Jefferson County, Arkansas Native Americans

Mention has already been made elsewhere of that pre historic race of people known as Mound Builders who held sway long before the Indians and the French arrived in the Mississippi Valley. There have been found remains of these first inhabitants in the shape of mounds or pottery in Jefferson County, but so few in number as to be hardly worthy of notice.

The Indian population of the territory now embraced in Jefferson County varied at different times, but the earliest known and somewhat fixed occupants of these wilds were the Quapaws, who claimed the land from the Mississippi to the Ouachita hills. Here they were even when the French Government began in 1689 in the west valley, or, perhaps, even when Hernando De Soto’s body was sunk into “the great waters” to the east, nearly a century and a half before, and still they remained until near the first years of this century, when the last of their chiefs of pure Quapaw blood was asked by the United States Government to remove to the Indian Territory and make room for the whites. The aged chief, Heckatoo, submitted peacefully to this decree, and afterward died in that territory. They had no villages in this county, at least at a later date (1825), and the most noted trails led to Hot Springs. It is said that these aborigines first learned the use of fire-arms within the limits of this county. Sarrasin was the half-breed successor of Heckatoo, and, before their removal to the west, he performed a deed of open-hearted and heroic daring on the river, just below the capital of this county, that should always keep his memory fresh in the hearts of its inhabitants. A wandering band of Chickasaw Indians had stolen two white babes from a family near the river. Sarrasin, whose generous impulses were moved by the frantic grief of the mother, promised her that at a given hour he would bring them back to her or never return. He set out in his canoe across the river where he located the Chickasaw camp, and lightly springing in the midst of the sleeping warriors, he secured the babes, and then uttered the Quapaw warhoop. The startled Chickasaws believing the Quapaws were down upon them in a body, fled pell mell into the woods, while Sarrasin, alone and with the two babes, entered his canoe and made good his promises to the now overjoyed mother. When grown to be an old man of ninety years and ready to die, he came back to the capital, and begged Gov. John Pope (1829-35) to let him return to his old hunting grounds to die. He was buried at Pine Bluff, the first interment in its cemetery. A few of the tribe still live in the territory, as peaceful and generous hearted now as they were in their old home in the wilds, where at this day blooms into activity a bright city of ” the New South.”

The white population, which gathered about Arkansas Post with the beginning of French rule in 1689, under Gov. Sanville, just two centuries ago, soon began to overflow into territory up the river. The soldiers of Henri De Tonti furnished the first known instance of a white man locating within the present boundaries of Jefferson County, the point here being chosen because it was the first shelf above highwater-mark. A mixture of real fact, and some tradition, shows that Leon Le Roy, one of De Tonti’s men, deserted from “the Post” on January 13, 1690. He was captured by a band of Osages, who, it is said, kept him for fourteen years a captive in the Ozark Mountains, where he was treated as a messenger (and sort of mascot) of the Great Spirit, who wished him venerated as their guardian, and whose wrath would fall upon them if he was allowed to escape. A close watch was kept over him, but in the spring of 1704 he escaped and reached the Arkansas River, at the mouth of Mulberry Creek. He had only reached the site of Little Rock, on his way to Natchez, Miss., when the Quapaws captured him, and, as they treated him with consideration, he determined to make himself one of them: he did so, and his, it is said, was the first white blood to mingle with that of the Quapaw nation. He became very prominent among them, and in 1709, when the arms and ammunition of a party of Spaniards, who died in the southeast part of the State, of an epidemic, while en route to the settlements in New Mexico, were found by the Quapaws, they were brought to Le Roy, who was encamped near the present site of the court house at Pine Bluff. Here he taught the Quapaws their first lessons in the firearms by which he was afterward killed. The chief took the finest gun in the lot, and for 109 years it was handed down from chief to chief until in 1818, when, on the treaty with the United States, it was given to one of the commissioners as an emblem of friendship, peace and fidelity, and now lies among the relics of the Smithsonian Institute.

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1 thought on “Jefferson County, Arkansas Native Americans”

  1. I enjoyed reading your article here very much. However, your mentioning that Leon Le Roy was the first Frenchman to integrate himself into the Quapaw Tribe leaves some doubt in my mind. What about the young Parisian, Barthelemi (various spellings) that Henri Joutel (and later Francis Parkman) mentions who was left at Arkansas Post as the La Salle Expedition survivors made their way to Canada after their stay in Texas. Some writers say that Barthelemi was then lost to history. Here’s my point: How then does Bayou Bartholomew get its name? Also, what about the people descended from Barthelemi (apparently myself among them, according to some genealogical work that has been done, along with later some Imbeau and Jardelas stock). My mother, before she passed away, was a very dedicated genealogist whose main interest was the Arkansas Post French and Indian families in the Lincoln-Arkansas-Desha-Chicot Counties area. I share that interest and now that I am retired I hope to explore it further. (There is even some discussion by certain relatives of mine who are interested in reorganizing as the Arkansas Band of Quapaw Indians, this interest I share as well.) I look forward to your reply, if you will be so kind.

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