Arkansas’ colonial history is only recently emerging, perhaps due to the emphasis on the original 13 colonies in elementary school history books, the regional passion of later events, notably the Civil War, and new translations of Spanish and German documents that reveal histories from the mid-1500s and early 1800s.
Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto and his men traversed these parts in the early 1540s followed by the French team of Father Jacques Marquette and fur trapper Louis Joliet in the late 1670s. Thus began European contact with the highly advanced Native American societies that once dwelled in present-day Arkansas.
Lenore Shoults, executive director of the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas, will present a lecture at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, which will begin with the Spanish, French and British presence that began, in this region, almost 500 years ago.
The exhibition, “Exploring the Frontier: Arkansas 1540-1840”, offers a hands-on opportunity for children to think about the provisions and travel in the early days on this frontier. Curated by Shoults while she was employed at Arkansas State University Museum, the exhibition was funded by the Arkansas Discovery Network, which is funded by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.
Geography influenced the state’s history resulting in a fairly lawless region due to the difficulty of enforcement. The Mississippi River offered a good dividing line, encouraging easterners to shove their problems westward and providing a refuge for those averse to rules. The swampy eastern edge served as a deterrent for all but those interested in encountering bear, cougars, and snakes. The mountainous areas provided great hiding for anyone who might be slipping away from the law.
People who decided to make Arkansas home were, by necessity, capable of living off the land. Trappers and hunters, homesteaders, and lumbermen all survived by physical labor and a knowledge of nature.
Two key elements of the exhibition include a replica of the Native American canoe that washed up from the St. Francis River and is on display at Toltec Mounds State Park and a slide show of children’s artwork that depicts Arkansas history from 1540-1840. The exhibition will be open through March 2013 and admission is free thanks to local sponsor, Simmons First National Bank.
The center is located at 701 S. Main St., and is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m., and closed on Sunday. Support for the center is provided in part by the Arkansas Arts Council, an agency of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Hands-on science exhibits are offered through the center’s partnership with Arkansas Discovery Network, a consortium of seven museums in Arkansas funded by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. For more information, contact the center at 870-536-3375, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website at www.artssciencecenter.org.