Acknowledging our History: The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, Little Rock, Arkansas

This post is another in my ongoing blog series that acknowledges the ancestral lands on which the National Archives’ buildings are situated across the country. This series of acknowledgements is a simple way to offer our recognition and respect to the people who once lived on these lands.

The Clinton Library is located in Little Rock, Arkansas which is situated on the ancestral lands of the Opaxpa (Quapaw) and Osage peoples.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, courtesy of the  Clinton Foundation

Thousands of Muscogee, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, and other indigenous tribes also passed through the area during the Trail of Tears following the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

The Arkansas River Valley was the home of two Dheigha – Sioux tribes, the Ogaxpa, or Quapaw, and the Osage. These nations had originally lived in the Ohio River Valley and migrated to Missouri and Arkansas at some point before Europeans arrived in the region. In 1673, an indigenous tribe in present-day Illinois identified the tribes in the Arkansas River Valley to French explorer Father Jacques Marquette as the “Arkansea,” meaning “people of the south wind.” This name later became associated with the territory and the state.

The site of the William J. Clinton Library and Museum is on land previously claimed by the Quapaw. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Quapaw had a trading relationship with the French. After the Louisiana Purchase, the relationship with white settlers shifted, particularly once the Arkansas territorial capital moved to Little Rock. The treaties of 1818 and 1824 ultimately accomplished the cession of Quapaw lands in Arkansas. Most Quapaw now reside in Oklahoma, with the tribal headquarters in Quapaw, Oklahoma. In 2014, the tribe purchased land near the Little Rock Port Authority because of the suspected presence of tribal remains. The tribe sold the land back to the Port Authority in 2019.

The Osage primarily resided in southwestern Missouri, but made frequent hunting forays into Arkansas. As Dheigha Sioux, they were similar to the Quapaw linguistically and culturally. While they also held a trading relationship with Spanish and French settlers, they were forced to cede their lands in the treaties of 1808, 1818, and 1825.  The Osage now primarily reside in Oklahoma, where the tribal headquarters is located.

After the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, thousands of Native Americans, Black slaves, white spouses, and Christian missionaries passed through Arkansas on what became known as the “Trail of Tears.” Both the group led on military roads by John Bell and the group led over water by Principal Chief John Ross passed through the Little Rock area. Because of the convergence of these two routes, North Little Rock (across the river from the Clinton Library) was the state’s most active site during Indian Removal. 

Map of Indian Land Cessions from John Hughs Reynolds, Makers of Arkansas History. (1905) page 296A
Trail of Tears National Historic Trail marker in North Little Rock, just across the Arkansas River from the Clinton Library. Photo Credit: City of North Little Rock.

Enter your address in this interactive map of Traditional Native Lands to see who once lived where you are now.

My thanks to Kara Ellis, Archivist, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum and Adam Bergfeld, Archivist, William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum for providing research and images for this post.

For additional information: 

Arnold, Morris S. The Rumble of a Distant Drum: The Quapaws and Old World Newcomers 1673-1803. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000.

Baird, David W. The Quapaws: A History of the Downstream People. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980.

Bell, James W. “Little Rock (Pulaski County).” Encyclopedia of Arkansas. https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/little-rock-970/ (Accessed 29 September 2021).

Foreman, Grant. Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1953.

Journey of Survival: Indian Removal Through Arkansas. http://journeyofsurvival.org (Accessed 29 September 2021).

Key, Joseph. “Quapaw.” Encyclopedia of Arkansas. https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/quapaw-550 (Accessed 29 September 2021).

Osage Nation. http://www.osagenation-nsn.gov (Accessed 29 September 2021).

Peacock, Leslie Newell. “The Quapaw Return to Arkansas.” Arkansas Times. 20 November 2014. https://arktimes.com/news/arkansas-reporter/2014/11/20/the-quapaw-return-to-arkansas (Accessed 29 September 2021).

Quapaw Tribe Official Website. http://quapawtribe.com (Accessed 29 September 2021).

Reynolds, John Hugh. Makers of Arkansas History. New York, Boston etc.: Silver, Burdett and Company, 1905. 

Sabo, George, III. “Osage” Encyclopedia of Arkansas. https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/osage-551/ (Accessed 29 September 2021.)

Sloan, Kitty. “Trail of Tears.” Encyclopedia of Arkansas. https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/trail-of-tears-2294/ (Accessed 29 September 2021). 

Documents from the National Archives’ Online Catalog: 

1818 Treaty between the Quapaw and the Government of the United States: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/162880134

1824 Treaty between the Quapaw and the Government of the United States: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/120942046 

1818 Treaty between the Osage and the Government of the United States: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/100463729 

1825 Treaty between the Osage and the Government of the United States: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/169161530 

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail Map: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/33754800 

Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 added Little Rock Trail of Tears Route to the National Historic Trail: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/84286359 

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