At 1,469 miles (2,364km), it is the sixth-longest river in the United States, the second-longest tributary in the Mississippi–Missouri system, and the 45th longest river in the world. Its origin is in the Rocky Mountains in Lake County, Colorado, near Leadville. In 1859, placer gold discovered in the Leadville area brought thousands seeking to strike it rich, but the easily recovered placer gold was quickly exhausted. The Arkansas River's mouth is at Napoleon, Arkansas, and its drainage basin covers nearly 170,000 square miles (440,000km2). Its volume is much smaller than the Missouri and Ohio rivers, with a mean discharge of about 40,000 cubic feet per second (1,100m3/s).
The path of the Arkansas River has changed over time. Sediments from the river found in a palaeochannel next to Nolan, a site in the Tensas Basin, show that part of the river's meander belt flowed through up to 3200 BCE. While it was previously thought that this relict channel was active at the same time as another relict of Mississippi River's meander belt, it has been shown that this channel of the Arkansas was inactive approximately 400 years before the Mississippi channel was active.
The Arkansas has three distinct sections in its long path through central North America. At its headwaters beginning near Leadville, Colorado, the Arkansas runs as a steep fast-flowing mountain river through the Rockies in its narrow valley, dropping 4,600 feet (1,400m) in 120 miles (190km). This section supports extensive whitewater rafting, including The Numbers (near Granite, Colorado), Brown's Canyon, and the Royal Gorge.
Water flow in the Arkansas River (as measured in central Kansas) has dropped from approximately 248 cubic feet per second (7.0m3/s) average from 1944–1963 to 53 cubic feet per second (1.5m3/s) average from 1984–2003, largely because of the pumping of groundwater for irrigation in eastern Colorado and western Kansas.
Since 1902, Kansas has claimed that Colorado takes too much of the river's water; it has filed numerous lawsuits over this issue in the U.S. Supreme Court that continue to this day, generally under the name of Kansas v. Colorado. The problems over the possession and use of Arkansas River water by Colorado and Kansas led to the creation of an interstate compact or agreement between the two states. While Congress approved the Arkansas River Compact in 1949, the compact did not stop further disputes by the two states over water rights to the river.
The Kansas–Oklahoma Arkansas River Basin Compact was created in 1965 to promote mutual consideration and equity over water use in the basin shared by those states. The Kansas–Oklahoma Arkansas River Commission was established, charged with administering the compact and reducing pollution. The compact was approved and implemented by both states in 1970, and has been in force since then.
The McClellan–Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System diverts from the Arkansas River 2.5mi (4.0km) upstream of the Wilbur D. Mills Dam to avoid the long winding route which the lower Arkansas River follows. This circuitous portion of the Arkansas River between the Wilbur D. Mills Dam and the Mississippi River was historically bypassed by river vessels. Early steamboats instead followed a network of rivers—known as the Arkansas Post Canal—which flowed north of the lower Arkansas River and followed a shorter and more direct route to the Mississippi River. When the McClellan–Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System was constructed between 1963 and 1970, the Arkansas Post Canal was significantly improved, while the lower Arkansas River continued to be bypassed by commercial vessels.
Many nations of Native Americans lived near, or along, the 1,450-mile (2,334-km) stretch of the Arkansas River for thousands of years. The first Europeans to see the river were members of the SpanishCoronado expedition on June 29, 1541. Also in the 1540s, Hernando de Soto discovered the junction of the Arkansas with the Mississippi. The Spanish originally called the river Napeste. "The name "Arkansas" was first applied by French Father Jacques Marquette, who called the river Akansa in his journal of 1673. The Joliet-Marquette expedition travelled the Mississippi River from Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin toward the Gulf of Mexico, but turned back at the mouth of the Arkansas River. By that time, they had encountered Native Americans carrying European trinkets, and feared confrontation with Spanish conquistadors.
Jean-Baptiste Bénard de la Harpe, a French trader, explorer and nobleman had led an expedition into what is now Oklahoma in 1718–19. His original objective was to establish a trading post near the present city of Texarkana, Arkansas, but he extended his trip overland as far north as the Arkansas River (which he designated as the Alcansas). The explorer wrote that he and nine other men, including three Caddo guides and 22 horses loaded with trade goods, had come to a native settlement overlooking the river, where there were about 6,000 natives, who gave the strangers a warm welcome. La Harpe's party were honored with the calumet ceremony and spent ten days at this location.
French traders and trappers who had opened up trade with Indian tribes in Canada and the areas around the Great Lakes began exploring the Mississippi and some of its northern tributaries. They soon learned that the birchbark canoes, which had served them so well on the northern waterways, were too light for use on southern rivers such as the Arkansas. They turned to making and using dugout canoes, which they called pirogues, made by hollowing out the trunks of cottonwood trees.[lower-alpha 2] Cottonwoods are plentiful along the streams of the southwest and grow to large sizes. The wood is soft and easily worked with the crude tools carried by both the French and Indians. The pirogues were sturdier and could be more useful to navigate the sandbars and snags of the Southern waterways.
In 1819, the Adams–Onís Treaty set the Arkansas as part of the frontier between the United States and Spanish Mexico. This continued until the United States annexed Texas after the Mexican–American War, in 1846. The treaty was made shortly after "Old Settler" Cherokee were pushed out of Texas and moved to near what became known as Webbers Falls on the Arkansas River. They planned to reunite with the Cherokee who had moved there on the Trail of Tears in 1839. That area, then part of Arkansas Territory, would become Indian Territory and later Oklahoma.
This area had long been traditional territory of the Osage. They resisted the new Native Americans moving in with armed conflict. The US encouraged a peace treaty made in 1828 but the territory issue was still unresolved by the time thousands of additional Cherokee refugees moved to the area during the Trail of Tears.
By the time Fort Smith was established in 1817, larger capacity watercraft became available to transport goods up and down the Arkansas. These included flatboats (bateaus) and keelboats. Along with the pirogues, they transported piles of deer, bear, otter, beaver and buffalo skins up and down the river. Agricultural products such as corn, rice, dried peaches, beans, peanuts, snake root, sarsaparilla, and ginseng had grown in economic importance.
On March 31, 1820, the Comet became the first steamboat to successfully navigate part of the Arkansas River, reaching a place called Arkansas Post,[lower-alpha 3] about 60 miles (97km) above the confluence of the Arkansas and the Mississippi rivers. In mid-April 1822, the Robert Thompson, towing a keelboat, was the first steamboat to navigate the Arkansas as far as Fort Smith. For five years, Fort Smith was known as the head of navigation for steamboats on the river. It lost the title to Fort Gibson in April 1832, when three steamboats, Velocipede, Scioto and Catawba, all arrived at Fort Gibson later that month.[lower-alpha 4]
During the American Civil War, each side tried to prevent the other from using the Arkansas River and its tributaries as a route for moving reinforcements. Initially, the Union Army abandoned its forts in the Indian Territory, including Fort Gibson and Fort Smith, in order to maximize its strength for campaigns elsewhere. The Confederate Army sent troops from Texas to support its Native American allies. Union troops returned to the area later in the war, after defeating the Confederates at the Battle of Pea Ridge and the Battle of Fort Smith. They began recovering the position it had previously abandoned, most notably Fort Gibson, and reopened the Arkansas River as a supply route. In September 1864, a body of Confederate irregulars led by General Stand Watie (Cherokee) successfully ambushed a Union supply ship bound for Fort Gibson. The vessel was destroyed, and a part of its cargo was looted by the Confederates.
Post Civil War
In the 1880s, Charles "Buffalo" Jones, one of the cofounders of Garden City, Kansas, organized four irrigation companies to take water one hundred miles from the Arkansas River to cultivate 75,000 acres (300km2) of land. By 1890, water from the Arkansas was being used to irrigate more than 20,000 acres (8,100ha) of farmland in Kansas. By 1910, irrigation projects in Colorado had caused the river to stop flowing in July and August.
Flooding in 1927 severely damaged or destroyed nearly every levee downstream of Fort Smith, and led to the development of the Arkansas River Flood Control Association. It also resulted in the Federal government assigning responsibility of flood control and navigation on the Arkansas river to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE).
The headwaters of the Arkansas River in central Colorado have been known for exceptional trout fishing, particularly fly fishing, since the 19th century, when greenback cutthroat trout dominated the river. Today, brown trout dominate the river, which also contains rainbow trout. Trout Unlimited considers the Arkansas one of the top 100 trout streams in America, a reputation the river has had since the 1950s. From Leadville to Pueblo, the Arkansas River is serviced by numerous fly shops and guides operating in Buena Vista, Salida, Cañon City and Pueblo. The Colorado Division of Wildlife provides regular online fishing reports for the river.
A fish kill occurred on December 29, 2010, in which an estimated 100,000 freshwater drum lined the Arkansas River bank. An investigation, conducted by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, found the dead fish "... cover 17 miles [27km] of river from the Ozark Lock and Dam downstream to River Mile 240, directly south of Hartman, Arkansas." Tests later indicated the likely cause of the kill was gas bubble trauma caused by opening the spillways on the Ozark Dam.
Arkansas River between Van Buren and Fort Smith, Arkansas
↑ A team led by Dr. George H. Odell, an anthropology professor from the University of Tulsa, uncovered artifacts that showed the natives were members of the Wichita people, and that the European artifacts also found there were of the same time period. Dr. Odell concluded this was most likely the place where la Harpe met the natives he described.
↑ Pirogues are still used in the swamps and marshes of South Louisiana by descendants of the "Cajuns," who were exiled from eastern Canada by the British.
↑ Arkansas Post is said to have been the first European settlement in the Mississippi Valley,
↑ Fort Gibson had been built in 1824 on the bank of the Verdigris River in what had been called the "Three Forks" area of Indian Territory.
The Missouri River is the longest river in the United States. Rising in the Rocky Mountains of the Eastern Centennial Mountains of Southwestern Montana, the Missouri flows east and south for 2,341 miles (3,767 km) before entering the Mississippi River north of St. Louis, Missouri. The river drains a sparsely populated, semi-arid watershed of more than 500,000 square miles (1,300,000 km2), which includes parts of ten U.S. states and two Canadian provinces. Although nominally considered a tributary of the Mississippi, the Missouri River above the confluence is much longer than the Mississippi above the confluence and carries a comparable volume of water. When combined with the lower Mississippi River, it forms the world's fourth longest river system.
Muskogee County is a county located in the U.S. state of Oklahoma. As of the 2010 census, the population was 70,990. The county seat is Muskogee. The county and city were named for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. The official spelling of the name was changed to Muskogee by the post office in 1900.
Fort Coffee is a town in Le Flore County, Oklahoma, United States. Originally constructed as a U. S. Army fort in 1834, it was named for U. S. General John Coffee, a veteran of the Seminole Wars. It is part of the Fort Smith, Arkansas-Oklahoma Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 424 at the 2010 census, a gain of 2.9 percent over the figure of 412 in 2000.
Webbers Falls is a town in southeastern Muskogee County, Oklahoma, United States. The population was 616 at the 2010 census, a decline of 14.9 percent from the figure of 724 recorded in 2000.
Catoosa is a city in Rogers and Wagoner counties in the U.S. state of Oklahoma. The population was 7,159 at the 2010 census compared to 5,449 at the 2000 census. This was a 31.2 percent increase during the decade.
The Kansas River, also known as the Kaw, is a river in northeastern Kansas in the United States. It is the southwesternmost part of the Missouri River drainage, which is in turn the northwesternmost portion of the extensive Mississippi River drainage. Its two names both come from the Kanza (Kaw) people who once inhabited the area; Kansas was one of the anglicizations of the French transcription Cansez of the original kką:ze. The city of Kansas City, Missouri, was named for the river, as was later the state of Kansas.
The Republican River is a river in the central Great Plains of North America, rising in the High Plains of eastern Colorado and flowing east 453 miles (729 km) through the U.S. states of Nebraska and Kansas.
The Red River, or sometimes the Red River of the South, is a major river in the Southern United States. It was named for its reddish water color from passing through red-bed country in its watershed. It is one of several rivers with that name. Although once a tributary of the Mississippi River, the Red River is now a tributary of the Atchafalaya River, a distributary of the Mississippi that flows separately into the Gulf of Mexico. This confluence is connected to the Mississippi River by the Old River Control Structure.
The Ouachita River is a 605-mile-long (974 km) river that runs south and east through the U.S. states of Arkansas and Louisiana, joining the Tensas River to form the Black River near Jonesville, Louisiana. It is the 25th-longest river in the United States.
The Holston River is a 136-mile (219 km) river that flows from Kingsport, Tennessee, to Knoxville, Tennessee. Along with its three major forks, it comprises a major river system that drains much of northeastern Tennessee, southwestern Virginia, and northwestern North Carolina. The Holston's confluence with the French Broad River at Knoxville marks the beginning of the Tennessee River.
The Neosho River is a tributary of the Arkansas River in eastern Kansas and northeastern Oklahoma in the United States. Its tributaries also drain portions of Missouri and Arkansas. The river is about 463 miles (745 km) long. Via the Arkansas, it is part of the Mississippi River watershed. Its name is an Osage word meaning "clear water." The lower section is also known as the Grand River.
The Verdigris River is a tributary of the Arkansas River in southeastern Kansas and northeastern Oklahoma in the United States. It is about 310 miles (500 km) long. Via the Arkansas, it is part of the Mississippi River watershed.
The Battle of Claremore Mound, also known as the Battle of the Strawberry Moon, or the Claremore Mound Massacre, was one of the chief battles of the war between the Osage and Cherokee Indians. It occurred in June 1817, when a band of Western Cherokee and their allies under Chief Spring Frog (Too-an-tuh) attacked Pasuga, an Osage village at the foot of Claremore Mound. The village was nearly empty; only women, children, and the very sick and elderly remained there. Most of the village was currently away on a seasonal hunt that often lasted up to three or four months. The Cherokee killed or captured every remaining member of Chief Clermont's band and destroyed everything they could not carry away. Historians consider it one of the bloodiest Native American massacres in modern history.
The McClellan–Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS) is part of the United States inland waterway system originating at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa and running southeast through Oklahoma and Arkansas to the Mississippi River. The total length of the system is 445 miles (716 km). It was named for two senators, Robert S. Kerr (D-OK) and John L. McClellan (D-AR), who pushed its authorizing legislation through Congress. The system officially opened on June 5, 1971. President Richard M. Nixon attended the opening ceremony. It is operated by the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).
Wilbur D. Mills Dam is a steel dam and generating facility located on the Arkansas River in Arkansas County and Desha County, Arkansas, United States.
Newt Graham Lock & Dam is the final lock and dam of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS) before reaching the western terminus, Tulsa Port of Catoosa on the Verdigris River. The lock and dam is 24.8 miles (39.9 km) downstream of the port.
Chouteau Lock & Dam, also identified as Chouteau Lock & Dam 17, is 17th lock and dam of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS) from the Mississippi River to its terminus at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, and is the first lock and dam on the Verdigris River in Oklahoma, just above the Three Forks junction with the Arkansas River. The lock is about 4 miles (6.4 km) northwest of Okay in Wagoner County, Oklahoma. Construction of this facility started in 1966 and was completed in 1970. The estimated cost of Chouteau Lock & Dam was $ 31.8 million.
Three Forks Oklahoma is an imprecisely defined area of what is now eastern Oklahoma, around the confluence of the Arkansas, Verdigris, and Grand Rivers. The term, "Three Forks," was apparently used to designate this area as early as 1719, when the French trader Bernard de la Harpe traveled through the area, meeting and trading with members of the Wichita tribe at a place on the Arkansas River immediately south of the present city of Tulsa.
↑ Arco, Lee J.; Adelsberger, Katherine A.; Hung, Ling-yu; Kidder, Tristam R. (2006), "Alluvial Geoarchaeology of a Middle Archaic Mound Complex in the Lower Mississippi Valley, U.S.A.", Geoarchaeology, 21 (6): 610, doi:10.1002/gea.20125, S2CID55514410