Sheridan & Grant County - Named for Yankee Generals?
And is it Ar-Kansas or AR-kan-SAW?

By Jim Lancaster

Newcomers to Sheridan and out-of-state visitors to Grant County frequently question why Arkansas, which was part of the Confederacy, 
would have a county named for a Yankee Civil War General, U. S. Grant. Then the next question is frequently Well, what about the 
county seat being named for another ˜Yankee general, Phillip Sheridan?

The history of Grant County and the City of Sheridan is interesting in that both Grant County and the City of Sheridan didn't even 
exist until after the Civil War for many years after Arkansas became a state, the people that lived in the area that is now Grant 
County were mostly citizens of Saline County . While Arkansas achieved statehood in 1836 and was originally divided into 34 counties, 
it wasn't until 1869 that Grant County was carved out of Saline, Hot Spring and Jefferson County , and a community was named Sheridan 
and designated to be the county seat.

Following the Civil War, and only a few years after a major battle was fought at Jenkins Ferry on Saline River, a period of history 
called Reconstruction shaped Arkansas history.   In June of 1868 the Military Reconstruction Act readmitted Arkansas and seven other 
southern states to the Union . At that time, local citizens of the area that is now Grant County developed the plans to create a new 
county by taking land from three existing counties.  

A petition for a new county was submitted to the Reconstruction Legislature and records show that on February 4, 1869, then Arkansas 
Governor Powell Clayton signed a law creating Grant County , with the town named Sheridan as the county seat. The names of Grant and 
Sheridan, two Union Army Generals who had helped to defeat the Confederacy, were chosen by the petitioners as an appeasement or hopeful 
influence to get a favorable decision from the Reconstruction Legislature that some called A Bunch of Carpetbaggers. Apparently, the 
outcome proves that the strategy worked “ but 135 years later, more than a few people ask about an Arkansas county and city that are 
named for those Damned-Yankees.

Local history and property records show that in 1869 a man named Littleton M. Veazey (1831-1896) gave 40 acres and arranged for another 
40 acres to be given to the newly formed Grant County for the county seat to be named Sheridan. Those 80 acres are currently much of 
the business district and residential property of the City of Sheridan .My great-great-great grandfather was Littliton Veazy and we  
have the records that document his gift, said Lillie Veazy Paty, who lives east of Sheridan.

Of course Arkansas history goes back much further than when Arkansas achieved statehood in 1836.The native Indians of the area may have 
been of several tribes but most historians think the Quapaws were the most populous in what is now southern Arkansas and the Quapaws 
were friendly to the first European explorers.

Perhaps the first white European to set foot on this land was Hernando DeSoto, a Spanish explorer who came with hopes of finding gold.   
His expedition reached the area on the Mississippi River now called Helena in 1541, with about 500 men, plus horses, hogs, cattle and 
hounds. Finding no gold or silver on his trip through what is now central Arkansas , he headed south crossing the Ouachita River toward 
what is now Louisiana. DeSoto then died of a fever and his men that had survived headed home to Spain “ perhaps through Cuba.

DeSoto had not found the gold that he was searching for but he found a part of the world that would later be home to millions of people 
from European ancestry.   Without knowing it at the time, he also found his way into American and Arkansas history.

After DeSoto's expedition, another 400 years passed before so-called white people would move to this land to stay. But 131 years after 
DeSoto's expedition, two Frenchmen named Marquette and Joliet visited Arkansas briefly. In 1682, at the mouth of the Mississippi River, 
LaSalle claimed the Mississippi Valley for France, but was later assassinated by two of his companions. In 1686, Henri De Tonti set out 
from Fort St. Louis on the Illinois River to meet LaSalle at the mouth of the Mississippi. After he failed to locate LaSalle, De Tonti 
established the first European settlement in Arkansas , called Arkansas Post, with six residents.

Over the next hundred years, development of the region was sluggish as the number of settlers slowly increased, and many who came to 
this harsh wilderness decided to return to the Eastern states. Settlers were offered free land and no taxes to encourage movement to the 
area, but in 1799, there were only an estimated 386 white people living in Arkansas. Spain had laid claim to the territory, but history 
says that the Spaniards secretly transferred their claim to France.

The name Arkansas seemed to have evolved from a French mispronunciation of an Indian word. The state's name has been spelled several ways 
throughout history, for example, in Marquette and Joliet 's "Journal of 1673", the Indian name is spelled AKANSEA. In LaSalle's map a few 
years later, it is spelled ACANSA. A map based on the journey of La Harpe in 1718-1722 refers to the river as the ARKANSAS and to the 
Indians as LES AKANSAS. In about 1811, Captain Zebulon Pike, a noted explorer, spelled it ARKANSAW.
Then in the early days of statehood, Arkansas' two U.S. Senators were divided on the spelling and pronunciation. One was always 
introduced as the senator from "ARkanSAW" and the other as the senator from "Ar-KANSAS." In 1881, the state's General Assembly passed a 
resolution declaring that the state's name should be spelled " Arkansas " but pronounced "Arkansaw."

  Historians of that era rationalized that the compromise allows the pronunciation to preserves the memory of a tribe of  Indians who were 
among the original inhabitants of America , while the spelling clearly dictates the nationality of the French adventurers who first 
explored this area.

In 1803, American President Thomas Jefferson and the French Emperor, Napoleon, negotiated the United States purchase of Louisiana from 
France . With two strokes of a pen, a fledgling nation barely a generation old doubled in size overnight and became one of the largest 
nations in the world.

The Louisiana Purchase is called the most significant real estate transaction in the history of civilization. The over 800,000 square miles 
of land bought at a cost of about four cents per acre would eventually be all or part of fifteen American states: Louisiana, Arkansas, 
Missouri, Iowa, North Dakota, Texas, South Dakota, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Colorado and Montana.

As a part of the Louisiana Purchase, the land later called Arkansas at first became a part of the District of Louisiana and after Louisiana 
became a territory, Arkansas was made a district. In 1812 the name of Louisiana Territory was changed to Missouri Territory . In 1813 the 
Missouri legislature changed the District of Arkansas into Arkansas County. It included all the present state of Arkansas except the 
northeast and extreme north. Henry Cassidy was elected the first representative from Arkansas County to the Missouri lower house. In 1815 
the Missouri legislature established four new counties, and, in 1819, Arkansas was organized as a territory. Its northern, eastern and 
southern borders were the same as they are now, but to the west, some of what is now Oklahoma was included.

By 1836, the Arkansas Territory had the 60,000 residents required to become a state, and after writing an acceptable constitution, was 
declared the 25th state in the United States. The new state enjoyed a thirty year period of prosperity, and by 1860 had a population of 
435,000, 25 percent of whom were slaves. The majority of the residents were planters who lived in the rich bottomlands of the east and 
southeastern portion of the state and farmers who lived in the central and northern hills. A much smaller number of residents were lawyers, 
doctors, merchants, missionaries and teachers.

Arkansas was drawn into the Civil War in May, 1861, by its decision to secede from the Union. Troops were mustered and civilians devoted 
their energy and resources to providing  food, clothing, weapons, and horses for the soldiers. Major battles like Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove, 
and the Red River Campaign, (of which the Battle of Jenkins Ferry was a part) were fought in Arkansas. In 1863, the Confederate government 
moved to the small town of Washington in the southwestern corner of the state; but in 1864, the Union government was established in Little 
Rock. After the Civil War ended in 1865, the era called Reconstruction began, during which dramatic changes were made in the South and in 
1874 the current Arkansas constitution was adopted.

The Reconstruction years were a time of growth and recovery. New inventions, such as the telephone, electricity, residential running water, 
and city sewer systems made life easier and more comfortable for some Arkansans, affording them more leisure time for social and literary 
pursuits. Lumber mills, farms, factories and cities around the state were linked by 5,000 miles of  railroad. Many public schools were 
developed, and numerous colleges, including the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville , Hendrix , Arkansas College, Henderson-Brown, 
Philander Smith, Shorter and Ouachita were founded. Even as early as 1875, Arkansas was billed as the "Land of Opportunity" when an active 
campaign was launched outside the state to attract new residents to Arkansas. By 1900, the population had more than doubled to 1.3 million.

While the Reconstruction government was given credit for creating and naming Sheridan and Grant County, it is accurate to say that some 
crafty common folks of the area were successful in conning the Carpetbaggers into consenting to their petition for creating their own county 
and county seat by naming them for those Yankee Generals.

Arkansas history is an amazing story of people struggling to survive while they were building a better place for their children and 
grandchildren that better place is where 2.7 million people now live and call home.