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Arkansas State History
People have been living on the land we know now as Arkansas for thousands of years. This knowledge comes from evidence left in mounds and bluffs, including pottery and stone implements; the ancestors of the Indians were first to inhabit the region. The abundant wildlife and fertile soil made the area a wonderful home for these people, who gradually developed from primitive hunter-gatherers living in caves to much more sophisticated farmers living in large permanent villages. As the eastern lands were settled, more Indians moved to sparsely inhabited Arkansas. The Indians who lived here included the Folsom people, Bluff Dwellers, Mound Builders, Caddos, Quapaws, Osage, Choctaw and Cherokee.
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.
The 20th century has seen even more change in Arkansas. Airplanes, radios, talking movies, and eventually television has enhanced our life-style. Automobiles grew in popularity, and in 1921, the first auto, gas, and oil taxes were levied to finance construction of paved roads and highways. The discovery of oil and natural gas reserves in the state provided cheap and plentiful energy for years. The growing use of farm and machinery led to the consolidation of many family-run farms into larger farming corporations.
Arkansans learned in 1904 that rice could successfully be grown here, and it is now one of our most profitable crops. The livestock and dairy industries have also gained prominence in the last 90 years. A post World War II drive to industrialize the state was successful in effecting a more favorable balance of industrial and agricultural production. Firms in Arkansas now manufacture a wide range of items, including aluminum products, aircraft components, communications equipment, cosmetics, clothing, and pulp and paper products. In 500 years, Arkansas has grown from vast wilderness to a thriving state with a population of millions. Advancements in farming, lumbering, manufacturing, tourism and government have gained Arkansas a viable place in the international market.
Tourism is a very important to the Arkansas economy; the official state nickname "The Natural State" was originally created for state tourism advertising in the 1970s, and is still used to this day. The state maintains 52 state parks and the National Park Service maintains seven properties in Arkansas, including the nation's first National Park, Hot Springs National Park. The completion of the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock has drawn many visitors to the city and revitalized the nearby River Market District. Many cities also hold festivals which draw tourists to the culture of Arkansas such as King Biscuit Blues Festival, Ozark Folk Festival, Toad Suck Daze, and Tontitown Grape Festival.
Historical Arkansas Figures
- Maya Angelou 1928-Present: African-American poet, actress, and singer who was raised in Stamps. She was a National Book Award nominee for her autobiographical I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970), a Pulitzer Prize nominee for Just Give Me a Drink of Water Fore I Diiie (1972) and a Tony Award winner for her performance in "Look Away." She was the second poet in the country to be selected to present an inauguration poem at President Clinton's inauguration in 1993.
- Paul "Bear" Bryant 1913-83: Born in Moro Bottom and raised in Fordyce, Bryant picked up his nickname when, as a youth, he wrestled a bear at the Fordyce Theater. He was the head coach of the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide from 1958-1983 and became the winningest college football coach with 323 victories and six national championships. Five weeks after retiring as head coach, he died of a heart attack.
- William Jefferson Clinton 1946-Present: 42nd President of the United States, Clinton was born in Hope and had his boyhood home in Hot Springs. He served as the state's attorney general (1976-78) and governor, (1978-80, 1982-93). He emphasized education reform and economic development during his tenure as Arkansas's Governor.
- General Douglas MacArthur 1880 -1964: He was born in the Tower Building of the Little Rock Arsenal while his father was its commandant. He rose to become a Five-star U.S. Army general and Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in the Pacific during World War II. He accepted the Japanese surrender in 1945. His accomplishments include: first in class at West Point; Superintendent of West Point; Army Chief of Staff; U.S. Far East Commander; Congressional Medal of Honor recipient; Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers; and first UN Commander. The building where the general was born, the Officer's Quarters, still stands and is now used to house the Arkansas Museum of Science and History. The surrounding park in named MacArthur Park.
- E. Fay Jones 1921-Present: Pine Bluff and raised in El Dorado, this University of Arkansas architecture professor designed artisan-built houses that incorporated organic design and native materials. He was designated by the American Institute of Architects in 1989 as one of the world's greatest contemporary architects. His Arkansas projects include Thorncrown Chapel near Eureka Springs, The Faubus House in Huntsville, and the Cooper Memorial Chapel in Bella Vista. He was awarded the Rome Prize Fellowship in Architecture for 1980-81 and the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal by President Bush in 1991.
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