The Missouri Territory, established in 1812, which encompassed present-day Arkansas, agreed to honor private land granted previously by Spain and Mexico, and also awarded two grants to prior French claims. A substantial portion of these Spanish and Mexican grants were situated in current Arkansas and Desha counties. Land claim issues arose frequently due to non-compliance with regulations and fraudulent activities such as forgeries of governor’s signatures on land grants.
The term ‘arpents’, a French measurement unit used in some Spanish grants, is roughly equivalent to four-fifths of an acre. Most early land grants to heads of households were for about 68 acres or 800 arpents. An additional parcel of around 42 acres was granted for each child.
Native Americans were forcibly removed from their lands in Arkansas between 1803 and 1836, and these lands were then made available for settlement. A crucial resource for those researching this period is The Settlers of Lovely and Miller County, Arkansas Territory, 1820-1830 by Melinda Blanchard Crawford and Don L. Crawford.
In 1815, the rectangular survey system was integrated for land measurement, and in 1818, the first land office was established. The first survey was completed in 1819, but land sales didn’t begin until 1821. In 1832, the territory was divided into four land districts, leading to the establishment of additional land offices due to increasing land demand.
Federal government records for 1820 to 1908 are available at www.glorecords.blm.gov. These records show the first transfer of land from the federal government to an individual, and they include the name of the individual, legal description of the land, county, and issue date.
The original case files, claims, applications, and records for the initial acquisition of Arkansas’ public-domain land are housed in the National Archives. Additionally, land patents for successful claims are kept at the BLM, Eastern States Land Office.
In 1862, Congress passed the Homestead Act, which included Arkansas as it was a federal-land state. All subsequent land transfers after the initial acquisition are recorded at the county seat through the county clerk’s office. Many of these records have been microfilmed and are held at the Arkansas History Commission.