Location: Gillet, Arkansas
Webpage: National Park
General Description: The Arkansas Post was the first European settlement west of the Mississippi, who’s history began when Henri de Tonti established a trading post in 1686. The French and Spanish traded with the Quapaw Indians for over a hundred years, who proved to be peaceful and valuable allies against the more aggressive Chickasaw Indians. Initially the post was a simple cabin and fence, but by 1700 had progressed to a simple wooden fort. The Chickasaw attacked this fort in 1749 killing and capturing several settlers. The actual location of the fort is believed to be near the Menard-Hodges Site, which is about 5 miles down the Arkansas River from the memorial. This site is owned by the NPS, but is undeveloped and about 25 miles by road. As a result of the attack, the French moved the fort upriver to be closer to the Quapaw villages and further from the Chickasaw in Mississippi. This new location was called Écores Rouges (Red Bluff) and was 45 miles further from the Mississippi. This new fort completed in 1752 was a much larger and substantial wooden fort with a stockade 11 feet high. However, in 1756, the fort was moved back to within 10 miles of the Mississippi to better respond to the British and Chickasaw during the French and Indian War. After the British defeated the French, the territory became the British ceded the area west of the Mississippi in exchange for land in Florida. The Spanish were slow in taking over administration of the fort leaving it with the French soldiers and traders until 1771. The Spanish maintained the location eventually building Fort Carlos to protect it. The location of Fort Carlos is believed to be just south of the present memorial, although it would now be underwater. In 1777 and again in 1778 the fort was inundated by flood waters and the Spanish moved the post back to the second site at Red Bluff. During the Revolutionary War, in 1783, the British and their Chickasaw allies attempted to take Fort Carlos III from the Spanish but were driven off. Although Spain ceded the Louisiana Territory, which included Arkansas Post to the French in 1800, the French never administered the post leaving it with the Spanish until it was sold to the US as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The area around the post continued to grow with additional US settlements and the Arkansas Post became a major commercial center for the region. Until 1810 it was protected by Fort Madison when it was abandoned due to erosion from the river. In 1819, the Arkansas Post became the first territorial capital of the Arkansas Territory and became the center of the commercial and political life in the territory. Also in 1819, the first territorial newspaper, the Arkansas Gazette, began its long running publication the continues today in Little Rock. As the population continued to increase, gradually moving upriver from the Arkansas Post, Little Rock became the territory’s dominant settlement and became the Arkansas Territory Capital in 1821. From this point forward the importance of the Arkansas Post began to decline. During the Civil War, the Confederacy constructed Fort Hindman on a bluff 25 feet above the river where the Arkansas River made a huge bend. It’s purpose was to prevent the Union from moving upriver to Little Rock and harass the Union on the Mississippi River. As an early part of the Vicksburg Campaign in January of 1863, an amphibious assault backed by Union ironclads forced the surrender of Fort Hindman. The Union forces outnumbered the Confederates by 33,000 to 5,500 and easily forced the surrender of the fort. Most of Fort Hindman and the town of Arkansas Post was destroyed during the gun battle and never recovered after the war. Most of the town was abandoned and the area became primarily an agricultural area. While its history dates back to 1686 with periods of importance under the French, Spanish, and US, Arkansas Post was destroyed during the Civil War and nothing today survives.
1) The Visitor Center has a few exhibits with artifacts uncovered from the colonial period, however, the main attraction is the excellent video they show about the rich history of the Arkansas Post.
2) Archeological evidence has located most of the town streets and buildings, at least those that are not now part of the Arkansas River. They have a nice paved walk through the town with interpretive signs along the way about the buildings. There is very little to actually see as the foundations are all covered with grass.
3) A nature trail continues down to a location where you can see the Arkansas River, which no longer passes by the location of the post. This gravel trail continues around a pond that was not part of the original town before heading back to the Visitor Center.
4) The location of Fort Hindman is shown by use of some interpretive signs since the location is now underwater. The Arkansas River has changed its course since the Civil War, cutting off the bend in the river that gave Fort Hindman its strategic value. The area became an oxbow lake until dams on the Arkansas River have flooded the entire area.
5) The is a nice short trail close to the picnic area that goes to a location where you can still see the remnants of the Confederate trenches they used to try and defend land access to the fort.