Artifacts at the Museum of Native American History
Artifacts at the Museum of Native American History

Native American Heritage in Arkansas: A Timeline of Arkansas' First Peoples


Around 11,650 BC
Mastodon Skeleton Replica Small groups of hunters and gatherers archeologists call Paleoindians settle in what is now eastern Arkansas.

8500 BC
Dalton Point Arrowheads In response to the end of the "ice age,"" the Dalton culture adapts to the new environment, developing the Dalton point, a sharpened stone used for hunting as part of a stick-and-dart hurling weapon. It also is responsible for the oldest cemetery in the Western Hemisphere in Greene County, Arkansas, at the Sloan site.

7000-2500 BC
7.75in Dalton Point made from Novaculite 7800-6000 BCE
As the climate began to warm from the "ice age," changes in the environment led Archaic Period Indians in Arkansas to cultivate plants, refine hunting strategies and fashion tools. There's some evidence that they also built mounds and engaged in trade with resources like novaculite.

2000-500 BC
Nodena Pottery 1600-1400 BCE The Poverty Point culture in what is now Arkansas and northern Louisiana begins to establish trade networks and introduced new crafts, including effigy beads.

600 BC
At the beginning of what archeologists designate the Woodland Period, extending to approximately AD 1000, the manufacture of pottery, fired from clay, aids in the cooking and storage of food, which people learned to domesticate during the Archaic Period.

500 BC-AD 500
The Marksville culture, with evidence at a site near Helena-West Helena, Arkansas, practices burial rituals and ceremonial commemoration of the dead.

AD 500
Arrowheads at Toltec Mounds
The bow and arrow begins to replace the spear for hunting.

AD 650–1050
Plum Bayou Mounds Archeological State Park, formerly known as Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park, Native Americans known as the Plum Bayou Indians near Scott, Arkansas, build flat-topped mounds for ceremonial gatherings of widely scattered groups. These mounds, excavated and preserved as Plum Bayou Mounds Archeological State Park, were surrounded by an embankment and ditch, and were arranged to align with the solstice and equinox. The state park hosts special programs at those times for contemporary visitors to experience what those who built them did. For unknown reasons, the inhabitants left the site in 1050 AD.

AD 900-1600
Casqui Village Re-Creation In the Mississippi Era communities of Indians all across the Southeast construct large towns with highly developed trade and economic structures, cultivation of maize and strong leaders. This society can be experienced at Parkin Archeological State Park, where excavations revealed a fortified city with dozens of houses. Scholars believe this site may be Casqui, mentioned in accounts of Hernando de Soto’s explorations of the area in 1541, the first European to arrive in the region. In southwest Arkansas (as well as nearby Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma), the Caddo culture was also developing skills in pottery, salt making, and mound building.

Hernando deSoto by Delfer and Sartain De Soto dies in present-day Arkansas. His two-year expedition across the region introduced catastrophic diseases and provoked conflicts with the native peoples. It would be 131 years before another European explorer would venture to the area, but the written records de Soto and his company left behind would end the prehistoric and begin the historic era in Arkansas.

Jacques Marquette addressing the Quapaw Indians in June 1673, while fellow explorer Louis Jolliet Looks on French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet encounter members of the Quapaw tribe on the Mississippi River who take them to their town on Kappa, a few miles north of where the Arkansas River flows into the Mississippi. There, they fed the French party with dishes made of corn and shared with them a calumet, or peace pipe.

René-Robert Cavelier, Sier de La Salle The Quapaws welcome to Kappa the French explorer La Salle, with whom they attempt to establish trade.

Henri de Tonti, by Ben Brantly Henri de Tonti, a French fur trader, founds a post at the mouth of the Arkansas River.

Depiction of Arkansas Post in 1689 After an original encounter with de Soto’s expedition, the next meeting of the Europeans and the Caddos was with Frenchman Henri Joutel, whose party found communities on the Red River and near present-day Camden, Arkansas.

Speakers of the Tunican language who had lived in southeast Arkansas move to the Yazoo River in Mississippi.

16th century drawing from Florentine Codex depicting smallpox outbreak Because of smallpox and other diseases carried by the French, the Quapaw population drops from 5,000 to 2,000 in 20 years.

Osage Traders by Charles Banks Wilson The Osages, based primarily south of the Missouri River but with extended hunting grounds in Arkansas, acquire their own French trading post.

The French transfer the Louisiana territory to the Spanish in the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War.

The Cherokees, ousted from the Carolinas and the surrounding area by encroaching settlement from Europeans, begin to move to Arkansas, eventually occupying land near Russellville and Dardanelle.

Louisiana Purchase Marker The U.S. acquires the Louisiana territory.

Osage cession map, June 1808 Osage chief Pawhuska signs a treaty with the U.S., despite internal tribal strife, ceding land between the Arkansas and Missouri rivers.

Lithograph of the New Madrid Earthquakes 1811-1812 The New Madrid earthquakes strike northeastern Arkansas, killing an unknown number of Native Americans. Shawnee chief Techumseh is said to have prophesied the event.

The government establishes a reservation for the Cherokees in Arkansas, on land the Osages ceded, against the Osage understanding of the treaty of 1808, exacerbating conflict between the tribes. Also in 1817, the U.S. founds Fort Smith, with the purpose of preventing battles among the Indian tribes.

Arkansas Quapaws, with a population of 400 and under pressure from incursion by settlers, sell to the U.S. 90 percent of the land they claimed in 1803.

The U.S. designates the lands of Arkansas as a separate territory.

Dwight Mission Lithograph Dwight Mission, near the Arkansas River on Illinois Bayou, is established to provide education and religious services for the Cherokee.

The Arkansas territorial government, with the cooperation of the federal government, forces Quapaws to cede remaining land, provoking them to move farther south to Louisiana.

The U.S., which had taken Osage land in Arkansas and Missouri in the 1810s, establishes an Osage reservation in Kansas.

Arkansas Cherokees removed to Indian Territory.

Non-Indian settlers in Arkansas number 30,000, more than doubling that population in a decade. The U.S. Congress passes the Indian Removal Act.

Pressured by increasing incursion by settlers on the Red River, the Caddos sell their remaining land to the U.S.

Markers and Monuments, Cherokee Village, Arkansas The eastern Cherokees’ resistance to the Indian Removal Act and the 1835 Treaty of New Echota, which gave the tribe members two years in which to voluntarily move, ends with expulsion from their land in the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee under military force.

A harsh winter and disease-ridden conditions among the Cherokees lead to hundreds of deaths on the route west, known later as the Trail of Tears, through Arkansas and other states to Indian Territory.

When Texas becomes a state, the Caddos are granted a reservation on the Brazos River.

Having suffered from crop failures and hostile white residents in Texas, the Caddos move to a reservation in Indian Territory.

Group of Native Americans stand outside the reserve in Fort Smith, Edward Palmer and Edwin Curtiss excavate Native American archeological sites in northeast Arkansas for the Smithsonian Institution and Peabody Museum at Harvard University, respectively, removing thousands of artifacts in the process.

The Dawes Act, or Indian Allotment Act, passes in the U.S. Congress, dividing tracts of Indian land into individual parcels and assigning them to families, thus breaking up large communally held properties.

After years of policies from the federal government designed to promote assimilation, the Indian Reorganization Act was passed to reverse those measures and aid tribal autonomy and civil rights.

Parkin Archeological State Park The Parkin site in Cross County, now the Parkin Archeological State Park, is designated a National Historic Landmark.

Plum Bayou Mounds Archeological State Park. The Toltec mounds site, now the Plum Bayou Mounds Archeological State Park in Lonoke County, gains National Historic Landmark status.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article, December 28, 1986 Arkansas Act 59 protects archeological sites on state lands.

Arkansas Act 753 makes it illegal to dig for remains and grave items such as pottery on Indian burial grounds and to sell the excavated items.

The Menard-Hodges site in Arkansas County near Lake Dumond, believed to once have been a Quapaw village, is dedicated as a National Historic Landmark.

Charlie Quapaw The Eaker site in Mississippi County is designated as a National Historic Landmark. It is considered the largest and most intact Late Mississippian Nodena site in the central Mississippi valley.

Present Day
Exploration and research into Native American culture continues today around the country. In Arkansas, the collections of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Sequoyah National Research Center constitute the largest assemblage of Native American expression in the world.