Friday, January 22, 2010

Arkansas Post

About 14 miles from Dumas is the Arkansas Post National Memorial, one of the most historic spots in the state. The post sits along the Arkansas River, not too far from where it meets up with the Mississippi River. The road to the park passes by miles of fields, and also this large figure made out of tires.

A lot of history has taken place at Arkansas Post, which was established by the French way back in 1686 (which makes it the oldest European settlement west of the Mississippi River). The post was an isolated and lonely place, and it never had a large population. In 1723, the Inspector-General of the colony visited the post to find only 17 Frenchmen living there. In 1763, the post and surrounding land were given to Spain at the end of the French and Indian War. A census taken that year showed that only 31 people lived at the post.

One of the last battles of the Revolutionary War occurred at Arkansas Post, when British loyalists attacked the fort. Spain was an ally of the Americans, and the Spanish forces successfully defended the fort from attack. By 1798, the population there had risen to nearly 400. And in 1800, Arkansas Post and all of colonial Louisiana became the property of Napoleon’s France. The period of French rule was short-lived, as the U.S. government got all the land as part of the Louisiana Purchase.

Arkansas Post remained a small and isolated town up until 1819, when it became the capitol of the new Arkansas Territory. The population here grew to over a thousand people, and several new buildings were constructed. That was again also short-lived, when the territorial capitol was moved to Little Rock in 1821. The town of Arkansas Post declined after this, only to see a lot of activity during the Civil War. A fort was constructed next to the town, which was attacked by Union troops in 1863. The battle destroyed the fort and most of the civilian buildings of Arkansas Post. In the decades after the war, the Arkansas River claimed the ruins of the civil war fort, and the town was moved a few miles upstream. By then all of the historic buildings were gone, lost to time or the waters of the river.

For all the history that has occurred in and around Arkansas Post, there really isn't much to see at the park. The visitor center sits near the plot of Arkansas Post back in the time when it was the territorial capitol. But it takes a lot of imagination to see what the town was like back in those days. The only remains are a few pieces of foundation, and an old cistern. Sidewalks criss-cross the park, following the path of roads in the old town.

There are signs that show where the major buildings were, and a few markers stuck in the grass. This one marks the location of the Arkansas State Bank.

There is a lot of wildlife in the park. A small lake by the visitor center had a sign about alligators, saying that the lake was an important habitat. I carefully looked in too see if there were any gators there, but didn't see any. Probably a good thing, since they would have probably taken a leg or arm as lunch. But some paved trails head off into the woods, and I heard some owls hooting in the distance. I hoped to see some type of wildlife, and managed to see a few armadillos running around.

After that I left the ghosts of the old fort and headed back out onto the road, heading south through the flat lands of the Delta...

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