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Prior to European discovery, the territory that now forms Arkansas was inhabited by three principal Indian tribes — the Caddo, Osage, and Quapaw.
The first explorer was De Soto in 1541. French explorers Marquette and Joliet came through in 1673 on their way down the Mississippi.
Arkansas was incorporated into New France. White settlement was limited. In 1763, control passed to Spain, but was returned to France in 1800. The United States bought Arkansas as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
Arkansas was separated from Louisiana in 1812, becoming part of the Missouri territory. It was in turn separated from Missouri as its own territory in 1819 and entered the Union as the 25th state in 1836, one where slavery would be permitted.
The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 enraged Northerners more than it delighted Southerners, many of whom recognize the slavery would not be economical in many of the new territories. Nevertheless, Southerners reacted to the Northern reaction. In the case of Arkansas, this took the form of legislative resolutions on the subject, of which the third took particular exception to the attitude of Ohio, a hotbed of abolitionism and part of the Underground Railroad:
3. Resolved, that the citizens of the state of Ohio have pursued a course peculiarly unjust and odious in their fanatical hostility to institutions for which they are not responsible, in their encouragement of known felons, and endorsement of repeated and shameless violations of law and decency, and in their establishment of Abolition presses, and circulation of incendiary documents, urging a servile population to bloodshed and rapine. And by reason of the premises, it is the duty and the interest of the people of Arkansas to discontinue all social and commercial relations with the citizens of said state, and the same is hereby earnestly recommended as a punishment for past outrages and a preventive of further aggressions.
It is not recorded whether trade with Ohio declined as a result of the resolutions.
Although slavery was permitted in Arkansas, the state was far from unanimous in its support of the Confederacy after Lincoln's election in 1860. Although at first the state decided to stay within the Union, after the outbreak of war, it seceded. Little Rock was captured by Union forces in 1863.
Reconstruction lasted in Arkansas until 1874, when Arkansas was readmitted as a state. A Republican won a contested election for governor in 1872, but a Democrat won the office in 1874 and no Republican served as governor again until Winthrop Rockefeller. After the Supreme Court ruled that "separate but equal" education was unconstitutional in 1954, a federal court in 1957 ordered Little Rock to integrate its school system. Governor Orbal Faubus, like Governor Wallace of Alabama later, defied federal authority and earned the loyalty of white Arkansas voters who elected him governor six times.
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