The Quapaw were a division of a larger group known as the Dhegiha Sioux several hundred years ago. The group split into the tribes known today as the Quapaw, Osage, Ponca, Kansa and Omaha when they were forced to leave the Ohio Valley. The Quapaw moved down the Mississippi River into Arkansas, displacing the Tunica and the Illini. This is the origin of the word "Ugaxpa" as the Quapaw were known to other tribes, meaning "the downstream people." The downstream people settled in the area where the Arkansas River met the Mississippi and the two massive rivers had deposited nutrient-rich soil conducive to farming. They settled into four villages at the mouth of the Arkansas River. This is where the Quapaw stayed until they were pushed out by European-Americans several hundred years later.

Like many other native tribes, the Quapaw experienced population reduction due to European diseases. The tribes were susceptible to many types of diseases because they had never been exposed to them. Also, the natives were all genetically very similar and had similar immune systems. So, when the diseases hit, the natives were highly affected by them. Some estimates say that disease caused a 95% drop in population. Sadly, due to heavy loss of population, much of Quapaw oral lore and history died with its storytellers. Even today the Quapaw tribe doesn’t have as many members as in 1600.

The French were the first Europeans to contact the Quapaw. Two French explorers, Marquette and Joliet, followed the Mississippi River in 1673, hoping that it might lead to the Pacific Ocean. Their Illini guides referred to the Quapaw tribe as Akansea—People of the South Wind. This was the name the Illini Indians had given them in their own language, which was how the French wrote it down on their maps. This was the origin of the name for the state of Arkansas.

Between 1818 and 1833, the United States government obtained land from the Quapaws and the tribe moved from Arkansas to Indian Territory in Oklahoma.



In 1867, they were yet again forced to sign over a large portion of their lands. Today, the Quapaw retain only a small parcel of trust lands of less than 13,000 acres.

Much of this land was heavily mined in the 20th century, polluting the countryside to such a degree that part of it was declared a superfund site.

This information was compiled by the Franklin County Historical Society.

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