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Arkansas River


ARKANSAS RIVER emerges in central Colorado and flows southeast through Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas to the Mississippi River. Known to the early French as Rivière des Ark or d'Ozark, the 1,450-mile river derived its present-day name from the Arkansas Indians who lived along its banks. Hernando de Soto became the first European to explore the river on his journey into the Southwest in 1541. The French explorers Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette reached its mouth in 1673, in their search for a river "coming in from California on the southern sea." The Arkansas Post (in present-day southeastern Arkansas), established in 1686 by Henry de Tonti, was the first permanent settlement in the Arkansas River region, and the early history of the river centers around the post.

During the eighteenth century, the headwaters of the Arkansas were in Spanish territory. In 1696, the Spanish explorer Uribarri applied the name "Rio Napestle" to the upper Arkansas, a name the Spanish continued to use until the nineteenth century. The 1819Adams-Onís Treaty between the United States and Spain made the Arkansas River west of the 100th meridian a part of the western boundary of the United States. The name "Arkansas," which had applied only to lower reaches of the stream, was carried westward by American traders and trappers and succeeded in replacing the name "Rio Napestle," or "Napeste."

The Arkansas River was a highway for the French and Spanish. In the nineteenth century, it was navigable with keelboats as far west as Grand River. By the early twentieth century, it had also become a source of water for farms, industries, and cities and the subject of conflicts among the various users of the river's waters.


Lecompte, Janet. Pueblo, Hardscrabble, Greenhorn: The Upper Arkansas, 1832–1856. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978.

Lewis, Anna. Along the Arkansas. Dallas, Tex.: The Southwest Press, 1932.

Sherow, James Earl. Watering the Valley: Development along the High Plains Arkansas River, 1870–1950. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1990.

AnnaLewis/c. p.

See alsoLouisiana Purchase ; Treaties with Foreign Nations .

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