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Along the Trail | Visit Arkansas

The earliest evidence of Native American presence in Arkansas dates back thousands of years. The Paleo-Indians were the first to settle in the area, followed by the Archaic culture and the Woodland period. These early inhabitants lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, relying on the rich natural resources of the region.

Around 500 AD, the Mississippian culture emerged in the southeastern United States, including parts of present-day Arkansas. This culture was characterized by the construction of large earthen mounds, some of which can still be seen today. The Spiro Mounds in eastern Oklahoma, though not in Arkansas, are an excellent example of the Mississippian culture’s grandeur.

Arkansas is home to several Native American tribes, including the Osage, Caddo, Quapaw, and Cherokee, among others. Before European settlers arrived, these tribes inhabited the land, each with their unique customs, languages, and traditions.

The Quapaw tribe was one of the most prominent tribes in the Arkansas region during this time. They were known for their advanced agricultural skill, particularly growing corn, beans, and squash. The Quapaw established permanent villages along the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers with a complex social and political structure.

Contact With the Europeans

As European explorers ventured into the region in the 16th century, they encountered various Native American tribes. Hernando de Soto, a Spanish explorer, was one of the first Europeans to make contact with the indigenous peoples of Arkansas, documented to be in the 1540s.

However, it wasn’t until the 18th and 19th centuries that significant interactions and conflicts between Native Americans and European settlers took place. And as the United States expanded westward, the forced removal of Native American tribes from their ancestral lands became more prevalent.

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 paved the way for the relocation of many tribes, including the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, and Chickasaw, in what is now known as the Trail of Tears. While not directly in Arkansas, the impact of the Trail of Tears was felt throughout the region.

Today, the Native American presence in Arkansas is still vibrant. The Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, descendants of the original Quapaw people, have a reservation in northeastern Oklahoma but maintain a cultural presence in Arkansas.

The state also recognizes the Cherokee Nation, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, who have historical connections to the region.

We’ve listed important travel destinations and other points of interest below.


Museum of Native American History

Bentonville is an amazing place to start your journey into Arkansas’ Native American history. As you walk through the museum, you’ll uncover fascinating exhibits about traditional clothing, food, and housing.

The museum has a number of exhibits covering cultural topics such as traditional clothing, food, and housing. Visitors are also invited to watch demonstrations of age-old crafts, such as basket weaving and carving.


Fort Smith National Historic Site

The Fort Smith National Historic Site offers a glimpse into Arkansas’ past when land-grabbing European settlers built forts for protection against Native American retaliation.

Here, you’ll find interesting exhibits detailing the fort’s history as well as information on local Native American tribes.


Currently, there are no official Native American reservations within the State of Arkansas.


Fort Smith Indian Intertribal Powwow

One event that you won’t want to miss is the Fort Smith Indian Intertribal Powwow, a three-day festival showcasing the diverse culture and traditions of Native American tribes from across the United States.

Taking place on July 15-16, 2023, this event is packed with captivating experiences like dancing, drumming, singing, and storytelling. You can also marvel at arts and crafts demonstrations while appreciating the shared heritage of these unique communities.

The Fort Smith Indian Intertribal Powwow will be held on July 15-16, 2023.

Dive into Arkansas’ remarkable Native American history by visiting these incredible places and attending unforgettable events that celebrate their heritage.