Thursday, March 5, 2020

As the Arkansas Territory Grew, Quapaw Nation Shrank

Quapaw Treaty of 1824. Courtesy of the Arkansas
State Archives.
Over the first two decades of Arkansas’s territorial history, the Quapaw, known as “the Downstream People,” were reduced from a population of thousands to only a few hundred. Many tribal members succumbed to disease, maltreatment and starvation. Despite that, the tribe has about 2,000 members today.

During the first two decades of the 19th century, Cherokee groups, urged by the federal government, migrated west from Georgia and South Carolina and settled in Arkansas. The migration led to conflict between the Quapaw and Cherokee over hunting rights.

William Clark, governor of Missouri Territory, decided the best solution was to negotiate a land cession from the Quapaw to provide eastern Native Americans land on which to settle. In 1817, the Missouri Territorial assembly passed a resolution to investigate the Quapaw’s claims upon the land, in what today is the state of Arkansas. Lawmakers thought they needed to “obtain from them (Quapaw) by purchase or exchange such parts of it as interferes most with the settlement and improvement of that part of the Country.” 

On Aug. 24, 1818, Chief Heckaton traveled to St. Louis to negotiate a treaty with the government. In the treaty, the Quapaw ceded to the United States all lands north of the Arkansas River, leaving themselves a tract of land that extended from the Arkansas River on its north to the Ouachita River on its west and Arkansas Post on its east. The remaining land was about 2 million acres. The lost territory covered around 30 million acres. In exchange, the United States granted the Quapaw hunting rights in all ceded territories, $4,000 and a $1,000 annual annuity to be paid in supplies to the reservation.

As more Euro-American settlers began making their way into the territory, they coveted the fertile land occupied by the Quapaw. The territorial government pressed for more land from the Quapaw. Robert Crittenden, acting as governor during one of Territorial Gov. James Miller’s frequent absences, suggested the legislature appropriate $25,000 to buy the remaining land from the Quapaw.

In the meantime, the Federal government had been late in paying the annuity due to the Quapaw under the 1818 treaty. As a result, many of the Quapaw were in a state of financial hardship. In the summer of 1824, about 100 members of the Quapaw Nation traveled to Little Rock to demand their annuity payment. Acting Governor Crittenden received the Native Americans, and in the process of paying the annuity, he began negotiating a new treaty to buy the rest of the Quapaw lands, except a few acres near the Red River. At first, the Quapaw refused to cede the land but asked Crittenden to postpone negotiations.

In July 1824, Crittenden presented a new treaty to the Quapaw. In the treaty, the Quapaw would cede the remaining land in Arkansas Territory in exchange for a tract of land in Louisiana in the Caddo Nation reservation. Negotiations continued through the fall.

On Nov. 15, 1824, Chief Heckaton signed the Quapaw Treaty of 1824. After signing the treaty, Heckaton was dismayed and full of regret. He made a speech after signing the treaty saying, “The land we live on belonged to our forefathers. If we leave it, where shall we go?”

When the Quapaw arrived at their new home on the Red River, they found the land was unsuitable for crops. Antoine Barraque, Gov. George Izard’s sub-agent for the tribe, described the area as “very sandy and not worth much,” noting the only fertile land appeared to be in bayous and creeks.
Before long, the Quapaw began to starve. There was little help from their Caddo neighbors or the government. Both Barraque and the local agent for Indian Affairs, George Grey, seemed more interested in blaming each other than finding a solution. Both wrote to Izard to complain about the other.

At the same time, Quapaw members began to question Heckaton’s leadership. Another chief, Sarasin, split from the tribe after his wife starved to death. He led around 60 Quapaw back to Arkansas to settle near the Arkansas River. Sarasin wrote to President John Quincy Adams saying, “we cannot stay any longer with the tyrant whom we have found in the Red River country… We are forced to leave it or starve.”  Leaving the Red River settlement was likely the reason he and the Quapaw who followed him survived.

Eventually, the remaining Quapaw settled in the northeastern part of Indian Territory, which is now the state of Oklahoma. The Quapaw Nation remains there today, but the tribe owns about 5 acres in Arkansas near the Little Rock Port Authority. The land is a burial site for the Quapaw before their removal from Arkansas.

The exhibition, “We Walkin Two Worlds,” at the Historic Arkansas Museum pays homage to and spotlights the history of the Caddo, Osage and Quapaw in Arkansas.

For more information on Arkansas history, visit the Arkansas State Archives at 1 Capitol Mall, Suite 215, call 501-682-6900 or email