The first European to reach the region was the Spaniard, Hernando de Soto, at the end of the 16th Century. Early Spanish and French explorers gave the state its name which is probably a phonetic spelling for the French or Catalan word for “downriver people” – a reference to the Quapaw Native Americans.
Arkansas was part of the area acquired by the United States in the 1803 Louisiana purchase from France. Prior to statehood, the region was known as the “Arkansaw Territory”. In this territorial period, the five “civilized” tribes, namely the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Cherokee, and Seminole, inhabited Arkansas.
Arkansas was admitted to the Union on June 15th 1836 as the 25th state. Arkansas was a slave state, but initially refused to join the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War, although it did join later, and was the scene of several battles.
During the Civil Rights struggle, Arkansas was the site of a famous confrontation between the federal government and local whites, who were resisting the desegregation of Central High School in the state capital, Little Rock. During this period, President Eisenhower famously sent troops to escort nine African-American students who were trying to enroll in the school.
Bill Clinton, the 42nd President of the United States (President from 1993 to 2001), was born in Hope, Arkansas, and served as Governor of the state (50th and 52nd Governor of Arkansas) for almost 12 years prior to being elected President.