Arkansas River is a major tributary of the Mississippi River. It
generally flows to the east and southeast as it traverses the U.S.
states of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. The river's source
basin lies in the western
United States in Colorado, specifically the
Arkansas River Valley, where the headwaters derive from the snowpack
in the Sawatch and Mosquito mountain ranges. It then flows east into
the Midwest via Kansas, and finally into the South through Oklahoma
At 1,469 miles (2,364 km), it 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. Its origin is in the
Rocky Mountains in Lake County, Colorado,
near Leadville. 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. The
Arkansas River's mouth is at
Napoleon, Arkansas, and its drainage basin covers nearly 170,000 sq mi
(440,300 km²). In terms of volume, the river is much smaller
than the Missouri and Ohio Rivers, with a mean discharge of roughly
41,000 cubic feet per second (1,200 m3/s).
Arkansas from its headwaters to the
100th meridian west
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.
3 Allocation problems
4 Riverway commerce
5 The river in history
5.1 American Civil War
5.2 Post Civil War
7 Image gallery
9 See also
11 External links
Name pronunciation varies by region. Many people in western states,
Kansas and Colorado, pronounce it /ɑːrˈkænzəs/
ar-KAN-zəs, People in
Arkansas typically pronounce it
/ˈɑːrkənsɔː/ AR-kən-saw, which is how the state is always
pronounced according to a state law passed in 1881.
The headwaters of the
Arkansas near Leadville, Colorado
Arkansas has three distinct sections in its long path through
central North America. At its headwaters, the
Arkansas runs as a steep
fast-flowing mountain river through the Rockies in its narrow valley,
dropping 4,600 feet (1.4 km) in 120 miles
(193 km). This section supports extensive whitewater rafting,
including The Numbers (near Granite, Colorado), Brown's Canyon, and
the Royal Gorge.
At Cañon City, Colorado, the
Arkansas River valley widens and
flattens markedly. Just west of Pueblo, Colorado, the river enters the
Great Plains. Through the rest of Colorado, Kansas, and much of
Oklahoma, it is a typical
Great Plains riverway, with wide, shallow
banks subject to seasonal flooding and periods of dwindling flow.
Tributaries include the Cimarron River and the Salt Fork Arkansas
Oklahoma the river begins to widen further into a more
contained consistent channel. To maintain more reliable flow rates, a
series of large reservoir lakes have been built on the
its intersecting tributaries including the Canadian, Verdigris, Neosho
(Grand), Illinois, and Poteau rivers. These locks and dams allow
the river to be navigable by barges and large river craft downriver of
Muskogee, Oklahoma, where the McClellan-Kerr
Arkansas River Navigation
System joins in with the Verdigris River.
Into western Arkansas, the river path works between the encroaching
Boston and Ouachita Mountains, including many isolated, flat-topped
mesas, buttes, or monadnocks such as Mount Nebo, Petit Jean Mountain,
and Mount Magazine, the highest point in the state. The river valley
then expands as it encounters much flatter land beginning just west of
Little Rock, Arkansas. It continues eastward across the plains and
forests of eastern
Arkansas until it flows into the Mississippi River.
Water flow in the
Arkansas River (as measured in central Kansas) has
dropped from approximately 248 cubic feet per second (7 m³/s)
average from 1944-1963 to 53 cubic feet per second (1.5 m³/s)
average from 1984–2003, largely because of the pumping of
groundwater for irrigation in eastern
Colorado and western Kansas.
Important cities along the
Arkansas River include Pueblo, Colorado,
Garden City, Kansas, Dodge City, Kansas, Wichita, Kansas, Tulsa,
Oklahoma, Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Little Rock, Arkansas.
I-40 bridge disaster
I-40 bridge disaster of May 2002 took place on I-40's crossing of
Kerr Reservoir on the
Arkansas River near Webbers Falls, Oklahoma.
Kansas has claimed
Colorado takes too much of the river's
water, resulting in a number of lawsuits before the U.S. Supreme Court
that continue to this day, generally under the name of
Colorado. The problems over the possession and use of
Kansas led to the creation of an interstate
compact or agreement between the two states. While Congress
Arkansas River Compact in 1949, the compact did not
stop further disputes by the two states over water rights to the
Arkansas River Basin Compact was created in 1965
to promote mutual consideration and equity over water use in the basin
shared by those states. It led to the Kansas-
Commission, which was charged with administering the compact and
reducing pollution. The compact was approved and implemented by both
states in 1970, and has been in force since then.
Inland waterway system with McClellan-Kerr Navigational Channel shown
Arkansas River Navigation System begins at the
Tulsa Port of Catoosa
Tulsa Port of Catoosa on the Verdigris River, enters the Arkansas
River near Muskogee, and runs via an extensive lock and dam system to
the Mississippi River. Through
Oklahoma and Arkansas, dams which
artificially deepen and widen the river to sustain commercial barge
traffic and recreational use give the river the appearance of a series
of reservoirs.
Arkansas River Navigation System diverts from the
Arkansas River 2.5 mi (4.0 km) upstream of the Wilbur D.
Mills Dam to avoid the long winding route which the lower Arkansas
River follows. This circuitous portion of the
Arkansas River between
Wilbur D. Mills Dam
Wilbur D. Mills Dam and the
Mississippi River was historically
bypassed by river vessels; early steamboats instead following a
network of rivers—known as the
Arkansas Post Canal—which flowed
north of the lower
Arkansas River and followed a shorter and more
direct route to the Mississippi River. When the McClellan–Kerr
Arkansas River Navigation System was constructed between 1963 and
Arkansas Post Canal was significantly improved, while the
Arkansas River continued to be bypassed by commercial
The river in history
Arkansas River in Colorado, with
Mount Harvard in distance, circa
1867. Photo by William Henry Jackson.
Many nations of Native Americans lived near, or along, the 1,450-mile
(2334-km) stretch of the
Arkansas River for thousands of years. The
first Europeans to see the river were members of the Spanish Coronado
expedition on June 29, 1541. Also 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. The Joliet-Marquette expedition
Mississippi River from Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin
towards the Gulf of Mexico, but turned back at the mouth of the
Arkansas River. By that time, they had encountered Native Americans
carrying European trinkets, and feared confrontation with Spanish
Jean-Baptiste Bénard de la Harpe, a French trader, explorer and
nobleman had led an expedition into what is now
Oklahoma in 1718-19.
His original objective was to establish a trading post near the
present city of Texarkana, Arkansas, but he then extended his trip
overland as far north as the
Arkansas River (which he designated as
the Alcansas). The explorer wrote he and 9 other men, including three
Caddo guides and 22 horses loaded with trade goods had come to a
native settlement overlooking the river, where there were about 6,000
natives, who gave the strangers a warm welcome. La Harpe's party were
honored with the calumet ceremony and spent ten days at this location.
In 1988, evidence of a native village was discovered along the
Arkansas River 13 miles (21 km) south of present-day Tulsa,
Oklahoma. By then, the site was known as the Lasley Vore Site.[a]
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 birch-bark 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.[b] Cottonwoods are plentiful along the streams of
the southwest and grow to large sizes. The wood is soft and easily
worked with the crude tools carried by both the French and Indians.
The pirogues were sturdier and could be more for navigating the
sandbars and snags of the Southern waterways.
In 1819, the
Adams-Onís Treaty set the
Arkansas as part of the
frontier between the
United States and Spanish Mexico. This continued
United States annexed
Texas after the Mexican-American War,
in 1846. The treaty was made shortly after "Old Settler" Cherokees
moved to near what became known as Webbers Falls on the Arkansas
River. That area, then part of
Arkansas Territory would become Indian
Territory and later Oklahoma, was traditional territory of the Osage,
leading to conflict and a treaty in 1828 but still unresolved by the
time thousands of additional Cherokee refugees moved to the area
during the Trail of Tears.
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. Agricultural products such as
corn, rice, dried peaches, beans, peanuts, snake root, sarsaparilla,
ginseng had grown in economic importance.
On March 31, 1820, the Comet became the first steamboat to
successfully navigate part of the
Arkansas River, reaching a place
Arkansas Post,[c] about 60 miles (97 km) above the
confluence of the
Arkansas and the Mississippi Rivers. In
mid-April, 1822, the Robert Thompson, towing a keelboat, was the first
steamboat to navigate the
Arkansas as far as Fort Smith. For five
years, Fort Smith was known as the head of navigation for steamboats
on the river. It lost the title to Fort Gibson in April, 1832, when
three steamboats, Velocipede, Scioto and Catawba, all arrived at Fort
Gibson later that month.[d]
Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe Trail followed the
Arkansas through much of
Kansas, picking it up near Great Bend and continuing through to La
Junta, Colorado, unless users elected to take the challenging Cimarron
Cutoff in Cimarron, Kansas.
American Civil War
Main article: Ambush of the steamboat J. R. Williams
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. Initially, the Union Army abandoned its forts in the
Indian Territory, including Fort Gibson and Fort Smith, in order to
maximize its strength for campaigns elsewhere, while the Confederate
Army sent troops from
Texas to support its Native American allies.
Union Troops returned later in the war, after defeating the
Confederates at the
Battle of Pea Ridge
Battle of Pea Ridge and the Battle of Fort Smith,
and began recovering the position it had previously abandoned, most
notably Fort Gibson, reopening the
Arkansas River as a supply route.
In September 1864, a body of Confederate irregulars led by General
Stand Watie successfully ambushed a Union supply ship bound for Fort
Gibson. The vessel was destroyed, and a part of its cargo was looted
by the Confederates.
Post Civil War
In the 1880s, Charles "Buffalo" Jones, one of the cofounders of Garden
City, Kansas, organized four irrigation companies to take water one
hundred miles from the
Arkansas River to cultivate 75,000 acres
(300 km2) of land. By 1890, water from the
Arkansas was being
used to irrigate more than 20,000 acres (8,100 ha) of farmland in
Kansas. By 1910, irrigation projects in
Colorado had caused the river
to stop flowing in July and August.
Flooding in 1927 severely damaged or destroyed nearly every levee
downstream of Fort Smith, and led to the development of the Arkansas
River Flood Control Association. It also led to the Federal
Government assigning responsibility of flood control and navigation on
Arkansas to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACOE).
Fly fishermen on the
Arkansas River near Salida, Colorado
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. Today, brown trout dominate the river, which also contains
Trout Unlimited considers the
Arkansas one of the top
100 trout streams in America, a reputation the river has had since
the 1950s. From Leadville to Pueblo, the
Arkansas River is
serviced by numerous fly shops and guides operating in Buena Vista,
Salida, Cañon City and Pueblo. The
Colorado Division of Wildlife
provides regular online fishing reports for the river.
A fish kill occurred on December 29, 2010, in which an estimated
100,000 freshwater drum lined the
Arkansas River bank. An
investigation, conducted by the
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission,
found the dead fish "... cover 17 miles of river from the Ozark Lock
and Dam downstream to River Mile 240, directly south of Hartman,
Arkansas." Tests later indicated the likely cause of the kill was
gas bubble trauma caused by opening the spillways on the Ozark
Arkansas River passing through Little Rock, Arkansas, as viewed
from the north bank in North Little Rock
Yancopin Bridge is the last crossing of the
Arkansas River before
it flows into the Mississippi River
Arkansas River in downtown Pueblo, Colorado
Downtown Wichita, Kansas, skyline at night from The Keeper of the
Plains at the
Arkansas River, looking across to North Little Rock
John Martin Dam and Reservoir on the
Arkansas River in Bent County,
Arkansas River in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Arkansas River in Salida, Colorado
Arkansas River in Natural Steps, Arkansas
Arkansas River between Van Buren and Fort Smith, Arkansas
^ A team led by Dr. George H. Odell, an anthropology professor from
the University of Tulsa, uncovered artifacts that showed the natives
were members of the Wichita people, and that the European artifacts
also found there were of the same time period. Dr. Odell concluded
this was most likely place that la Harpe met the natives he
^ Pirogues are still used in the swamps and marshes of South Louisiana
by descendants of the "Cajuns," who were exiled from Canada by the
Arkansas Post is said to have been the first European settlement in
the Mississippi Valley,
^ Fort Gibson had been built in 1824 on the bank of the Verdigris
River in what had been called the "Three Forks" area of Indian
Kansas v. Colorado
List of crossings of the
List of longest rivers of the
United States (by main stem)
Listing of rivers for each state: Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas
Arkansas River Navigation System
^ a b c "
Arkansas River". Geographic Names Information System. United
States Geological Survey. 1980-04-30. Retrieved 2010-09-20.
^ The mouth has changed since plotting by USGS.
^ The mouth has changed since plotting by USGS to Mississippi River
Mile 580 from Mile 582 in the 1980 survey.
Arkansas River Navigation System (MKARNS)". History
& Culture. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved
^ a b See watershed maps: 1 Archived October 27, 2004, at the Wayback
^ "USGS Gage #07258000 on the
Arkansas River near Dardanelle, AR
(monthly flow data)". Water Resources of the United States. U.S.
Geological Survey. Retrieved 2011-01-03.
^ J.C. Kammerer (May 1990). "Largest Rivers in the United States".
United States Geological Survey. Archived from the original on 21
March 2007. Retrieved 2007-04-05.
^ "Chaffee County
Colorado Gold Production". Westernmininghistory.com.
2007-02-13. Retrieved 2012-11-15.
^ Random House Dictionary
^ Stewart, George R. (1967). Names on the Land. Houghton Mifflin
Company. pp. 335–340.
^ Kellogg, Karl S.; et al. (2017). Geologic Map of the Upper Arkansas
River Valley Region, North-Central Colorado. Reston, VA: U.S.
Geological Survey. Retrieved 31 January 2018. CS1 maint: Explicit
use of et al. (link)
^ a b c O'Dell, Larry. Encyclopedia of
Oklahoma History and Culture.
Arkansas River. Archived 2013-05-30 at the Wayback Machine.
^ a b c
Colorado 514 U.S. 673 (1995), 185 U.S. 125 (1902)
Verdigris River Navigation" (PDF). American Canal
Society. Retrieved April 30, 2017.
^ a b Odell, George H. "Lasley Vore Site." Encyclopedia of Oklahoma
History and Culture. Accessed January 26, 2017.
^ a b c d e Wright, Muriel H. "Early Navigation and Commerce along the
Arkansas and Red Rivers in Oklahoma." Chronicles of Oklahoma. Volume
8, Number 1, March, 1930. p. 65. Accessed September 29, 2017.
^ "Treaty with the Western Cherokee, 1828".
Oklahoma State University
Library. Retrieved 2017-03-28.
^ "A New Treaty" (PDF). Cherokee Phoenix. University of North Dakota.
1 (20). 1828-07-09. Retrieved 2017-03-28.
^ U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Little Rock District/
Mission/Navigation. Accessed June 2, 2017.
^ National Park Service
^ Charles Jesse "Buffalo" Jones exhibit, Finney County Historical
Museum, Garden City, Kansas
^ a b "History of the
Arkansas River (1540 to 2000)". South Central
Service Cooperative. 2017. Accessed June 4, 2017.
^ Harris, William C. (September 1892). "The Trouts of
Utah". The American Angler. XXI (12): 515–528.
^ Ross, John (2005). Trout Unlimited's Guide to America's 100 Best
Trout Streams. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press. pp. 241–243.
^ Campbell, Duncan (1960). 88 Top Trout Streams of the West. Newport
Beach, CA: Western Outdoors. pp. 64–65.
^ Bartholomew, Marty (1998). Fly Fisher's Guide to Colorado. Belgrade,
MT: Wilderness Adventures Press. pp. 38–49.
Colorado Division of Wildlife Fishing Reports Archived March 7,
2009, at the Wayback Machine.
^ "Experts Close In On What Killed Fish - NW
Arkansas News Story -
KHBS NW Arkansas". KHBS. January 3, 2011. Archived from the original
on 11 January 2011. Retrieved 4 January 2011.
^ a b "
Arkansas River Fish Kill Investigation Continues". Arkansas
Game and Fish Commission. 3 January 2011. Archived from the original
on 8 August 2016. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
^ "Gas Bubble Trauma likely cause of fish kills".
Arkansas Game and
Fish Commission. Archived from the original on 8 August 2016.
Retrieved 14 May 2017.
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"Arkansas, a river of the
United States of America".
Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.
Arkansas River". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
"Arkansas". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2 (9th ed.). 1878.
Arkansas River is discussed at the end of this article.
"Arkansas, a S. W. river of the United States". The American