Arkansas River Historical Timeline
1541 - 1800

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The Rivers and streams of America have had a profound influence on regional growth and development. Where once rampaging waters menaced every valley, Americas waterways are today one of our greatest national assets. This dramatic transformation has resulted from the vision of early statesmen, the dreams of a determined people, and a studied visionary policy.

At 1450 miles, the Arkansas is the longest tributary in the Mississippi-Missouri system. From its source near Leadville, Colorado, the river drops almost 10,000 feet in elevation in 125 miles (from near Mt. Democrat, c. 14,145 ft., to Pueblo, c. 4,600 ft.), carving out scenic beauty including the Royal Gorge. It travels through Kansas, where it irrigates wheat fields, then through Northeastern Oklahoma. There it is joined by the Canadian, Cimarron, Neosho-Grand, and Verdigris Rivers. It then crosses the state of Arkansas where it empties into the Mississippi River 600 miles north of New Orleans.


The Arkansas River is discovered by Europeans before the Mississippi. Francisco Vasquez de Coronado crossed the Arkansas near present day Dodge City, Kansas, using a fording place frequented by native peoples and buffalo.

A short time later, Hernando de Soto was on the lower part of the Arkansas. Within a month he discovered the Mississippi. Descending the Mississippi, he reached the Arkansas River near the latter day Arkansas Post, and turned up stream in search of the Indian town of Coliqua which was in the general area of Little Rock.


Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet came down the Mississippi to the mouth of the Arkansas.


La Salle claimed the Arkansas in the name of the King of France.

Henry de Tonty is met by friendly Indians at the mouth of the Arkansas.


A fort is established by de Tonty at the mouth of the Arkansas called "Poste Aux Arcansas." It is known today as Arkansas Post. This was the first white settlement in Louisiana Territory.



John Law obtained a personal grant 12 miles square on the Arkansas River and planned to establish a personal grand duchy.


La Harpe and soldiers camped at Petit Roche (Little Rock).


Treaty of Paris (ending the French and Indian War) transferred Louisiana Territory from France to Spain.


The Colbert Incident, the only Revolutionary War skirmish occurring west of the Mississippi, occurred at Arkansas Post.


Development of navigable waterways was an early concern of the government of the United States. After the American Revolution tension mounted regarding control of the Trans-Appalachian West. There were fears that Britain, Spain, or even France would step in to claim a part of that territory.

George Washington, concerned about waterway use and internal development, endorsed the Ordinance of 1787. An excerpt from Article IV states:

"The navigable waters leading into the Mississippi and the St. Lawrence....shall be common highways and forever free, as well to the inhabitants of said territory as to citizens of the United States....without any tax, impost, or duty...."

This act provided the cornerstone for the free waterways policy of the United States during the past two centuries.


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