Early Arkansas

Submitted by: Dawn Dykes Petz, 10 February 2002
Author unknown
Vol. 8, No. 2, Tracks and Traces, Nov 1986
Permission given by UCGS

From 1803 to 1835, the number of people grew in Arkansas from less than a thousand to around 52,000, or an average annual increase of about 1,600 people. During the next twenty-five years, from 1835 until 1860, the population expanded at an average rate of 15,000 a year.

Most of the new settlers came from states east of the Mississippi River with Tennessee far in the lead. Next in order were Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Mississippi, Kentucky, and South Carolina, with smaller numbers from Missouri, Virginia, Illinois, and other states.

Many of the earliest settlers preferred to live in the northern and northwestern parts of AR. In 1860, Washington, Independence, Carroll, Benton, and Lawrence Counties led in white population. Large slave owners usually avoided the hill country and established plantations in fertile bottomlands such as lay along the Red River in the southwest. After 1850, settlement of the southern and eastern parts of the state proceeded rapidly.

The principal occupation in frontier AR was farming. Since most of the people were farmers and travel was difficult, towns grew slowly.

The government of Arkansas Territory was to begin operation at Arkansas Post on July 4, 1819. President Monroe appointed James Miller of New Hampshire as governor, and Robert Crittenden of Kentucky as Secretary. When Governor Miller failed to arrive in time, Crittenden and the three judges of the Superior Court acted as a legislature and organized the territorial government.

The first election, held November 20, 1819, almost 1,300 votes were cast. James Woodson Bates, for whom Batesville was later named, was elected delegate to Congress.

Voters in each of the five counties chose one member of the Legislative Council, or upper house of the General Assembly. The House of Representatives was made up of one member from Clark County and two members of each of the other four counties.

Arkansas Post remained the capital of Arkansas for only two years. In 1821, the capital was moved to Little Rock, though a long dispute over who owned the land there caused considerable trouble at first.

Usually the farmer raised is own potatoes, fruit, and vegetables, which with his grain, hogs and cattle assured his family a living. Members of farm families made their own clothing from wool or cotton produced on the farm. Some farmers found it unnecessary to buy sugar, since honey could be taken from "bee trees" in the words and sorghum molasses made from homegrown cane.

Since there were no railroads or good roads, raising farm commodities for market was generally unprofitable unless the farm was located near a river. The small farmer sometimes sold his surplus produce and bought salt, coffee, iron implements, and perhaps a pendulum clock for his fireplace mantel. He made plows from forks of trees, tanned his own leather to make shoes and harness, and even built his own wagon.

Large cotton plantations were often nearly self-sufficient. Food for the planters family and his slaves was raised on the plantation, and much of the clothing was made at home. Food, feed and livestock were grown in all counties of Arkansas. Corn was also grown in every county and was used for meal and livestock feed.

Negro slavery became more important in Arkansas as plantation owners developed the rich cotton lowlands near the larger rivers. The slave population, only 1,617 in 1820, grew to almost 20,000 by 1840. In 1860, there were 111,115 slaves in Arkansas, about a fourth of the total population of the state.

White owners brought their slaves with them when they moved to Arkansas or purchased them at the large slave markets in New Orleans or Memphis. No organized slave trade developed in AR, but owners often advertised slaves for sale or for hire. Slave sales sometime separated Negro families, though many owners tried to sell mothers and small children together.

AR slaveholders usually lived in plain frame houses or log cabins. Slave cabins were grouped in an area called the "quarters" near the house of the owner. The slaves ate pork, corn bread, molasses, wild game, and vegetables in season, and wore clothing which was coarse but adequate. Negroes and whites often worked together in homes and fields.

Masters generally treated slaves well, since they were valuable property. Medical care was provided whenever possible. The master could whip an unruly slave, but brutal mistreatment and overwork were condemned by public opinion and by state law. Township patrols kept Blacks from holding unlawful meetings or wandering about the countryside without permission.

Occasionally slaves ran away from their masters, and a few succeeded in reaching Indian Territory or to the North. Outlaw bands sometimes stole blacks and resold them. In 1834-5, rumors spread that the John A. Murrell gang, which had hideouts in the White River Swamps, planned a slave rebellion, but no such revolt ever happened.

The Constitution of 1836 prohibited any general emancipation, but after 1839 individual owners could free their slaves under certain conditions. AR whites were suspicious of free Blacks, who numbered about 600 in 1850. In 1843, a state law provided that no more free Blacks could come to AR. Another law passed by the General Assembly in 1859 required all free Blacks to leave the state, but it was repealed the next year.

Slavery provided a stable secure way of life, but it hindered the development of AR in many ways. Money was invested in land and slaves, while mineral resources remained undeveloped and manufacturing made little progress. The slavery system contributed to the neglect of schools, roads and railways. The growing of cotton on the same land year after year exhausted the soil.

Lumber mills were the most important of the early factories. Before 1826 the mills were run by waterpower. With the introduction of steam power, sawmills could be moved deeper into the forest away from streams.

Salt manufacturing was important to the early settlers. According to some accounts, John Hemphill established a salt works on the Ouachita River near Arkadelphia as early as 1811. Another Clark Co. pioneer, Jacob Barkman, opened trade with New Orleans in 1812 and later built a cotton factory on the Caddo River.

The fight for statehood began in 1833. Delegate Ambrose Sevier asked Congress to permit AR to form a state constitution. Sevier and his friends felt that statehood would bring new settlers and many other benefits to AR, although there were some fears that the future might produce more trouble over slavery.

Congress was slow to act. In 1835, supporters of statehood stirred up a popular campaign in AR. In several places throughout the territory, public meetings were held and almost all of them adopted resolutions urging immediate statehood. At the August election some precincts conducted an informal vote on the question, and the results favored the admission of AR to the Union. A special census taken in 1835 showed that AR now had sufficient population to become a state.
Note: The following are excerpts from
another article out of the same issue
author unknown
permission given by UCGS

The first census of 1830 showed that there were only 640 in population, men, women, and children, including slaves. Among those listed at that time who became prominent in the early development were John Black, Sr, and Jr., John and Lawrence Scarborough, Isaac and Benjamin Ogden, Thomas Craig, William Young, John T. Cabeen, Jacob Pennington, Benjamin Gooch, Charles Seay, Samuel Sloan, Hiram Smith, Sr. and Jr., the latter being the first with child born in Ecore Fabre.

The County Court gave the commissioners, John R. Hampton, John Reynolds, and W.J. Black the authority to mark off town lots on the sight that had been selected and also to erect the necessary public buildings. At some point, John Reynolds resigned and W.J. Grishom was appointed in his place. A town site was soon surveyed and plotted and named El Dorado. The work of erecting a temporary courthouse was begun. The contract was awarded to William Davis for $10,000. It was completed in 1848, turned over to the county and accepted by the County Court. The other public buildings were the county clerks office, a neat one-story brick structure, erected on the square near the courthouse and the county jail.

On Dec 25,1844, the Gazette ran the following article:

"A sale, 'at public vendue,' of 118 town lots in the town of El Dorado was begun on Christmas Day. The site of the town had only a short time before been chosen as the county seat of Union Co., by John R. Hempton , Green Newton and Robert J. Black, who was elected the year before the commissioners to make the choice of a site, lay off a town, and arrange for the sale of lots, etc."
Following article by Jim Dodson
Excerpts taken from Vol. 3, No. 2, Tracks and Traces, Nov 1981
Permission by UCGS

Four years after Champagnolle was established, Matthew F. Rainey was traveling through the backcountry and his wagon broke down. At this time, he was just sort of an adventurer-pioneer just "passin through." He surveyed the damage and decided the only thing to do was sell all his goods except what he could carry and then keep going. So he let it be known to everyone that he wanted to sell his goods and waited for his buyers. He was so impressed with how quickly everything sold that he immediately arranged to obtain more goods and set up a store and trading post. He named the place where he broke down "El Dorado" because of his good fortune.

Rainey prospered, and in 1844 when the county officials wanted to move the county seat, he assisted by giving them the land he had acquired, except for the home site, which is now Garrett property. The county built a log courthouse and a log inn (hotel) was built nearby.

Shortly thereafter, Reverend William S.Lacey moved to El Dorado and built a two room, log cabin next to Rainey's place. Reverend and Mrs. Lacey taught the first school in their log cabin. Boys were taught in one room and the girls in another. Their cabin was located at the site of the present Lion Oil Co. parking lot.

As prosperity continued for the residents there was a need for better schools for the children, and in this same year the site for the new school was chosen. There is some doubt that the school occupied the present site, for there is reason to believe it was located near where the present City Hall is located. This school was a two story, eight room frame building with a long assembly hall in the rear of the building. Reverend Lacey and his wife were its first instructors.

One source, however, puts the building at the present site of the SAU-East Branch Campus, and indeed, old pictures taken in 1920-21 do show a frame structure beside the Junior College Building.

The Reverend and Mrs. Lacey taught from about 1852 until about 1861. When the Civil War started, the school served a double purpose. The young ladies continued to learn in part of the school, while the remainder of the building served as an infirmary and hospital to the Confederate Forces who were injured.
This next excerpt was written by:
Fred W. Allsopp, Folklore of Romantic Arkansas
Vol. 8, No. 2, Tracks and Traces, Nov 1986
Permission given by UCGS

It is somewhat remarkable that the old town of El Dorado, incorporated in 1845, should have been given a name, which meant "land of golden opportunity," for the oil which made it populous and rich, was not discovered until seventy-six years later. The optimistic pioneers must have had a vision, for, while oil is not gold, it has yielded untold wealth, more than justifying the old metaphorical allusion in the name. Since the town increased in population from 1,877 in 1920 to more than 20,000 in 1929, it is evident that later treasure hunters have succeeded such searchers for the legendary gold as Diego de Ordoz, Orellano, Phillip Von Hutten, Gonzalo Ximens de Quesado, and Sir Walter Raleigh.

Why the Spanish name of El Dorado was selected is not clear. The residents were mostly Anglo-Saxons, except for a few French. Nowhere in the county is there any trace of Spanish tongue. The musical sound of the name may have appealed to the romantic natures of the pioneers, whose lives for the most part were full of trails and hardships.

Note: As you can see, there is more than one story as to how El Dorado received its name. I would like to point out that regardless of what Mr. Allsopp wrote; El Dorado is a town that is full of Spanish style homes, some of them rather old. I have always thought that El Dorado was a town with a Spanish background. But, I would also like to say that El Dorado isn't pronounced the way you might think it is. When you have found your "El Dorado", it is pronounced El Doe-rah-doe. El Dorado, AR is pronounced El Doe-ray-doe.

What is the correct version of how El Dorado got its name? I have no idea; you decide!