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Arkansas (AR ) Facts
Location and Geography: Arkansas is a state located in the American South directly above Louisiana, bordering the Mississippi River. The river’s waters seasonally flood much of the state, making the land rich for agricultural development. Beautiful remote locations, hot springs, and cave systems also serve as a tourist draw.
Counties and Regions: Arkansas has been divided into 75 counties, but its diverse natural topography has also divided it into the following general regions:
- Central Arkansas
- Crowley’s Ridge
- The Delta (of the Mississippi River)
- Northern Arkansas
- Northwest Arkansas
- River Valley
- Southern Arkansas
Population: Nearly three million people live in Arkansas, making it in the bottom third of the nation’s most populous states. It is known for having many remote areas with little to no human habitation, making it a favorite of nature-lovers and explorers.
Major Cities: Little Rock, located in the center of the state, is both Arkansas’s capital and its largest city. The population of the city is nearly 200,000, while more than 870,000 people live in the greater metropolitan area.
Story Behind the Name: The term “Arkansas,” in which the last syllable is pronounced the same way as the word “saw,” comes from a French interpretation of the name of the Native American tribe that originally lived in the area.
History and Colonization: The modern state of Arkansas was first discovered by Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century, who were eventually followed by French explorers in later centuries. The Native Americans who lived there were eventually pushed out, but Arkansas served as a temporary home for many native tribes from the east as they were forced westwards along the Trail of Tears. As industrialized white society expanded past the Mississippi River, it pushed most Native Americans farther to the west, away from Arkansas and into Oklahoma.
The Territory of Arkansas joined the United States as a slave state in the 1830s, and contributed many troops to both the contemporary Texas Revolution and the following Mexican-American War. During the Civil War, despite being a Southern state, Arkansas did not wish to participate until a call for troops by Abraham Lincoln forced it to declare its loyalty to the Confederacy. After the Confederacy’s defeat, the time of Reconstruction proved difficult for Arkansas, both economically and politically.
Arkansas was the site of a fierce internal battle during the Brooks-Baxter War of 1874. As the Republican Party had taken control during Reconstruction, it split into two factions over the result of a gubernatorial election. Supporters of both men fought openly, and many people died. The chaos did not end until President Ulysses S. Grant sent in national troops to settle the matter. After this intervention, a new Constitution of Arkansas was drawn up that effectively ended the period of Reconstruction in the state.
Many decades later, in the 1950s, Arkansas would be the location of one of the most memorable moments of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Several black students, known as the “Little Rock Nine,” were admitted to a previously all-white school. Mobs of people threatened them and refused to allow them to attend, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower was compelled to send in the armed forces to allow the integration to happen. Race relations have since improved in Arkansas, both with the passage of time and as a growing tourist economy has begun to replace the farming traditions there.