ARKANSAS - Short & Quick

Arkansas comprises 52,068 square miles, making it the 25th largest state.  Generally considered as part of the South due to its late adherence to the Confederacy, Arkansas lies immediately south of the geographical center of the lower forty-eight states in southern Missouri.

           Arkansas was explored by Europeans as early as the mid-1500s by Hernando De Soto, but the first permanent European settlement was the Arkansas Post, founded in 1686 by Henri de Tonti.  In 1803, Arkansas was acquired for the United States by President Jefferson from Napoleon as part of the Louisiana Purchase.  In 1812, Arkansas was made part of Missouri Territory, but became its own territory in 1819 after a substantial influx of white settlers.  Scotch-Irish pioneers in the mold of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett formed the bulk of the new inhabitants of northern and western Arkansas, while Southerners moved westward into the Mississippi flood plains and delta lands to plant cotton and extend their plantation system.

Arkansas voted to stay in the Union until after Lincoln's call for troops following the firing on Fort Sumter.  In March of 1861 the first Arkansas Secession Convention met and chose to stay in the Union by a vote of 39 to 35.  Only the southeastern portion of the state containing the slave working plantations was solidly for the Confederacy.  The April 15th call for troops by President Lincoln and General Nathaniel Lyon's actions to secure Missouri for the Union prompted reconsideration.  When word came that Virginia and Tennessee had seceded, a second Secession Convention was called.  Arkansas joined the Confederacy in May, 1861, with only a single dissenting vote.

Nonetheless, Northern Arkansas was badly fragmented in its sentiments, and citizens readily volunteered in substantial numbers for both sides.  Extended families often declared for one side or the other, and local fighting continued for some ten years after the war was over.  The northern part of the State was occupied by Union troops from 1863 onwards, but controlling its truculent backwoods population was always problematical.

Following Reconstruction, Arkansas became a backwater in the center of the country and took almost no part in the expansion to the West or the industrialism in the East.  The hill people of northern and western Arkansas slowly replaced their small farms with subsistence cattle ranching, and residents of the Mississippi flood plains developed sharecropper systems for cotton production.

By the end of the 20th Century, Arkansas could be split into three regions based on economical, political, cultural and land use factors.  The capital, Little Rock, located geographically in the center, became a modern and diverse city of over 180,000 inhabitants by 2004 and could be considered as a region unto itself.  South and eastwards of a line drawn from Texarkana in the Southwest, through Little Rock to Pocahontas in the Northeast, are the delta lands containing mostly bottom-land farming.  This region is classically Southern like its counterparts in Eastern Louisiana and Mississippi.  North and west of the line is a region similar to Southern Missouri, Eastern Tennessee and the foothills of the Blue Ridge. This third region is relatively ethnically homogenous, conservative in political attitude, and traditionally a bastion of self-determination.

Residents of Arkansas are called Arkansans, pronounced "Ar-Can`-sons."  The State's nickname is "The Natural State" due to its rather undeveloped condition, large number of state parks and mostly rural population.  Its motto is "Regnat populus" (The People Rule), a motto often taken literally by its residents.  For example, in Arkansas property ownership is viewed as a near-sacred right with a minimum of government interference.  The courts in Arkansas have traditionally taken a dim view of restrictions on property use, zoning is often absent except in the larger cities and towns, and eminent domain is used very sparingly by local governments in comparison with other states.  For US residents outside of Arkansas it may be difficult to understand this very conservative attitude in Arkansas.  In Du Page County, Illinois, for example, real estate taxes are due on June 1 and September 1, in equal amounts.  Thereafter penalties are assessed, and the method of payment becomes increasing restrictive until 4:30 PM on November 17th.  After that time no payment will be accepted, and the property owner faces the dire situation of losing his property to the local government and its friends.  Such punitive measures are essentially unthinkable in Arkansas.  Nor does Arkansas place extensive government employee pension plan funding on real estate taxes.  By way of comparison, in the Du Page County example above from Illinois, a home selling for under $240,000 on a lot of 1/8 acre incurs real estate taxes of over $4,780 per year, while in Arkansas a similar home on 5 acres would likely see taxes of less than $900.00 and be subject to an additional homeowner exemption deduction of $300.00 for qualified homeowners.  Yes, Arkansas is people and homeowner friendly.  As its motto says, "The People Rule."  The State currently has four US Representatives, split three to one in favor of the Democratic Party in 2006.  The Governor, Mike Huckabee, and Lt. Governor, Winthrop Rockefeller, are Republicans, but both US Senators, Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, are Democrats.

By 2005 Arkansas lagged far behind the more developed states in land values and building costs.  Along with Southern Missouri, Northern Arkansas offers investment and retirement opportunities unmatched in the United States.  Large tracts of farm acreage are available below $1,300 per acre, and modern homes can be built from $65 to $90 per square foot.  Even large executive homes with elegant features and expensive fixtures rarely exceed the latter number.  Prime location home sites, of course, command higher land prices, but even these are usually a fraction of that demanded for comparable sites in other states.  Taxes remain low except in Little Rock, and retirees often find themselves capable of living comfortably in Arkansas in comparison to barely remaining solvent in other states.