Native Americans

Looking for Native American history exhibits and Native American heritage sites in Arkansas? Native American artifacts have been found throughout the Natural State, making Arkansas a great place to explore the Native American heritage. Learn more about the origins and lives of Arkansas’s native people below and add some of these sites to your next trip!

Arkansas's Native American population was peaking when the Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto reached the state in 1541. There were tens of thousands of Native American people in villages near the Mississippi River and other groups located across the state.

Archeological evidence such as recovered ancient artifacts indicate Native American people were living in the area by 9500 B.C., but first became widespread between 5000 and 4000 B.C.

From 650 to 1050 A.D., the Plum Bayou people had a political and cultural center in east central Arkansas where they built 18 ceremonial platform mounds – one such mound measures 49 feet tall – known as the Toltec Mounds. Five are still visible at Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park in the town of Scott.

Two prominent Native American groups in 1541 were the Parkin people and the Nodena people. The Parkin site was occupied from 1000 to 1550. Many artifacts exist from the Nodena site, established around 1350. Not far away is Hampson Archeological Museum State Park at Wilson. The exhibits and collections offer insight into the Nodena people and their society.

Shortly after De Soto's visit, European diseases, and possibly a drought, decimated eastern Arkansas's villages. When pioneer settlement began, the state's major native groups were the southeastern Quapaws, the southwestern Caddos and the Osage, who visited the northwest to hunt.

By 1835, those Native American groups had been forced to leave, making way for settlers of European descent and for temporary resettlement of Native Americans driven from eastern states. In the late 1830s, during the forced exodus known as the Trail of Tears, Arkansas saw an influx of eastern tribes as they passed through the state.

Wayside exhibits describing the role Arkansas played in the Trail of Tears are now available to assist visitors at various locations around the state. These can be found at North Little Rock’s Riverfront Park and Cadron Settlement Park at Conway in Central Arkansas, Pea RidgeNational Military Park in northwest part of the state, Lake Dardanelle State Park in the Arkansas River Valley at Russellville, plus Village Creek State Park at Wynne and in Helena, both in the Delta.

Other Trail of Tears Arkansas stops include Blue Spring Heritage Center in Eureka Springs, the Fort Smith National Historic Site, the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Mount Nebo State Park near Dardanelle, Petit Jean State Park in Morrilton and Pinnacle Mountain State Park in Little Rock. The Sequoyah National Research Center on the University of Arkansas at Little Rock campus contains the largest accumulation of Native American expression in the world, including a Trail of Tears Park.

The Arkansas State University Museum in Jonesboro has a major Native American history and culture exhibit.