1936 3¢ Arkansas Centennial
Issue Date: June 15, 1936
First City: Little Rock, AR
Quantity Issued: 72,992,650
In 1686, the French established the first white settlement in Arkansas. In 1803, Arkansas was sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase. In 1836, it became the 25th state in the Union.
European Exploration and Early Settlement
Indians had lived in Arkansas as early as 10,000 B.C. When the first European explorers arrived, they found three main tribes in the area: the Caddo, Osage, and Quapaw.
Hernando de Soto of Spain was the first European to reach the Mississippi River. He reached it in 1541, near what is now Memphis, Tennessee. He then crossed Arkansas and reached the Ozark Mountains. In 1673, Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet traveled down the Mississippi to the mouth of the Arkansas River. The entire Mississippi River valley, which includes Arkansas, was claimed for France in 1682 by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. He called the claim Louisiana, in honor of King Louis XIV.
In 1686, Henri Tonti built a camp at the mouth of the Arkansas River. Arkansas’ first permanent white settlement, Arkansas Post, was founded near there. To develop that vast Louisiana territory, France gave control of the area to the Western Company. The Western Company brought several hundred colonists to Arkansas. However, the effort was largely unsuccessful, and many of the colonists left.
Spain gained ownership of France’s lands west of the Mississippi in 1763. France took the land back in 1800. Then, in 1803, the area was sold to the United States in a transaction known as the Louisiana Purchase. The Louisiana Purchase added 827,987 square miles of land to the U.S. for a cost of just $15 million.
Years as a Territory
In 1812, Arkansas and the northern part of the Louisiana Territory were organized as the Missouri Territory. Congress created the Arkansas Territory in 1819. It included today’s Arkansas and part of Oklahoma. The Arkansas River Valley served as a route to the Far West, and many travelers passed through the state. Van Buren and Fort Smith became important trade centers.
Statehood and the Civil War
On June 15, 1836, Arkansas became the 25th state to join the Union. Arkansas joined the Union just as the national debate over the future of slavery in America was becoming more and more intense. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln, well known for his anti-slavery stance, was elected president. This resulted in several Southern states seceding from the Union and forming the Confederacy.
As a slave state, Arkansas was torn as to what course of action it should take. In March of 1861, an Arkansas convention voted to stay within the Union. However, when President Lincoln called for Union states to provide troops for the war, Arkansas refused. Then, in May of 1861, another state convention voted to secede.
In March of 1862, Union forces won an important battle at Pea Ridge, Arkansas. Northern troops pushed the Confederates into the southern portion of the state. On September 10, 1863, the Union army captured Little Rock, so the Confederates established a new capital at Washington, Arkansas. In 1864, a group of pro-Union Arkansans formed a government at Little Rock. This government’s constitution abolished slavery. Both governments existed until the war ended in 1865.
Reconstruction and Segregation
Federal troops occupied Arkansas from 1867 to 1874, and the entire state was under military authority. In 1868, the state passed a law giving blacks the right to vote. That year, Arkansas was readmitted into the Union.
Arkansas was among the most fervent states in application of racial segregation laws. To give an idea of the scope of this segregation, many courts in Arkansas supplied different Bibles for swearing in witnesses of different races. Law-enforced segregation continued in the state until 1957. That year, the state became embroiled in a controversy over school integration when a judge ordered Central High School in Little Rock to integrate. Arkansas Governor Orval E. Faubus sent the state’s National Guard to prevent black integration. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower federalized the National Guard and sent U.S. Army troops to enforce the court order. By the 1970s, Arkansas schools were largely integrated.
During the late 1800s, Arkansas entered a period of continuing economic expansion. This growth was spurred by the construction of railroads, which allowed industry and agriculture to prosper. Deposits of the mineral bauxite were discovered near Little Rock in 1887, and many mines were opened. By 1900, many large sawmills and other timber-related industries had begun to flourish in Arkansas. Oil was discovered near El Dorado in 1921, and the state’s first hydroelectric dam was built in 1924.
In 1932, Arkansas elected the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. Hattie Caraway was awarded that office after winning a special election held shortly after her husband, U.S. Senator Thaddeus Caraway, died.
Farming and mining expanded greatly in Arkansas during World War II. However, after the war, the state’s economy began to move away from agriculture toward industrialization. Many farm workers lost their jobs due to greater reliance on machinery. And although new manufacturing jobs helped to employ many of these workers, there simply weren’t enough for all those displaced from the state’s farms. As a result, many workers left the state, despite the fact that the number of manufacturing plants more than doubled during the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1960s, Arkansas manufacturing became more profitable than its farms for the first time.
In 1970, the Arkansas River Development Program was completed. This project made the Arkansas River navigable from the Mississippi River into Oklahoma. Industrial expansion has brought the state many of the same problems faced by other states: air and water pollution, energy shortages, and housing shortages. The state has strived to improve its public education, including increased vocational education to provide the state’s industry with skilled workers. Increased tourism has also provided Arkansas with additional income and jobs.
Battle Of Pea Ridge
On March 6, 1862, the largest fight in the Trans-Mississippi Theater, the Battle of Pea Ridge, began.
The Union Army of the Southwest had pushed the Confederates out of Missouri and were pursuing them into Arkansas in early 1862. Major General Earl Van Dorn had recently taken command of the Southern Army of the West and was determined to regain lost ground. In a letter to his wife, he wrote of his goals saying, “I must have St. Louis.”
Van Dorn was given the opportunity to destroy the much smaller Union Army when Brigadier General Samuel Curtis positioned his men near Pea Ridge in northern Arkansas. Van Dorn’s plan was to march around the enemy and attack their rear from the North, cutting off their supply route and communications. The Union would be forced to retreat to Missouri or be destroyed.
General Van Dorn split his forces into two divisions, which would travel along either side of Pea Ridge and attack the Union on two fronts. He instructed his soldiers to take rations for three days, forty rounds of ammunition, and a blanket. The supply trains would carry ammunition for the cannon and an additional day’s rations. The Army of the West headed out for a hard three-day march in a freezing storm and arrived near the Union position on March 6, 1862. That night, Van Dorn ordered an attack on the Union line at Elkhorn Tavern, and they succeeded in pushing the Union forces back and cutting the Union lines of communication before the night was out.
Van Dorn put Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch in charge of the divisions that turned east to meet the Union Army. The Northern forces detected their movements and were ready for them. The two sides met in the small town of Leetown.
Union cavalry units attacked in order to buy some time for the Union infantry to organize. The much larger Confederate force overwhelmed the small force and captured their artillery. By that time, the Federal artillery line was in place and began firing on the Rebel troops.
General McCulloch rode forward to scout the enemy’s position and was killed by enemy fire. Brigadier General James McIntosh took command, but he soon met the same fate. The next in the chain of command was Colonel Louis Hébert. The other units pulled back from the attack and awaited orders from Hébert. He did not realize his superiors were dead and that he was in command.
Hébert led his division in an attack from the left and overtook the Union’s Third Division, led by Colonel Jefferson C. Davis (no relation to the Confederate president). The Confederate troops were eventually surrounded on three sides and retreated in confusion. Hébert and his men got lost in the battle’s smoke and were captured. Some of the troops were left on the field, others returned to camp, while the rest connected with the other division of the Confederate Army.
While a portion of each army was occupied in Leetown, the rest were fighting to the north at Elkhorn Tavern. The Confederate force was considerably larger than their opponents, but the Union held a stronger defensive position on top of Pea Ridge.
The morning began with the sound of artillery fire. The Southern guns outnumbered the Federal cannon and cleared the way for an infantry advance. General Sterling Price led the attack up the hill and was met by Colonel Eugene Carr and his regiment. In spite of gaining reinforcements, the Union was still outnumbered and was forced back up the hill. Carr was wounded three times but continued to lead his men in the field.
The Confederates were gaining ground when the Union began a short counterattack at 6:30 p.m. The Northern soldiers were soon called back because of darkness.
Preparations for the next day’s battle took place that night. The Union forces consolidated near Elkhorn Tavern, and Curtis made sure his men were fed, resupplied with ammunition, and rested during the night. Van Dorn was joined by the remainder of the forces that had fought at Leetown but went without food or additional ammunition because the supply wagons had been mistakenly sent back to camp.
The sound of cannon fire again greeted the dawn. This time the Union had more artillery. The Confederate gunners were forced back, and the Federal guns were turned toward the surrounding woods. Splinters from the trees and rocks from the surrounding mountainside added to the deadly barrage of cannonballs.
The Union attacked the Confederates from many sides. By about 9:30 a.m., Van Dorn realized his supply train had gone in the opposite direction from the battle and he had no hope of victory. The Army of the West began a rapid and disorganized retreat. They escaped capture but had missed the opportunity to overcome a much smaller Union force.
The Federal victory at Pea Ridge ensured that Missouri would remain a part of the Union. Northern Arkansas also remained under Union control. Brigadier General Curtis hoped to capture Little Rock, Arkansas, but the town proved to be too far from supply lines and well protected by guerrilla fighters. He seized Helena though, a few months later.
Many of the Confederate troops deserted during the retreat. Those from Missouri returned home, the Native Americans vanished into the woods, and other soldiers sought refuge in Arkansas. Van Dorn was disheartened from the loss and transferred his remaining forces east of the Mississippi River to support the Army of Tennessee.