The Arkansas River is a major tributary of the Mississippi River.
At 2,364 kilometers (1,469 miles), the Arkansas is the sixth longest river in the United States, the second-longest tributary in the Mississippi-Missouri system, and the 45th longest river in the world.
The Arkansas River originates high in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains near Leadville, Colorado, and it ends in eastern Arkansas at the confluence with the Mississippi River where the town of Napoleon (Desha County) once stood.
It has a total fall of 3,475 meters (11,400 feet), and its drainage basin covers 417,000 square kilometers (161,000 square miles).
Many nations of Native Americans lived near, or along, the Arkansas River for thousands of years.
The Arkansas is believed to have been crossed by the Spanish explorer Francisco Vázquez de Coronado in 1541 near the site of Dodge City, Kan.
In the 1540s, Hernando de Soto discovered the junction of the Arkansas with the Mississippi.
The Spanish originally called the river Napeste.
The name “Arkansas” was first applied by Father Jacques Marquette, who called the river Akansa in his journal of 1673.
In 1686, Henri de Tonti established Arkansas Post, the first and most significant European settlement in Arkansas. This important historic site is located near the mouth of the Arkansas River in southeastern Arkansas.
French traders and trappers who had opened up trade with Indian tribes in Canada and the areas around the Great Lakes began exploring the Mississippi and some of its northern tributaries. They soon learned that the birchbark canoes, which had served them so well on the northern waterways, were too light for use on the southern rivers, such as the Arkansas. They turned to making and using dugout canoes, which they called pirogues, made by hollowing out the trunks of cottonwood trees.
By the time Fort Smith was established in 1817, larger capacity watercraft became available to transport goods up and down the Arkansas. These included flatboats (bateaus) and keelboats. Along with the pirogues, they transported piles of deer, bear, otter, beaver and buffalo skins up and down the river.
The Arkansas from its headwaters to the 100th meridian west formed part of the U.S.–Mexico border from the Adams–Onís Treaty (in force 1821) until the Texas Annexation or Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
In 1859, placer gold discovered in the Leadville area brought thousands seeking to strike it rich, but the easily recovered placer gold was quickly exhausted.
During the American Civil War, each side tried to prevent the other from using the Arkansas and its tributaries as a route for moving reinforcements.
Name pronunciation varies by region. Some people in the upper reaches of the river, particularly in Kansas, and parts of Colorado, pronounce it ar-KAN-zəs People in Oklahoma, Arkansas, and some parts of Colorado, typically pronounce it AR-kən-saw, which is how the Arkansas state has always been pronounced since a state law was passed in 1881.
The headwaters of the Arkansas River in central Colorado have been known for exceptional trout fishing, particularly fly fishing, since the 19th century, when greenback cutthroat trout dominated the river.
The Arkansas River is one of the most popular whitewater rafting destinations worldwide. From exhilarating white-knuckling rapids to peaceful stretches, this pristine river is great for beginning rafters and experienced thrill-seekers alike.