de Soto expedition, which describe encounters during the Spanish passage through southwest Arkansas. When the Spaniards crossed the threshold to Caddo country on June 20, 1542, they entered a nation uniquely distinguished by language, social structure, tradition, and way of life. Caddo people were sedentary farmers, salt makers, hunters, traders, craftsmen, and creators of exquisite pottery who buried their dead in mounds and cemeteries with solemn ritual and a belief that the dead traveled to a world beyond this. Caddo language was unlike any spoken by other groups the Spaniards met as they explored northeast Arkansas and the Southern states east of the Mississippi River. Caddo communities—called villages or towns …

Casqui

Casqui was a Native American chief who ruled over a province in northeast Arkansas in the 1500s. He was the first Indian leader in Arkansas whose 1541 dealings with the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto are recorded in detail in the accounts of the expedition. Casqui was thus the earliest Arkansan about whom we have written historical information. In the Spanish writings, his name was variously recorded as Casqui, Casquin, or Icasqui. The explorers used his name to refer to him, the town in which he resided, and the area over which he ruled. Knowledge of Casqui himself is limited, but the narratives provide interesting details about his people and the territory under his control, as well as some of …

Cherokee

The Europeans named the Cherokee as one of the Five Civilized Tribes. (The other four were the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole.) At the time of European contact, the Cherokee inhabited a region consisting of what is now western North Carolina and parts of Virginia, Georgia, and eastern Tennessee. Over the next two centuries, the tribe expanded through the southern Appalachians, reaching further into Georgia as well as into South Carolina, northeastern Alabama, and across the Cumberland River into Kentucky and West Virginia; some of this expansion occurred following the displacement of other tribes. By the 1780s, Cherokee migration into Arkansas had begun, largely in response to pressure to move away from Euro-American settlements in the East following the Revolutionary …

Chickasaw

Heading east, the ancestral Chickasaw crossed Arkansas looking for a new homeland at some point in prehistory. Heading west beginning in 1836, the Chickasaw crossed Arkansas again as the tribe was removed to its new home in Indian Territory. Between these two events, the Chickasaw interacted periodically with tribes living in Arkansas, most notably the Quapaw, whom they warred against during much of the eighteenth century. In all versions of the Chickasaw migration story, the people came from the west, usually from central Mexico. They were led by twin brothers Chatah and Chikasa, who followed a divinely inspired fabusa, or leaning pole. In these versions, the people necessarily must have passed through the land that became Arkansas to get to …

Choctaw

The Choctaw are of the Western Muskogean language stock, which is also the same stock as the Chickasaw. When first encountered by Europeans, the Choctaw were located in three geographic divisions in the area that is now Mississippi and western Alabama. The three divisions each had some distinguishing cultural practices, which may indicate they had separate origins and that the Choctaw came together as a single people only in more recent times. There are two widespread traditions within the Choctaw about their origins. One is that they came from the far west and were led eastward by a sacred pole that was placed in the ground each night; one morning, the pole did not lean but stayed straight upright near …

Colbert Raid

On April 17, 1783, British-sympathizing Native Americans and British nationals carried out an attack upon the Spanish garrison based at Arkansas Post on the Arkansas River. This attack was considered the only battle of the American Revolution to be fought in what is now Arkansas. In 1762, Spain took control of French Louisiana west of the Mississippi after King Louis XV ceded the area in anticipation of losing the ongoing French and Indian War. It was 1766 before Spanish troops arrived to take over Arkansas Post from the French garrison. The Spanish struggled to maintain order at the post, which was still mainly populated by French trappers, and to protect it from the English who were just across the Mississippi …

De Soto Expedition, Route of the

When the Spanish expedition of Hernando de Soto crossed the Mississippi River on June 28, 1541 (June 18 on the Julian calendar, which was used at the time), it entered what is now Arkansas. It spent the next eleven months roaming around the state until de Soto’s death on May 31, 1542 (May 21 on the Julian calendar). After his death, the survivors made their way to Mexico. There have been many attempts to identify the expedition’s route through Arkansas, using information from the four written accounts of the expedition. Three of these were written by men who had accompanied the expedition, and the fourth was authored forty or fifty years later, based on interviews with survivors. The route reconstructions …

de Soto, Hernando

Hernando de Soto was a Spanish explorer who led an expedition into the southern United States. He and his soldiers were the first Europeans to set foot in what is now Arkansas. Four written accounts of the expedition provide details about his trek through the state. De Soto was born in the Extremadura region of western Spain around 1500, but the exact date is uncertain. He probably was born in the town of Jerez de los Caballeros. The second son of Francisco Méndez de Soto and Leonor Arias Tinoco, he had at least two younger sisters and an older brother. Although the family was of noble heritage, de Soto was poor and borrowed money to travel to the New World …

de Tonti, Henri

aka: Henry de Tonty
Henri de Tonti helped establish the first permanent European settlement in the lower Mississippi River Valley in 1686. It was called the Poste aux Arkansas, or Arkansas Post (Arkansas County). As a result, de Tonti is often called the “father of Arkansas.” Although Italian by birth, de Tonti is associated with French exploration. He received notoriety as an explorer in the Great Lakes Region and Mississippi River Valley with his friend, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, at a time when the French were establishing trade monopolies in parts of North America to compete with the English and Spanish. Henri de Tonti was born around 1649 near Gaeta, Italy, to Lorenzo de Tonti and Isabelle di Lietto. The family moved …

European Exploration and Settlement, 1541 through 1802

The region that became Arkansas was unknown to Europeans until the 1540s. Fifty years after Christopher Columbus landed in the western hemisphere, the European exploration of Arkansas began. The first settlement was not founded for another 140 years, and the first permanent settlement forty years after that. Throughout the colonial era, Arkansas underwent dramatic demographic changes. At the time of the first Spanish explorers in the 1540s, Arkansas was a land of heavily populated villages and extensive farm fields. By the time of the first French expeditions in the 1670s, Arkansas was sparsely populated with isolated villages and tribes but with an abundance of wild game and other resources. The focus of the colonial era was not on the promotion …

Filhiol, Don Juan

aka: Jean de Filhiol
aka: Baptiste Filhiol
aka: Jean Baptiste Filhiol
Present-day Camden (Ouachita County) has its origins in a 1782 settlement established by Don Juan Filhiol, a Frenchman who served the Spanish colony of Louisiana. Ecore a Fabri, as Camden was originally known, was Filhiol’s first established settlement in the Ouachita District, which encompassed today’s southern Arkansas and northeastern Louisiana. Filhiol is credited with introducing the rule of law to the Ouachita River area in Arkansas and Louisiana. Don Juan Filhiol was born Jean Baptiste Filhiol on September 21, 1740, in Eymet, France, to François Filhiol and Anne Marie Teyssonniere, who were cloth merchants and Calvinists. In 1763, at the age of twenty-three, Filhiol left France to seek his fortune in Santo Domingo, a French colony (present-day Haiti). He decided …

Foucault, Nicolas

Nicolas Foucault was the first Christian missionary to serve among the Quapaw Indians of Arkansas. Nicolas Foucault was born around 1664 in Paris, France. As a young adult, he joined the Seminary of Foreign Missions in Paris but soon left to pursue his ministry in Quebec via La Rochelle, France, on board the Soleil d’Afrique. On June 3, 1688, Foucault arrived in Québec and immediately began to serve as a secretary to Bishop Jean-Baptiste de Saint-Vallier while also continuing his seminary studies. He was ordained to the priesthood on December 3, 1689, and was immediately appointed to serve as curate first, in Contrecoeur, then in the hamlet of Batiscan on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. Here, Foucault presided …

French Explorers and Settlers

The French settlers’ experience in colonial Arkansas was vital to the history of the French presence in the Mississippi River Valley. The French settlers at Arkansas Post forged alliances and cohabited with the “Arkansas” Indians (Quapaw), the native inhabitants of what became Arkansas, who were known for their consistent loyalty to the French. Father Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit, and Louis Joliet, a trader, were the first Frenchmen to set foot in the Arkansas land, in 1673. They found four Quapaw villages: Kappa, Tongigna, Tourima, and Osotouy. Immediately, the two peoples entered into an alliance. Because they feared a potential alliance between the French and their rivals, the Tunica and the Yazoo, the Quapaw convinced the French to end their trip …

Guedetonguay

aka: Guedelonguay
aka: Quedetongue
Guedetonguay was a Quapaw Indian leader in the mid-eighteenth century who was the most important contact between the Quapaw and French colonial officials in Louisiana. In 1752, the Quapaw lived along the lower Arkansas River near the Mississippi River. Their population had been greatly reduced, mainly through disease, since the arrival of French settlers in Louisiana. They were still considered important allies of French colonial authorities in New Orleans, however, even though they were able to muster only about 150 men to serve in military engagements and war parties. Guedetonguay was made medal chief of the Quapaw in 1752 by Paul Augustin Le Pelletier de La Houssaye, who was then commander of Arkansas Post (Arkansas County). He became the principal …

Historic Washington State Park

Historic Washington State Park, originally called Old Washington Historic State Park, is one of fifty-two state parks operated by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. This park primarily exists to preserve and interpret the history of the town of Washington (Hempstead County), emphasizing its political, cultural, and architectural history in the nineteenth century. Washington was a major stopping point on the Southwest Trail that connected St. Louis, Missouri, to Fulton (Hempstead County) on the Red River. Many pioneers and settlers traveled this route on their way to Texas and the Southwest. Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, and Jim Bowie each traveled separately through Washington before they fought for Texas’s independence. While in Washington, Bowie commissioned local blacksmith James Black to …

John Law’s Concession

aka: John Law's Colony
aka: Mississippi Bubble
John Law’s concession was established in August 1721 and was located at Little Prairie, just over twenty-six miles from the mouth of the Arkansas River, in present-day Arkansas County. The colony was located near the Quapaw city of Kappa. Its failure slowed the growth of Arkansas as a European colony, although settlers continued to live at Arkansas Post throughout the eighteenth century. By the summer of 1686, Arkansas Post was already an important French trading post between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Illinois, but no serious efforts were made to settle the land. The French government realized that, to compete with colonial Great Britain, it would need to establish profitable colonies. John Law, a Scotsman, was an economist and banker who …

Joutel, Henri

Henri Joutel was a French soldier and explorer who served in the last expedition commanded by French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. Joutel kept a detailed journal of his time in North America, including his experiences in what would become Arkansas. Henri Joutel was born in Rouen, France, the hometown of La Salle, around 1643. Joutel’s father worked for La Salle’s family as a gardener. Joutel spent more than fifteen years in the French army and signed on as a member of the expedition that departed France on July 24, 1684. The third expedition organized by La Salle, it consisted of four ships and was tasked with establishing a colony along the Gulf Coast. Almost 300 soldiers and …

Koroa

The Koroa are one of many “small tribes” of the southeastern United States that are mentioned briefly in historic accounts and then fade from the records during the colonial period. There is evidence that some Koroa may have resided in present-day Arkansas in the late seventeenth century, but the ancestral homeland, cultural roots, and historic fate of the Koroa remain issues of disagreement among today’s scholars. In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, numerous missionaries, explorers, and colonists traveling through the Lower Mississippi River Valley made reference to Koroa (or people whose names sounded similar, like Coloa, Kourea, Currous, Akoroa) residing in a number of locations in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. There is not enough information to locate these …

La Harpe, Jean-Baptiste Bénard de

Jean-Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe was a French officer, trader, and explorer. He was the first European explorer to record the existence of a large rocky bluff on the north bank of the Arkansas River. This major outcrop of rock is just upstream from a smaller rock, where it was possible to ford the river. It was at this location that the settlement of Little Rock (Pulaski County) subsequently developed. Jean-Baptiste de La Harpe was the second son of Pierre Besnard, Seigneur de la Harpe, and Jeanne le Breton. He was christened on February 4, 1683, in St. Malo, France, one of the couple’s twelve surviving children. His father’s family had lived in the area for nearly a century and …

La Salle, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de

In 1682, French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle journeyed down the Mississippi River in search of a water route to the Gulf of Mexico. Stopping in present-day Arkansas County at the current site of Arkansas Post National Memorial, La Salle erected a cross to designate the region “Louisiana” in honor of Louis XIV, king of France. He was one of the first European explorers to make alliances with the Native Americans of Arkansas and the first to try to establish a permanent settlement in Arkansas through his friend and fellow explorer, Henri de Tonti. La Salle was born in Rouen, France, on November 21, 1643. His parents, Catherine Gesset and Jean Cavlier, were wealthy merchants. Educated at the …

Mallet Expeditions

French-Canadian brothers Pierre (1704–1751?) and Paul Mallet (1706?–1753?) participated in three expeditions into North America’s interior that were designed to establish trade between French Louisiana and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The brothers traveled the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains, and their return journeys to New Orleans led them through Arkansas, stimulating interest in the possibility of Spanish trade through the continent’s interior via Arkansas Post (Arkansas County). Originally from Montreal, the Mallets lived as traders in the Illinois country after 1734 before beginning their first expedition (1739–1741). Spurred on by contemporary belief that Santa Fe lay eight days from the headwaters of the Missouri River, the brothers ventured west. Accompanied by seven men, they traveled up the Missouri before beginning …

Marquette-Joliet Expedition

In 1673, Father Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit missionary, and Louis Joliet, a fur trader, undertook an expedition to explore the unsettled territory in North America from the Great Lakes region to the Gulf of Mexico for the colonial power of France. Leaving with several men in two bark canoes, Marquette and Joliet entered the Mississippi River and arrived in present-day Arkansas in June 1673. They were considered the first Europeans to come into contact with the Indians of east Arkansas since Hernando de Soto’s expedition in the 1540s. The goal given Marquette, Joliet, and their men was to document, for French and Canadian officials, an area that had been largely unknown until the late seventeenth century. Both explorers were from …

Pacaha

Pacaha was a Native American chief who lived in northeast Arkansas during the 1500s. He is known solely from the four written accounts of the Hernando de Soto expedition, which passed through the region in the summer of 1541. One of the accounts refers to him as Capaha, but this is probably an author’s or editor’s mistake. Pacaha lived in a fortified village near the Mississippi River. The town was surrounded by a water-filled moat and a log palisade wall, with guard towers along the wall. Archaeologists speculate that the town may have been in what is now Crittenden County. When de Soto arrived, Pacaha was at war with a nearby chief named Casqui. Both chiefs ruled over several smaller …

Petit Jean, Legend of

The Legend of Petit Jean is a romantic Arkansas tale that purports to explain the origin of the name of Petit Jean Mountain. Although there are other explanations that are both more logical and more mundane, when someone refers to “The Legend of Petit Jean,” the person is most likely alluding to the romantic one. According to the story, in the 1700s, a young French girl named Adrienne (or, more specifically, Adrienne Dumont) disguised herself as a cabin boy named Jean in order to follow her beloved to the New World. Because of her small size, the other sailors nicknamed her “Petit Jean,” French for “Little John.” At some point after arriving in Arkansas, Petit Jean became ill, although the …

Quapaw

The Quapaw are members of the Dhegiha Siouan language group, which also includes the Osage, the Omaha, the Ponca, and the Kansa. They first appeared in historical accounts in 1673 when they encountered the first French explorers in the Mississippi River Valley, led by Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet. The French called the Quapaw the “Arkansas,” the Illini word for “People of the South Wind” and so named the river and the countryside after them. At that time, the Quapaw lived in four villages along the Mississippi River. They established one village, Kappa, on the east bank of the Mississippi. Two others, Tongigua and Tourima, were located on the west bank and a fourth, Osotouy, at the mouth of …

Spanish Explorers and Settlers

The only Spanish expedition into present-day Arkansas began when Hernando de Soto led his party across the Mississippi River on June 18, 1541. The Spaniards had already endured two years of wandering throughout the American southeast, hoping to duplicate the conquest and colonization of a wealthy and powerful nation, as had been done twenty years earlier with the Aztecs of Mexico. De Soto’s band of fortune seekers trudged on for another two years after crossing into Arkansas, where they encountered many large, agriculturally prosperous native chiefdoms, but none of the gold or silver that they sought. By the end of the expedition, approximately half their number, including de Soto himself, had died from sickness, hunger, exposure, or conflict with the …

Spanish Land Grants

Arkansas inherited a complex legacy of land grants from its time as part of Spanish Louisiana. Beginning in 1769, royal governor Alejandro O’Reilly established regulations concerning the size of permissible concessions and the conditions by which applicants could perfect titles to their land. Subsequent governors upheld and expanded similar regulations, but in practice, most grants made during Spanish rule were approved upon request only by the commandant of the nearest settlement. Formal surveys of the grants were rarely made, which further frustrated attempts to determine rightful ownership of granted land once Spanish Louisiana became part of the United States. O’Reilly’s regulations prescribed a three-year probationary period during which claimants were expected to clear the frontage of their land, build ditches …

Tinhiouen

There were actually two men with the name of Tinhiouen, a father and son, who were hereditary chiefs, or caddi, of the Kadohadacho Caddo in the late eighteenth century. After Spain took control of Louisiana, these two chiefs became increasingly important figures in diplomatic and economic affairs among colonial authorities, Creole inhabitants, and the many Native American tribes who lived in and around Spanish Louisiana and Texas. The two men shaped relationships between Spanish colonists and Indian tribes, and they gave the Caddo a favored political position in troubled times. The Kadohadacho were viewed by all other Caddo tribes, and by non-Caddo Indian neighbors, as direct descendants of the mythical or semi-mythical ancient ancestors of all Caddo people. The home …

Tunica

aka: Tunican Indians
The Tunica were one of several Native American tribes situated in the Lower Mississippi River Valley during the French colonial period. As allies of the French colonial Louisiana government, the Tunica were involved in many of the turbulent events that took place between the start of the Louisiana colony and the Louisiana Purchase by the United States. As a result, their population was severely reduced in numbers during this century, and they moved their villages repeatedly, generally downstream, until settling near present-day Marksville, Louisiana, about 1790. Tribal traditions and early colonial historic reports do not give a clear picture of Tunica ancestral homelands and cultural traditions. There is evidence, however, to indicate that the Tunica resided, at least in part, …