Geography and Landforms:

Arkansas covers 53,182 square miles. The highest point is Magazine Mountain at 2,753 feet above sea level, and the lowest point is the Ouachita River at 55 feet above sea level. Arkansas can be divided into five main land regions; the Ozark Plateau, the Arkansas Valley, the Ouachita Mountains, the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, and the West Gulf Coastal Plain.

The Ozark Plateau is located in the northwestern and north central part of Arkansas. This is an area of rugged hills and deep valleys, with heavy forests. South of the Ozark Plateau is the Arkansas River Valley. The Arkansas River is the largest in the state. South of the Arkansas Valley are the Ouachita Mountains, a group that runs from eastern Oklahoma to central Arkansas. The Ouachita Mountains are known for their mineral and timber resources and for their hot springs.

The Mississippi Alluvial Plain forms most of the eastern border of Arkansas between Tennessee and Louisiana, and covers the eastern third of the state of Arkansas. This area is covered with rich soil carried by the Mississippi River and its tributaries.

The West Gulf Coastal Plain covers the southeastern and south central portions of the state along the border of Louisiana, and is characterized by pine forests and farmlands. Natural resources in this area include natural gas, petroleum deposits and beds of bromine flats.


In 1541, the Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto was the first European to set foot in Arkansas, as he led an unsuccessful, yearlong expedition for gold. After this failure, it was 130 years before two Frenchmen, Pere Marquette and Louis Joliet visited Arkansas. In 1682, at the mouth of the Mississippi, Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle claimed the Mississippi Valley for France, but he was later assassinated by two of his companions. In 1686, Henri De Tonti set out from Fort St. Louis on the Illinois River to meet LaSalle at the mouth of the Mississippi. After he failed to locate LaSalle, De Tonti, the "Father of Arkansas," established the first European settlement in Arkansas, called Arkansas Post, with six residents.

Over the next hundred years, development of the region was sluggish as the number of settlers slowly increased. In 1762, the entire Louisiana Territory was ceded to Spain, and Spanish governors offered free land and no taxes to encourage settlers to inhabit the area. In 1799, there were approximately 386 white people living in Arkansas. In 1800, France regained control of the territory as part of a treaty signed with Spain. In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase was acquired by the United States, and, in 1819, Arkansas was organized as a territory. Its northern, eastern and southern borders were the same as they are now, but to the west, some of what is now Oklahoma was included.

By 1836, the Arkansas Territory had the 60,000 residents required to become a state, and after writing an acceptable constitution, was declared the 25th state in the United States. The new state enjoyed a thirty-year period of prosperity.By 1860 Arkansas had a population of 435,000, 25 percent of whom were slaves. The majority of the residents were planters who lived in the rich bottomlands of the east and southeastern portion of the state and farmers who lived in the central and northern hills. A much smaller number of residents were lawyers, doctors, merchants, missionaries and teachers.

Arkansas was drawn into the Civil War in May, 1861, by its decision to secede from the Union. Troops were mustered and civilians devoted their energy and resources to providing food, clothing, weapons, and horses for the soldiers. Two major battles, Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove, were fought in Arkansas. In 1863, the Confederate government moved to Washington, in the southwestern corner of Arkansas, and, in 1864, the Union government was established in Little Rock. After the Civil War ended in 1865, the era called Reconstruction began, during which dramatic changes took place in the South.


While it was a major cotton-producing state in the 19th century, Arkansas has since diversified its agricultural production and its economy. The growing use of farm machinery led to the consolidation of many family-run farms into larger farming corporations. Arkansans learned in 1904 that rice could successfully be grown here, and it is now one of its most profitable crops. The livestock and dairy industries have also gained prominence in the last 90 years. Cotton is still an important crop, but now ranks below soybeans and rice. Arkansas is also a leading producer of poultry, turkeys, dairy goods, and catfish. The state's most important mineral products are petroleum, bromine and bromine compounds, and natural gas, and it is the nation's leading bauxite producer. Principal manufactures are food products, chemicals, lumber and paper goods, electrical equipment, furniture, automobile and airplane parts, and machinery.

First Inhabitants:

Tens of thousands of people were living in the area now known as Arkansas when the first Europeans arrived in the late sixteenth century. Archaeologists have found evidence that people were living in the area of the Mississippi River as early as 9500 BC, but native populations began to grow between 5000 and 4000 BC.

One group, known as the Plum Bayou people, lived in east central Arkansas from 650 to 1050 A.D. They built eighteen platform burial mounds, some of which were aligned to coincide with celestial occurrences such as the summer solstice and fall and spring equinoxes. One of these mounds is 49 feet tall; five are still visible. The Plum Bayou people lived in permanent villages throughout the countryside. They built sturdy houses and farmed. They also gathered wild plant foods, fished and hunted. Artifacts found at the site include simple plain-ware ceramics and stone tools. The Plum Bayou people continued to live at the site until around 1050 AD, when it was abandoned for unknown reasons.

Two prominent groups in 1541 were the Parkin people and the Nodena people. The Parkin site was occupied from 1000 to 1550. Many artifacts exist from the Nodena site, established around 1350. However, the Nodena people and the Parkin people vanished shortly after the Spanish explorer De Soto passed through their territories in the summer of 1541, probably because of the spread of European diseases. It is also possible that there was a drought that had a negative impact on the native people.

The next European observers to reach Arkansas, the expedition of Marquette and Joliet in 1673, saw almost no one along the Mississippi River in northeast Arkansas where many thousands had once lived. The first large villages they found were those of the "Akansea," thought to be the ancestors of the modern Quapaw, who were living near the mouth of the Arkansas River.

The Tunican people of southeast Arkansas may have escaped the epidemics because of their scant population and because the Spaniards did not go far into their territory. The Caddo people survived also, even though De Soto's army spent many months among them. What saved them, apparently, was that they did not live in large towns where epidemics could spread quickly and easily.

We still know very little about the years from 1541 to 1850, partly because very little archeology has been done on sites occupied during those years and partly because in Arkansas the first European contacts with the Indians were unusually sporadic and poorly documented. A full 130 years elapsed between the De Soto invasion and the expedition of Marquette and Joliet. When pioneer settlement began, the state's major native groups were the southeastern Quapaws, the southwestern Caddos and the Osage, who visited the northwest to hunt.

By 1835, those groups had been forced to leave, making way for settlers of European descent and for temporary resettlement of Native Americans driven from eastern states. In the late 1830s, members of eastern tribes crossed Arkansas as part of the forced exodus known as the Trail of Tears.

Books Related To Arkansas

Fire from the Rock - Sharon Draper
(978-0525477204) , Fiction
Interest level: 5-12, Lexile: 830, ESL level: 3 - 4
Sylvia represents her race in entering a previously white school in the 1950's in Little Rock, Arkansas.

In Front of God and Everybody - KD McCrite
(978-1400317226) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-6, ESL level: 3
Arty new neighbors from San Francisco disturb April's sense of home, and April's grandmother finds a new "boyfriend."""

The Legend of Bass Reeves - Gary Paulsen
(978-0553494297) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-12, Lexile: 950, ESL level: 4 - 5
This historical novel shows how Bass Reeves brought many outlaws to justice; his fame as an African American former slave living as a sheriff makes this a gripping account.

N is for Natural State: An Arkansas Alphabet - Michael Shoulders
(978-1585360673) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 0-2, ESL level: 1 - 2
This book features all the things that are special about Arkansas.

The Painters of Lexieville - Sharon Darrow
(763-614378) , Fiction
Interest level: 7-12, Lexile: 880, ESL level: 4
Pert Lexie's drab life in rural Arkansas suddenly gets worse when her uncle comes on to her and her welfare mother's attempts to help Pert escape fire up after a discovery about the uncle.

Summer of My German Soldier - Bette Greene
(978-0756967734) , Fiction
Interest level: 8-12, Lexile: 800, ESL level: 3 - 4
A naive pre-teen in Arkansas aids a German P.O.W. who has escaped his detention center.

Where Things Come Back - John Corey Whaley
(978-1442413337) , Fiction
Interest level: 8-12, ESL level: 3 - 4
The quiet peace of his small-town, Arkansas life is interrupted when Cullen's cousin dies of an overdose, his love life crashes, and his brother disappears.

With a Name Like Love - Tess Hilmo
(978-0374384654) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-9, Lexile: 710, ESL level: 3 - 4
Olivene, the daughter of a clergy man, finds small town life in Arkansas to be a microcosm of the world with villains and the warm-hearted, mysteries and love all wrapped up together.

Famous Citizens:

Paul "Bear" Bryant
Paul Bryant was born in Moro Bottom and raised in Fordyce, Arkansas. He earned his nickname as a young man by wrestling a bear at the Fordyce Theater. He served as the head coach of the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide from 1958-1983 and became the college football coach with the best record having earned 323 victories and six national championships, a benchmark that has now been overtaken. Five weeks after retiring as head coach, he died of a heart attack.

Pearl S. Buck
Pearl Buck was born Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker in Hillsboro, Arkansas, the daughter of Southern Presbyterian missionaries who spent most of their lives in China. Pearl was born while her parents were on a furlough in the U.S., but returned to China when she was only 3 months old. She enrolled in Randolph-Macon Woman's College in Virginia, and returned to China after graduation where she met John Lossing Buck, an American agricultural economist. Pearl and her husband both took teaching positions at Nanking University. In the 1920s, Pearl began to publish stories and essays, and her first novel East Wind, West Wind, was published in 1930. Her second book, The Good Earth won a Pulitzer Prize, was a best selling book of both 1931 and 1932, and was adapted as a major film in 1937. By 1938, Buck had won the Nobel Prize in literature, the first American woman to do so.

Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash was born in Kingland, Arkansas, the son of Baptist sharecroppers. He began playing guitar and writing songs at age 12 and during high school, performed frequently on the local radio station. Known as the "Man in Black," he was an established country music star for decades. The Hall of Famer was known for such hits as "A Boy Named Sue," "Orange Blossom Special," and "I Walk the Line." He had his own TV series The Johnny Cash Show (ABC, 1969-71) and Johnny Cash and Friends (CBS, 1976).

William Jefferson Clinton
Bill Clinton was born William Jefferson Blyth IV in Hope, Arkansas. His father died three weeks before he was born, and when he was four, his mother married Roger Clinton and raised Bill in Hot Springs. Clinton graduated from Georgetown University and won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. After receiving a law degree from Yale University, he entered Arkansas politics. He was elected Attorney General of Arkansas in 1976, and Governor in 1978. In 1992, he was elected President of the United States, and then became the first Democratic president to win re-election since FDR. He also became only the second President to be impeached by the House of Representatives after he was accused of lying about a relationship he had with a White House intern. He was found not guilty of the charges.

John Grisham
John Grisham was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, the son of a cotton farmer. His father also was an itinerant construction worker, and moved the family throughout the Deep South. Although neither of his parents attended college, they encouraged him to pursue his education, and he entered the University of Mississippi law school to prepare for a career as a tax lawyer. He established a practice and was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 1983. Inspired by cases he had observed in his law career, he decided to begin writing novels, and eventually closed his law practice to write full time. He is now the best-selling author of such books as A Time to Kill, The Rainmaker, The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Client, and The Chamber, all of which have been successfully translated into movies.

Douglas MacArthur
Douglas MacArthur was born at the Little Rock Arsenal while his father was its commandant. He rose to become a Five-star U.S. Army general and Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in the Pacific during World War II. He accepted the Japanese surrender in 1945. His accomplishments include: first in class at West Point; Superintendent of West Point; Army Chief of Staff; U.S. Far East Commander; Congressional Medal of Honor recipient; Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers; and first UN Commander.

Capital: Little Rock
Entered Union: June 15, 1836
Population: 2,966,369
Area 53,179
Bird Mockingbird
Flower Apple Blossom
Nickname: The Natural State
Governor Asa Hutchinson

Places to Visit in Arkansas: (Click the links to learn more.)

Hot Springs National Park - Hot Springs
Known for its 47 thermal springs, this national park covers about 5,500 acres, and features more than 30 miles of hiking trails through the scenic Ouachita Mountains, scenic drives, hot water cascade, picnic areas and campsites. It is the oldest park currently in the National Park System, and people have been using the hot spring water for therapeutic baths for more than two hundred years.

Band Museum - Pine Bluff
The only museum in America devoted to band instruments and the history of the band movement. The collection includes hundreds of vintage and antique band instruments, and a fully-operational 1950s soda fountain.

Daisy Airgun Museum - Rogers
The Daisy Airgun Museum features over 150 air rifles and toys on display commemorating the history of the air rifle from the 1700s to the present. The museum also includes an indoor shooting range.

Wal-Mart Museum - Bentonville
The location of Sam Walton's first "5 and dime" store which grew into the international retail giant Wal-Mart. The Center includes Sam's original office.

Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site - Little Rock
The museum is the site of a major test in 1957 of the Civil Rights Act where nine African-American students integrated the all-white school. The museum depicts the struggle through exhibits and photos.