Arkansas (AR): Map, Abbreviation, State, History and Facts

Arkansas State

Arkansas is a state located in the Southern region of the United States. Its name is an Algonquian name of the Quapaw Indians. The state's diverse geography ranges from the mountainous regions of the Ozarks and the Ouachita Mountains, which make up the U.S. Interior Highlands, to the eastern lowlands along the Mississippi River and the Arkansas Delta. Arkansas is the 29th most extensive and the 32nd most populous of the 50 United States. The capital and most populous city is Little Rock, located in the central portion of the state. The Territory of Arkansas was admitted to the Union as the 25th state on June 15, 1836.

Arkansas Facts

  • Arkansas was the 25th state in the USA; it became a state on June 15, 1836.

  • State Abbreviation - AR

  • State Capital - Little Rock

  • Largest City - Little Rock

  • Area - 53,182 square miles [Arkansas is the 29th biggest state in the USA]

  • Population - 2,949,131 (as of 2012) [Arkansas is the 32nd most populous state in the USA]

  • Name for Residents - Arkansans

  • Major Industries - agriculture (chickens, soybeans, rice, cotton), paper and wood products (including furniture), electronic equipment, mining (aluminum and diamonds)

  • Presidential Birthplace - William Jefferson Clinton was born in Hope on August 19, 1946 (he was the 42nd US President, serving from 1993 to 2001).

  • Major Rivers - Arkansas River, Mississippi River

  • Major Lakes - Lake Ouachita, Bull Shoals Lake

  • Highest Point - Magazine Mountain - 2,753 feet (839 m) above sea level

  • Lowest Point - Ouachita River; 55 feet, (17 m) above sea level

  • Number of Counties - 75

  • Bordering States - Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas

  • Origin of the Name Arkansas - Arkansas is from the Quapaw (Sioux) word "acansa," which means "downstream place" or "south wind."

  • State Nickname - The Natural State

  • State Motto - "Regnat populus" - The people rule

  • State Songs - "Arkansas", by Wayland Holyfield, and "Oh Arkansas", by Terry Rose and Gary Klaff

Arkansas History

Pre-European Exploration, Prehistory through 1540

Archaeological evidence shows that what is now Arkansas was first inhabited thousands of years ago. What is known about the people who lived in this and subsequent prehistoric periods is limited to what has been recovered from archaeological excavations—tools, pottery, animal bones, and garbage deposits. During later periods, the practice of mound building emerged, and some mound complexes in Arkansas testify to the sophistication of ancient native peoples. By the Mississippian Period (also called Mississippian Culture, approximately 800 AD to 1500 AD), Indian groups in Arkansas had developed extensive agricultural practices, large villages, and long-distance trade routes.

European Exploration and Settlement, 1541 through 1802

The Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto led his expedition into Arkansas in 1541, at the end of the Mississippian Period. Though the de Soto expedition provided the first written accounts of the various Indian groups in Arkansas, it also spread disease and engaged in warfare upon the populace, changing forever the face of Arkansas. The next Europeans to venture into Arkansas were Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, who, coming 130 years after de Soto, helped to establish peaceful relations with the Quapaw. The founding of Arkansas Post in 1686 provided a center for military action and trade in the region for France (and later Spain) for over a century, but large-scale colonization of Arkansas never occurred.

Louisiana Purchase through Early Statehood, 1803 through 1860

By the time the United States took possession of what is now Arkansas in 1804 as part of the Louisiana Purchase, the Native American population had been diminished due to disease and conflict, and there were few European-born inhabitants in the area. However, the population soon exploded as white Americans from the east and the north sought out the potential of the frontier (some bringing their slaves with them). It was during these days of its territorial period and early in its statehood that Arkansas acquired a reputation as a violent and lawless place run by a handful of crooked men. Also during this period, Arkansas became the frontier of the cotton kingdom of the South, and as these cotton plantations depended upon the labor of enslaved blacks, the state’s place in the Union would be called into question.

Civil War through Reconstruction, 1861 through 1874

By February 1, 1861, seven Deep South states had seceded from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America, but Arkansas did not secede until May 1861. Though most Arkansans supported secession, a significant number, especially in the north-central region of the state, opposed it and resisted Confederate authority. The first full year of war seriously disrupted life in the state, especially after Union victories at Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove, and after Little Rock itself fell in September 1863. Arkansas was readmitted to the Union in 1868 with Republicans in charge of all levels of government. Reconstruction provided the state’s former slaves their first real political power, and many African Americans rose to high positions of authority within state government and civic organizations. However, resistance to these reforms resulted in a violent insurgency led by the Ku Klux Klan. Ultimately, the promise of Reconstruction faded with the 1872 election of Elisha Baxter as governor; though he was briefly deposed during the Brooks-Baxter War of 1874, his governorship heralded the return to power of the antebellum elites and the Democratic Party.

Post Reconstruction through the Gilded Age, 1875 through 1900

Arkansas was late in joining the “New South,” with its emphasis upon manufacturing rather than traditional agriculture, but it did eventually work at shifting gears that direction. By the end of Reconstruction, railroads connected many Arkansas cities to major cities of the South and beyond, opening up markets for Arkansas goods and allowing for the exploitation of the state’s natural resources, just as they brought new manufactured goods into Arkansas. The timber and mining industries thrived, while farmers, now competing with farmers across the nation, suffered a decline in prices. In response, real threats to the Gilded Age Democratic hegemony emerged in the form of the Greenback Party and the Agricultural Wheel, which capitalized on farmers’ discontent with governmental policies. To combat this new threat, the Democratic-controlled state legislature passed a number of laws that essentially stripped the supporters of these movements of the right to vote. Those in control brought about a new era of legal and social segregation to prevent a rising black middle class from achieving its share of influence.

Early Twentieth Century, 1901 through 1940

The early twentieth century was a time of increasing progressivism for Arkansas. The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union worked to get a prohibition measure passed in 1917. That same year, the state legislature voted to let women participate in the Democratic primary, making Arkansas the second state in the Union to approve women's suffrage. The state began reforming its education system and, during the tenure of Governor George Donaghey, established four agricultural schools that eventually became universities. All was not bright, however. White rioters in Harrison (Boone County) drove African Americans out of town, and white planters and soldiers murdered an unknown number, possibly hundreds, of black sharecroppers and tenant farmers in Elaine (Phillips County). The Flood of 1927 brought ruination to much of the Delta farmland, creating a situation that the subsequent Great Depression only exacerbated. However, from this milieu of oppression and poverty arose the integrated Southern Tenant Farmers’ Union, which, despite being short-lived, foreshadowed the modern civil rights movement.

World War II through the Faubus Era, 1941 through 1967

Many men and women from Arkansas signed up for military service at the dawn of World War II, and many others took jobs in the new ordnance plants established within the state; these plants continued the industrialization of Arkansas, which had been interrupted by the Depression. But these few new industries could not satisfy the employment needs of all Arkansans, and many left the state in search of jobs elsewhere. Among those emigrating were many African Americans who had been left out of the economic uplift and who resisted being forced to stay on the farms to sharecrop. In the largest in-migration of any ethnic group to the state, some 16,000 Japanese Americans were interned in two relocation camps in the state from October 1942 to November 1945. In 1948, Arkansas voters elected progressive and racial moderate Sid McMath as governor, but the state’s image was to be tarnished by a later governor, Orval Faubus, whose resistance to the desegregation of Little Rock (Pulaski County) schools created a national crisis and made Arkansas a byword for racism. Though he was elected more times than any Arkansas governor, he was succeeded by Winthrop Rockefeller, the first Republican to hold the office since Reconstruction. Rockefeller’s election signified a return to racial moderation and a determination to improve the state’s image and attract more business and industry.

Modern Era, 1968 through the Present

Rockefeller led reforms in many areas of state government, most notably its prison system, and his immediate successors—Dale Bumpers, David Pryor, and Bill Clinton—though all Democrats, led in a similar vein, working to modernize Arkansas. During this time, the economy of northwest Arkansas grew exponentially with the rise of businesses such as Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods, even as the former powerhouse of the state, the Arkansas Delta, fell into poverty. The state modernized and became more urban—with cities such as Fayetteville (Washington County), Rogers (Benton County), Little Rock (Pulaski County), and Jonesboro (Craighead County) growing at a fast clip—but women and minorities remained underrepresented in the upper echelons of political and economic power. Beginning in the 1980s, the state became increasingly conservative both politically and culturally. Republican Frank White was elected governor in the 1980 election, splitting Clinton’s tenure as governor, and Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee, sworn in as governor in 1996, was elected twice, in 1998 and 2002. Until the 2012 election produced a Republican majority in the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, Arkansas remained predominately Democratic even as it tended to vote Republican in presidential elections. Clinton’s election to the presidency in 1992 made many Arkansans feel that their state had “come of age” and finally had a place in national politics. Democrat Mike Beebe was elected Arkansas's governor in 2006.

Geography and Regions of Arkansas

You can understand Arkansas, its people and its settlements, by studying the landscape and geography. Before, during or after the great flood, Arkansas was under the ocean during for some time. Rock, known as limestone, was created when the creatures living in the water died and accumulated on the bottom of the oceans. Limestone is found in northern Arkansas. In western Arkansas, sandstone and shale were laid down, also remnants of the era. Also during this cataclysmic era, the plateaus of the Ozark Mountains were formed, as well as the long ridges of the Ouachita Mountains.

Eastern and south Arkansas were also under the waters of what would be the Gulf of Mexico. This was thousands of years ago. The Gulf of Mexico eventually withdrew from Arkansas in the years to follow and left behind sand and gravel that is common in south Arkansas today.

Today, the geography of Arkansas can be divided into the uplands and the lowlands. The uplands have mountains and are rocky while the lowlands are hilly in some places and low, flat and wet in other places. The soil is sandy and there are many rivers. Each supports many different plants and animals, farming, scenery and recreational opportunities.

From the uplands to the lowlands, Arkansas can be subdivided into six natural divisions, each with its own unique geographical features.

Six Natural Divisions

Arkansas geography is best understood in terms of its six natural divisions. They are as follows:

Ozark Plateau (a.k.a. Ozark Mountains): The Ozark Plateau extends across northern Arkansas from Washington and Benton counties in the west to Batesville (Independence County) in the east, extending into eastern Oklahoma and southern Missouri as well. The domed plateaus (i.e., “mountains”) were uplifted in the cataclysmic era from the geologic pressure that continental plates exerted upon each other; in many places, rivers cut valleys through the Ozark Plateau. This area was sparsely settled before Europeans began filtering into present-day Arkansas, and it kept a comparatively low population long after the state entered the Union. Plantation slavery never extended into the area, and this, combined with a sense of independence bred by rural isolation, made the Ozark Plateau a hotbed of pro-Union sentiment during the Civil War. Save for the phenomenal growth of cities in Washington and Benton counties, much of the area remains predominantly rural, though it does draw tourists looking to experience the Ozark National Forest, the Buffalo National River, or any of the manmade lakes that dot northern Arkansas.

Ouachita Mountains: Geologic pressure also resulted in the continental folds called the Ouachita Mountains, which extend from the vicinity of Little Rock into eastern Oklahoma. In some areas, heat from geologic forces created formations of crystal and novaculite, the latter being a rock unique to Arkansas. Save for Little Rock, this area, too, has been sparsely settled over time, though today, many tourists are drawn to the Ouachita National Forest and the city of Hot Springs (Garland County), named after the hot springs located there, which are the result of the heating of groundwater far below the earth’s surface.

Arkansas River Valley: This area is located between the Ozark Plateau and the Ouachita Mountains and extends eastward into Oklahoma, following the Arkansas River. It was the site of shallow swamps during a long time ago, but these swamps slowly disappeared as the land on either side of the Arkansas Valley rose and the organic material within was eventually transformed into coal and natural gas. Throughout the human habitation of Arkansas, the Arkansas Valley has been a prime spot for settlement due to the abundance of water and other natural resources. Part of the valley today is known as Arkansas’s wine country on account of nineteenth-century German immigrants establishing vineyards in this area much like their homeland. The cities of Fort Smith (Sebastian County), Clarksville (Johnson County), Russellville (Pope County), and Conway (Faulkner County) lie in the Arkansas River Valley.

West Gulf Coastal Plain: Lying beneath the Gulf of Mexico until rising, the West Gulf Coastal Plain is made up of sand and gravel that has, over time, been cemented into hard rock. The plain takes up most of southern Arkansas and extends into Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana. Before European exploration, this area was home to, most notably, the Caddo Indians, who were noted for their mound building. The area remains noted for its geology, as it encompasses the only diamond mine in North America, located at Murfreesboro (Pike County), as well as the center of the state’s oil industry, located in Union County. The Gulf Coastal Plain is also the focus of much of the timber industry in Arkansas.

Mississippi Alluvial Plain (a.k.a. Arkansas Delta): Virtually the entire eastern third of Arkansas is encompassed by the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, which is made up of the alluvial deposits left behind by the Mississippi River throughout the ages. This area was home to many prehistoric Native American habitations, including a ceremonial complex now known as Toltec Mounds and the small village of Casqui, which was visited by the Hernando de Soto expedition. At the start of larger-scale European exploration in the seventeenth century, the Quapaw inhabited parts of the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, and Arkansas’s first territorial capital was located at Arkansas Post (Arkansas County), though it had to be moved farther inland due to flood and disease. Much of the land was swamp that was cleared of its hardwood timber and drained to make the cotton and bean fields prevalent today. Until Arkansas became firmly committed to industrialization, in the early to middle twentieth century, this part of the state was its economic powerhouse, dotted with plantations that, in antebellum days, were worked by large numbers of slaves and, later, before the advent of mechanized agriculture, were worked mostly by sharecroppers and tenant farmers. Though it still remains the center for the state’s large-scale agriculture, changes in the economy have left the region impoverished.

Crowley’s Ridge: Crowley’s Ridge is a strip of land anywhere from five to twenty miles wide and extending about 150 miles from southeastern Missouri to Helena-West Helena (Phillips County). Completely surrounded by the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, it is a strip of higher ground (generally less than 200 feet above the surrounding Delta land) that was formed when the rivers reworking eastern Arkansas left it untouched. Named after explorer Benjamin Crowley, the ridge has historically been a refuge from the floods that frequently plagued the land, and all those counties through which the ridge passes have their seats of government located upon the high ground. The most populous city in east Arkansas, Jonesboro (Craighead County), is located along the ridge.

State Flag

The official state flag of Arkansas was chosen in a design contest in 1913; the winner was Miss Willie Kavanaugh Hocker of Wabbaseka. The flag's design was finalized in 1926.

The diamond shapes in the center represent the diamond gemstone, because Arkansas is the only state in the USA where diamonds have been found. Since Arkansas was the twenty-fifth state to join the Union, there are 25 white stars around the diamond. The three blue stars in the lower part of the center represent Spain, France and the United States, the countries that have ruled Arkansas. The blue star in the upper center represents the Confederacy, of which Arkansas was a member.

Facts about Arkansas

  1. Elevations in the state range from 54 feet above sea level in the far southeast corner to 2,753 feet above at Mount Magazine, the state's highest point.

  2. North Little Rock offers one of the nation's largest municipal parks.

  3. The community of Mountain View is called the Folk Capital of America. The little town preserves the pioneer way of life and puts it on display for visitors at the Ozark Folk Center State Park from March through October.

  4. The road to the White House for President Bill Clinton began in Hope, then led to Hot Springs, Fayetteville, and Little Rock.

  5. Arkansas contains over 600,000 acres of lakes and 9,700 miles of streams and rivers.

  6. The state contains six national park sites, two-and-a half million acres of national forests, seven national scenic byways, three state scenic byways, and 50 state parks.

  7. One of America's finest restoration projects, the Quapaw Quarter features some of Little Rock's oldest structures including Victorian and antebellum homes, churches, MacArthur Park, and the Old Arsenal.

  8. Mountain View is home to one of the largest producers of handmade dulcimers in the world.

  9. Since the 1830s the area now known as Hot Springs National Park has bathed well known individuals as diverse as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, and Al Capone. The park is entirely surrounded by the city of Hot Springs, the boyhood home of President Bill Clinton.

  10. Located just outside of Murfreesboro, Crater of Diamonds State Park allows dedicated prospectors to search for precious gems including diamonds, amethyst, garnet, jasper, agate, and quartz.

  11. The mockingbird is the official state bird. It was designated in 1929.

  12. Clark Bluff overlooking the St. Francis River contains chalk to supply the nation for years.

  13. Famous singer Johnny Cash was born in Kingsland.

  14. The apple blossom is the official state flower. It was designated in 1901.

  15. The Magnet Cove region claims to contain 102 varieties of minerals.

  16. The World's Championship Duck Calling Contest is held annually in Stuttgart.

  17. Sam Walton founded his Wal-Mart stores in Bentonville.

  18. Mount Ida is known as the Quartz Crystal Capital of the World.

  19. Arkansas became the 25th state on June 15, 1836.

  20. The pine tree is the official state tree. It was designated in 1939.

  21. Pine Bluff is known as the world center of archery bow production.

  22. Camden was the site of the Fort Lookout Skirmish and the Battle of Poison Springs

  23. Bauxite is the official state mineral. It was designated in 1967.

  24. Alma claims to be the Spinach Capital of the World.

  25. Little River County Courthouse is world famous for its Christmas lights display.

  26. General Douglas MacArthur, soldier and statesman, was born in Little Rock in 1880.

  27. Established near the mouth of the Arkansas River in 1686, Arkansas Post was the first permanent white settlement in the state.

  28. The geographic center of the state is located in Pulaski, 12 miles northwest of Little Rock.

  29. The city of Fairfield Bay sits on the north shore of Greers Ferry Lake, a 40,000 acre mountain lake of sparkling waters in central Arkansas.

  30. The University of Central Arkansas was founded in Conway in 1907.

  31. The average temperature in July is 81.4 degrees; January it is 39.5; and the annual average is 61.7 degrees. The average rainfall is 48.52 inches and the average snowfall is 5.2 inches.

  32. Scott Joplin, popular musician and composer, was born in Texarkana.

  33. The diamond is the official state gem. It was designated in 1967.

  34. Arkansas is officially known as The Natural State.

  35. The Arkansas River is the longest stream to flow into the Mississippi-Missouri river system. Its total length is 1,450 miles.

  36. The South Arkansas vine ripe pink tomato is the official state fruit and blossom. It was designated in 1987.

  37. Milk is the official state beverage. It was designated in 1985.

  38. The largest freestanding rock formation located in Eureka Springs has a base circumference of about 10 inches and the top measures almost 10 feet across.

  39. The apple blossom is the official state flower. It was designated in 1901.

  40. Ouachita National Forest reigns as the oldest national forest in the South.

  41. The lowest point in the state occurs along the Ouachita River.

  42. Origin of state's name: French interpretation of a Sioux word acansa, meaning downstream place.

  43. A person from Arkansas is called an Arkansan.

  44. The honeybee is the official state insect. It was officially designated in 1973.

  45. In 1783 the Colbert Incident occurred at Arkansas Post. It was the only Revolutionary War skirmish in the state.

  46. The Buffalo River is one of the few remaining unpolluted, free-flowing rivers in the lower 48 states.

  47. The fiddle is the official state instrument. It was designated in 1985.

  48. Hot springs flow from the southwestern slope of Hot Springs Mountain, at an average temperature of 143 F.

  49. The Ozark National Forest covers more than one million acres.

  50. The quartz crystal is the official state rock. It was designated in 1967.


In the past few centuries, the region of the United States now known as Arkansas has undergone drastic changes in its land and its governance. Before European powers began to influence this area, several Native American nations - especially the Caddo, Osage and Quapaw - lived here. Even after France claimed Arkansas as a part of Louisiana, the Indian Nations maintained a mutually beneficial relationship with the French. After the Louisiana Purchase by the United States in 1803 and the advent of settlers into the region, the Indians were gradually pushed out of Arkansas.

Arkansas was a section of Missouri Territory until Missouri decided to enter the Union as a state. Missouri Territory's southern counties became Arkansas Territory in 1819. By the mid-1830s, Arkansas had population enough to be eligible for statehood, and, as Michigan was looking to join the Union as a free state, the Arkansas Territorial Assembly voted to apply for statehood as a slave state. At that time a balance was being maintained in the United States Senate between slave and free states. Arkansas became the 25th state of the United States in 1836.

Politics in pre-Civil War Arkansas was dominated by the Democratic Party, which was led by a remarkable collection of cousins known as the Family or the Dynasty. The Johnson/Conway/Sevier family was able to serve or select others to serve in most of the important positions of state government up to the time of the Civil War. The issues with which they coped, sometimes successfully and other times not so, included the bankruptcy of the State Bank and the Real Estate Bank, the Mexican War and migration to Texas, the Gold Rush, and the sectional tensions that led to the Civil War. Arkansas voted to join the Confederate States of America only after hostilities began at Fort Sumpter in South Carolina.

The Civil War - known in the South as the War Between the States - took a toll on Arkansas in the loss of lives, homes and property. The slave population was finally free and began to play an important role in politics in the Reconstruction era. After reconstruction ended, the power was taken back from the Republican Party by the Democrats, who were able to push segregation laws through the General Assembly. By the end of the 19th century, African-Americans were held back from political power by such techniques as the poll tax. Arkansas remained solidly Democratic.

The Progressive Era early in the 20th century brought improvements in education and health, as the state began to rely on professionals running the agencies in state government. Economic hardships after the First World War brought a more conservative tenor to politics in the state, even though progressive Sen. Joe T. Robinson became the vice presidential candidate for the Democratic Party in 1928. A year later the Great Depression exacerbated the state's economic situation. After World War II the economy improved until 1957, when the desegregation crisis at Central High School polarized the political scene. After Orval Faubus declined to seek a seventh term as governor, a series of progressive governors followed, a list that includes Bill Clinton, who after twelve years as governor, was elected president of the United States.
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