Arkansas River Valley

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Arkansas River Valley

The River Valley
Arkansas River Valley 002.jpg
The River Valley as seen from atop Petit Jean Mountain in Petit Jean State Park
Etymology: The Arkansas River
Country United States
State Arkansas
Time zone UTC−6 (CST)
  Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
Area code(s) 479, 501

The Arkansas River Valley (usually shortened to River Valley) is a region in Arkansas defined by the Arkansas River in the western part of the state. Generally defined as the area between the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains, [1] the River Valley is characterized by flat lowlands covered in fertile farmland and lakes periodically interrupted by high peaks. Mount Magazine, Mount Nebo, and Petit Jean Mountain compose the Tri-Peaks Region, a further subdivision of the River Valley popular with hikers and outdoors enthusiasts. In addition to the outdoor recreational activities available to residents and visitors of the region, the River Valley contains Arkansas's wine country as well as hundreds of historical sites throughout the area.It is one of six natural divisions of Arkansas. [2]

Arkansas State of the United States of America

Arkansas is a state in the southern region of the United States, home to over 3 million people as of 2018. Its name is of Siouan derivation from the language of the Osage denoting their related kin, the Quapaw Indians. The state's diverse geography ranges from the mountainous regions of the Ozark and the Ouachita Mountains, which make up the U.S. Interior Highlands, to the densely forested land in the south known as the Arkansas Timberlands, to the eastern lowlands along the Mississippi River and the Arkansas Delta.

Arkansas River major tributary of the Mississippi River, United States

The Arkansas River is a major tributary of the Mississippi River. It generally flows to the east and southeast as it traverses the U.S. states of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. The river's source basin lies in the western United States in Colorado, specifically the Arkansas River Valley, where the headwaters derive from the snowpack in the Sawatch and Mosquito mountain ranges. It then flows east into the Midwest via Kansas, and finally into the South through Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Ouachita Mountains

The Ouachita Mountains, simply referred to as the Ouachitas, are a mountain range in western Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma. They are formed by a thick succession of highly deformed Paleozoic strata constituting the Ouachita Fold and Thrust Belt, one of the important orogenic belts of North America. The Ouachitas continue in the subsurface to the southeast where they make a poorly understood connection with the Appalachians and to the southwest where they join with the Marathon area of West Texas. Together with the Ozark Plateaus, the Ouachitas form the U.S. Interior Highlands. The highest natural point is Mount Magazine at 2,753 feet.



The Arkansas River Valley is not formally defined along county boundaries, including all of Logan and Sebastian counties and portions of Conway, Franklin, Johnson, Perry, Pope, and Yell counties.

Logan County, Arkansas County in the United States

Logan County is a county located in the U.S. state of Arkansas. As of the 2010 census, the population was 22,353. There are two county seats: Booneville and Paris.

Sebastian County, Arkansas County in the United States

Sebastian County is a county located in the U.S. state of Arkansas. As of the 2010 census, the population was 125,744, making it the fourth-most populous county in Arkansas. The county has two county seats, Greenwood and Fort Smith.

Conway County, Arkansas County in the United States

Conway County is a county located in the U.S. state of Arkansas. As of the 2010 census, the population was 21,273. The county seat is Morrilton. The county was formed on October 20, 1825, from a portion of Pulaski County and named for Henry Wharton Conway who was the territorial delegate to the U.S. Congress.


Fort Smith metropolitan area human settlement in United States of America

The Fort Smith Metropolitan Statistical Area, as defined by the United States Census Bureau, is a five-county area including three Arkansas counties and two Oklahoma counties, and anchored by the city of Fort Smith, Arkansas. The total MSA population in 2000 was 273,170 people, estimated by the Bureau to have grown to 289,693 people by 2007.

Le Flore County, Oklahoma County in the United States

Le Flore County is a county located along the eastern border of the U.S. state of Oklahoma. As of the 2010 census, the population was 50,384. Its county seat is Poteau. The name honors a Choctaw family named LeFlore.

Sequoyah County, Oklahoma County in the United States

Sequoyah County is a county located in the U.S. state of Oklahoma. As of the 2010 census, the population was 42,391. The county seat is Sallisaw. Sequoyah County was created in 1907 when Oklahoma became a state. It was named after Sequoyah, who created the Cherokee syllabary.


Anthropomorphic cave art in Rock House Cave at Petit Jean State Park Rock House Cave, Petit Jean State Park 002.jpg
Anthropomorphic cave art in Rock House Cave at Petit Jean State Park

In the Pre-Colonial era, the River Valley was inhabited by Native American tribes, including Caddo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Osage, Tunica, and Quapaw tribes. Most first encounters describe scattered villages and individual farmsteads in the River Valley, unlike the organized "towns" and groves and orchards encountered in eastern Arkansas. [3] Much of what is known about these early societies has been uncovered by the Arkansas Archaeological Survey and the Arkansas Archaeological Society at Carden Bottoms in Yell County near the Arkansas and Petit Jean Rivers. [4] Research at the site has linked artifacts to cave art (pictured at right) in a cave on Petit Jean Mountain, as well as establishing links to the Caddo, Osage, and Quapaw tribes. [5]

The Pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continent, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during the Early Modern period.

Native Americans in the United States Indigenous peoples of the United States (except Hawaii)

Native Americans, also known as American Indians, Indigenous Americans and other terms, are the indigenous peoples of the United States, except Hawaii. There are over 500 federally recognized tribes within the US, about half of which are associated with Indian reservations. The term "American Indian" excludes Native Hawaiians and some Alaska Natives, while Native Americans are American Indians, plus Alaska Natives of all ethnicities. Native Hawaiians are not counted as Native Americans by the US Census, instead being included in the Census grouping of "Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander".

Caddo confederacy of several Southeastern Native American tribes

The Caddo Nation is a confederacy of several Southeastern Native American tribes. Their ancestors historically inhabited much of what is now East Texas, Louisiana, and portions of southern Arkansas and Oklahoma. They were descendants of the Caddoan Mississippian culture that constructed huge earthwork mounds at several sites in this territory. In the early 19th century, Caddo people were forced to a reservation in Texas; they were removed to Indian Territory in 1859.

Hernando de Soto became the first European explorer to enter Arkansas in 1541. His expedition of 600 Spanish explorers searching for gold and riches crossed into Arkansas across the Mississippi River, and explored the state for the next two years. The expedition traveled to Tanico, an important city somewhere in the River Valley, in September 1542. The following month, the expedition fought with a tribe referred to as the Tula somewhere near Fort Smith. This fighting apparently caused de Soto to turn the expedition back east, leaving the River Valley. [6]

Hernando de Soto Spanish explorer and conquistador

Hernando de Soto was a Spanish explorer and conquistador who was involved in expeditions in Nicaragua and the Yucatan Peninsula, and played an important role in Pizarro's conquest of the Inca Empire in Peru, but is best known for leading the first Spanish and European expedition deep into the territory of the modern-day United States. He is the first European documented as having crossed the Mississippi River.

Mississippi River largest river system in North America

The Mississippi River is the second-longest river and chief river of the second-largest drainage system on the North American continent, second only to the Hudson Bay drainage system. Its source is Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and it flows generally south for 2,320 miles (3,730 km) to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains all or parts of 32 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces between the Rocky and Appalachian mountains. The main stem is entirely within the United States; the total drainage basin is 1,151,000 sq mi (2,980,000 km2), of which only about one percent is in Canada. The Mississippi ranks as the fourth-longest and fifteenth-largest river by discharge in the world. The river either borders or passes through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Civil War

Reconstruction through New South

Fort Smith began to develop following Reconstruction, including the Belle Grove Neighborhood. Pictured here is the c. 1840 John Rogers House FT. SMITH'S BELLE GROVE HISTORIC DISTRICT.jpg
Fort Smith began to develop following Reconstruction, including the Belle Grove Neighborhood. Pictured here is the c.1840 John Rogers House

Following the war, the Southern economy was in shambles, including Arkansas. The cost of the war effort, loss of human capital, and Confederate currency losing value were serious issues for the South in addition to the destruction of property, infrastructure, and crops. Many parts of Arkansas had descended into lawlessness and violence between whitecapping groups (including the Ku Klux Klan), freedmen, Republicans, and unaffiliated bandits taking advantage of the chaos. Indicative of the disarray, Radical Republican Governor Powell Clayton declared martial law in ten counties following reelection in 1868. [7] Although no River Valley counties were initially subject to the proclamation, Clayton added four more counties, including one partial-River Valley county, Conway County. [7] Since settlement, the River Valley had been a largely cashless society with significantly less reliance on slave labor compared to plantation agriculture areas like the Arkansas Delta and elsewhere in the Deep South. The Klan had limited support, and much of the area was viewed steadily Re Due to its relatively strong position following the Civil War, the River Valley attracted new settlement throughout Reconstruction. Populations of Austrian Catholics, German Catholics, and German Catholics and Lutherans were relocating to the River Valley. [8] Some immigrated directly from Europe, but most came from early settlements in the Ohio River Valley. [9] The Lutherans generally immigrated in organized companies, where the Catholics came independently, although some Catholic settlements like Clarksville and Subiaco were founded by organized groups. [10] These settlements received support from existing immigrant populations in Little Rock and Fort Smith, and groups of Protestant settlers also establishing settlements in the area. [11] Several of the River Valley's small towns were founded by these groups, beginning as small clusters of immigrants and evolving into cohesive communities.

Human capital is the stock of knowledge, habits, social and personality attributes, including creativity, embodied in the ability to perform labor so as to produce economic value. Human capital theory is closely associated with the study of human resources management as found in the practice of business administration and macroeconomics. The original idea of human capital can be traced back at least to Adam Smith in the 18th century. The modern theory was popularized by Gary Becker, an economist and Nobel Laureate from the University of Chicago, Jacob Mincer, and Theodore Schultz. As a result of his conceptualization and modeling work using Human Capital as a key factor, the Nobel Prize for Economics, 2018, was awarded (jointly) to Paul Romer who founded the modern innovation-driven approach to understanding economic growth.

Whitecapping was a violent lawless movement among farmers that occurred specifically in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was originally a ritualized form of extralegal actions to enforce community standards, appropriate behavior, and traditional rights. However, as it spread throughout the poorest areas of the rural South after the Civil War, white members operated from economically driven and anti-black biases. States passed laws against it, but whitecapping continued into the early 20th century.

Ku Klux Klan American white supremacy group

The Ku Klux Klan, commonly called the KKK or the Klan, is an American white supremacist hate group. The Klan has existed in three distinct eras at different points in time during the history of the United States. Each has advocated extremist reactionary positions such as white nationalism, anti-immigration and—especially in later iterations—Nordicism and anti-Catholicism. Historically, the Klan used terrorism—both physical assault and murder—against groups or individuals whom they opposed. All three movements have called for the "purification" of American society and all are considered right-wing extremist organizations. In each era, membership was secret and estimates of the total were highly exaggerated by both friends and enemies.

Many immigrants came to the River Valley searching for agricultural prosperity, particularly by farming cotton, which could fetch high prices at market and quickly turn a farm into a profitable enterprise. Upon arriving in the region, many found only densely forested upland to be the only property they could afford. [12] River Valley soil and climate are much less conducive to cotton cultivation than the Arkansas Delta, and many settlers struggled. Eventually, a preference for mixed farming emerged, including potatoes and other garden vegetables, to protect against a poor cotton crop sending a farm into economic ruin. [13]

Coal Mining

Coal mining was an important industry in the River Valley's early history. Dangerous and demanding, the industry attracted Swiss and German immigrants who were unable to establish productive farms. Mining became prominent by 1873, especially around the Altus area. The Swiss and German immigrants found the rolling hills similar to the topography of their homeland. Due to the climate, fertile soil and immigrants accustomed to wine with their meals, several wineries were established in the River Valley. The German community thrived with coal mining and railroad work driving the local economy. The Central Collegiate Institute was established in Altus in 1876 (now known as Hendrix College in Conway) and Hiram and Lydia College in 1890 (which went defunct in 1906). However, the railroad's prominence declined during the Great Depression, shrinking Altus's economy and population. [14] Today, the Altus Area Coal Miner's Memorial is a series of five sculptures paying homage to area coal miners, with the names of over 2,500 local miners engraved at the site. Greenwood also has a Coal Miner's Memorial near the town square, with a restored coal railroad car and names of Sebastian County coal workers engraved on site.

Elsewhere in the county, cotton and timber had given way to strawberry, hay, and cattle. However, competition introduced into the market by the railroads allowed farmers in Texas and other states to undercut the prices offered by River Valley farmers. An exploration period for a new regional crop tested beans, legumes, and tomatoes before settling on mustard greens and spinach. The spinach and greens products allowed Alma to leverage its existing fruit canning facility owned by the Alma Canning and Evaporating Company, which had been in the area since 1888. In 1987, Alma claimed the title of "Spinach Capital of the World" and erected a Popeye statue in front of the Chamber of Commerce building. [15]




The most populous city within the River Valley is Fort Smith, the principal city of the Fort Smith metropolitan area that also includes Van Buren and Alma. Fort Smith is the second-largest city in Arkansas, and serves as a regional hub for culture, health care and transportation. Approximately 84 miles (135 km) east, Russellville was the 16th largest city in Arkansas at the 2010 Census. [16] The city is an important economic, education and population center in the state. Other cities in the River Valley are mostly of county-level significance, gateways to nearby recreational sites or small rural settlements. Cities such as Booneville, Clarksville, Morrilton, Paris, and Perryville serve as cultural and economic centers within the rural counties of the River Valley. [17]


The River Valley has generally mild winters and hot, humid summers. Temperatures are generally warmer than in the Ozarks and cooler than Central Arkansas, although the wide variance in elevation in the River Valley can create locally different climactic conditions. The western portion of the River Valley (i.e., around Fort Smith) is situated near an area known as Tornado Alley in the central United States.


Vineyards and wineries around Altus have been in the same family for generations. The River Valley's first wineries date to the postbellum era, when they were founded to produce wine for the Swiss and German immigrants relocating to the area to work in coal mines. This culture lives on today in the five vineyards still in operation. The Chateau Aux Arc Vineyards and Winery is the largest US Chardonnay producer outside of California, and the largest Zinfandel producer in Arkansas. Mount Bethel Winery has been in operation for over 100 years, and offers a tasting, tour and gift shop for visitors. The Post Winery has been in the Post family for five generations. Visitors can buy wines, tour the winery and watch the production process.


The Alma Performing Arts Center is the largest and most popular performing arts venue in the River Valley. [15] In Russellville, the Arkansas River Valley Arts Center offers visual arts as well as art classes and infrequent performances. The Greenwood Performing Arts Center has over 1,000 seats and is used for various performances in the city. In Clarksville, the Walton Fine Arts Center on the campus of the University of the Ozarks offers university theater, performers, and speakers to patrons. The Stephens Gallery hosts exhibits of glass and ivory carvings. In Van Buren, the King Opera House is a restored 1880s opera house, now holding various events throughout the year.

Annual cultural events

A festival attendee participates in traditional grape stomping at the 2013 Altus Grape Festival Altus Grape Festival 002.jpg
A festival attendee participates in traditional grape stomping at the 2013 Altus Grape Festival

The River Valley is home to several annual cultural events, including art, history, music, and traditional heritage festivals. Many events are held at the state parks and on town squares throughout the River Valley.

Petit Jean State Park hosts an annual Wildflower Weekend in April and a Rendezvous the weekend after Thanksgiving. The Museum of Automobiles atop Petit Jean Mountain hosts annual Antique Auto Show and Swap Meet events in June and September. Mount Magazine hosts an annual International Butterfly Festival in June, Frontier Days in October, and is the final destination on the Peak to Peak Poker Run, which begins at Queen Wilhelmina State Park in May.

The Alma Spinach Festival held on the third weekend in April pays homage to Alma's reputation as "Spinach Capital of the World".

In Clarksville, the Johnson County Peach Festival is the longest-running festival in Arkansas. Held annually in July, the festival offers peach pit spitting contest and a terrapin derby in addition to a parade and traditional food and craft vendors.

The Wiederkehr Weinfest in Wiederkehr Village is a free harvest festival held annually in October, including wine tasting, vineyard tours, music, polka dancing, traditional German cuisine and other festival entertainment. First held in 1963, Weinfest is one of the most popular festivals in the region. [18]

Two major yard-sale events, Bargains Galore on Highway 64 and Big To Do on Highway 22, happen annually in the River Valley. Residents and businesses along the highways offer items for sale to visitors and residents traveling two of the main east-west highways in the River Valley.

County Fairs

  • Conway County, September
  • Johnson County, August
  • North Franklin County, October
  • North Logan County, August
  • Perry County, September
  • Pope County, September
  • Sebastian County, August
  • South Franklin County, September
  • South Logan County, September
  • Yell County, September
  • Arkansas/Oklahoma State Fair (at Fort Smith), September–October


Built in 1905, the Altus Heritage House Museum resides in the restored German-American Bank in downtown Altus German-American Bank.JPG
Built in 1905, the Altus Heritage House Museum resides in the restored German-American Bank in downtown Altus

A host of regional and local history museums preserve and interpret the history and culture of the River Valley's early settlers, small towns, historic events, and rural residents.

Protected areas

The River Valley contains a large quantity of protected areas, with broad diversity across the region and several different managing agencies.

Near Booneville, Blue Mountain Lake offers a variety of recreational opportunities. The Blue Mountain Wildlife Demonstration Area is a bird-dog field training center of international renown. The Jack Creek Recreation Area and Knopper's Ford Recreation Area offer well-known Arkansas swimming holes as well as hiking, camping and fishing.

Near Clarksville, the Spadra Waterfront Marina offers RV camping, boat rentals, and guided trips along Spadra Creek. North of Clarksville, Lake Ludwig offers swimming, boating and fishing to visitors.

South of Dardanelle, the Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge protects over 7,000 acres (2,800 ha) of bottomland and wetland surrounded by a cutoff meander of the Arkansas River. Wintering waterfowl and other migrating species use the area as a safe haven during their journey. The NWR offers a driving tour with interpretative signs.

On the Fourche LaFave River near Ola, the Nimrod Lake is managed by the USACE as a crappie fishing destination and camping area.

Near Ozark, the Aux Arc Park offers boating access to the Arkansas River and RV sites.

Ozark Lake, formed on the Arkansas River southwest of Mulberry, is surrounded by a WMA

Lake Bailey at Petit Jean State Park Petit Jean State Park 032.jpg
Lake Bailey at Petit Jean State Park


Livestock grazing in a flat, flowering pasture near Mulberry Cows in flowered pasture near Mulberry, AR.jpg
Livestock grazing in a flat, flowering pasture near Mulberry

The United States Forest Service operates both the Ouachita National Forest and the Ozark National Forest within the region, offering trails, camping, and fishing over thousands of acres of public land. The state operates four parks within the region: Lake Dardanelle State Park, Mount Magazine State Park, Mount Nebo State Park, and Petit Jean State Park. [21]

See also

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Petit Jean State Park

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Coordinates: 35°22′N93°22′W / 35.36°N 93.37°W / 35.36; -93.37