Many of these tidbits of information are in the Arkansas history textbooks, but a lot of these facts are just footnotes. The rest of America doesn’t likely know that these events took place in Arkansas or how they affected the state’s future. Check out how much you may not have known about events that took place in Arkansas as far back as the prehistoric period, and then go and quiz other Arkansans (or stump residents from other states) about the Natural State’s more obscure facts!
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10. Spring Training In Hot Springs
The southern states were much preferable to major league baseball players in the early days of the game. Teams from northern cities like Boston found themselves in the Spa City when spring training came around. Major league baseball teams found themselves practicing in Hot Springs well into the 1920s and up until the 1940s when training in even warmer climates became available.
9. The Supreme Royal Circle of Friends of the World
Likely one of the coolest names for a club that ever existed, this Helena-based group was an African-American fraternal organization founded in 1909. The Royal Circle of Friends provided insurance options as well as financial and moral support to the area's African-American community until the end of the 1940s when the group's founder passed away.
8. Wrightsville Fire of 1959
The fatal fire that took 21 lives at what was once the Arkansas Negro Boys Industrial School is largely forgotten today. The spot is now home to the Wrightsville Unit of the Arkansas Department of Corrections and very few are left to tell the story of what happened on the premises. Reports let us know about the squalid conditions at the boys' reformatory, but the issue of safety and negligence due to racial tensions remains an issue for those who study this topic today.
7. The Archaic Period Tribes Were Tough As Nails
The time between 9500 and 650 B.C., historically known as the Archaic Period, was an era where only the strongest survived. The native people who lived in Arkansas during this period had to adapt to climate change, create tools, and hunt for their own food. Many Arkansans just might be able to tell you what an 'atlatl' is, but a few lessons would be necessary to become as proficient as our predecessors were at hunting and gathering food.
6. The Eureka Springs Baby Scam
Eureka Springs and controversy seem to go hand in hand. A discovery of a fossilized human child in 1880 put the town (only a year after its founding) on the map. What came to be known as the "Petrified Indian Baby" became largely credited by the media as proof of history that would "revolutionize geology". Others, including Arkansas publications, doubted the discovery--they noted how easy it would have been for the so-called founders to perpetuate such a scam. That didn't stop the baby from going worldwide, though - the "Eureka Baby" was an exhibit at several museums in large towns until it was lost in transport and never found again. A replica exists in the Museum of Discovery in downtown Little Rock.
5. The Pirate Who Came To Arkansas
Smuggler, privateer, and historically rumored French pirate Jean Laffite is best known for American exploits in New Orleans. His adventures also took him through Arkansas. On a secret espionage expedition on behalf of the Spanish in 1816, Laffite found himself in Pine Bluff that July in the company of settlers and prospectors in an attempt to gain information about the area. The pirate traveled through Pulaski and Faulkner counties and then on to Fort Smith before making his way out of the state and having made contact with several people in Arkansas. Laffite would return to Arkansas again that November on a mission to gauge the area's population during an election held in Arkansas Post.
4. The Conway-Crittenden Duel
In an act that would be unheard of in the 21st-century, two young and promising Arkansas politicians were allowed to duel to the death over their differences in 1827. Once friends and co-workers in the same party, Robert Crittenden and Henry Wharton Conway severely disagreed on how Crittenden was allowed to spend funds allotted under Conway's political campaign. Crittenden took umbrage with Conway's allegations that the former had been mishandling money. Crittenden challenged Conway to a duel that took place on October 29, 1827 near what is now east-central Arkansas. Crittenden delivered a fatal shot to Conway, who died days later from a shot to the chest. His successor, Ambrose H. Sevier, was elected with the support of Conway's family. Crittenden was indicted for the shooting, but charges were dropped as there was no official date set for the duel.
3. Arkansas Governors and the Married Woman's Property Law
The Married Woman's Property Law was established in 1835. The Arkansas Territory passed the first law in the nation bestowing on married women the right to keep property in their own names. The law did not pass, however, on a state level. Mississippi would eventually be the first actual state to pass the law in 1839. A year later, then-Governor Archibald Yell would have a chance to sign the bill (now modified into Mississippi's standards) into law, but he vetoed it, claiming that women's rights would destroy the family. Governor Thomas S. Drew finally signed the bill into law in 1846.
2. The Big Lake Wars
Not necessarily "wars" in the literal sense of the word, this territorial dispute involved an storehouse of northeastern Arkansas wildlife from the mid-1870s until 1915. The earliest Arkansas maps maps labeled the area between Crowley’s Ridge and the Mississippi River as “the Great Swamp.” Prime for fishing as well as hunting ground, disputes would arise between local hunters and traveling sportsmen over who had jurisdiction over the area. The disputes carried on until the Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1915. This refuge along with agencies, refuges, and regulations put ages of territorial conflict to an end.
1. The Grand Excursion
Otherwise known as the Freeman and Custis Red River Expedition, this ill-fated 1806 excursion was planned to explore the southwest territory of the Louisiana Purchase. Freeman and Custis were to explore both the Red and Arkansas rivers, ascending the Red River to find its headwaters. On July 28th of that year, the men and their Caddo guides encountered a huge contingent of Spanish troops who were camped on the west side of the Red River (now known as Spanish Bluff). The Spaniards refused further passage to the explorers, and it took another three expeditions before explorers reached the headwaters of the Red River. This was the last major western river to be charted.
Talk about other lesser-known facts about the Natural State. There’s a lot out there that the history books don’t elaborate on or even include. How far back does your memory go? What’s important about Arkansas history that should be included in teaching students about our great state’s history?