HISTORY OF THE OUACHITA MOUNTAINS
IN ARKANSAS AND OKLAHOMA
From the Ouachita National Forest Web Site
A current overview of the cultural history of the region is provided by Sabo et al. (1990) in Human Adaptation in the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains. Bell (1984) presents a
summary for the Oklahoma portion of the Ouachitas. A general history of the area is also available in Sabo et al. (1990:121-170) and in Spears et al. (1988). For the purposes of this study, the
cultural chronology has, with minor changes, been extracted from these sources and presented in the following table.
The Paleo-Indian Period, 12,000-10,500 B.P. (before present), represents the earliest reliably documented occupation on the North American continent. Pleistocene boreal
forests dominated the landscape and supported a variety of mammals including the now extinct megafauna. Evidence of Paleo-Indians occurs in the form of characteristic fluted lanceolate projectile
points. Two distinct projectile point types are known to occur in Arkansas and Oklahoma: Clovis, and Folsom points. Elsewhere, these projectile points have been found in association with extinct
megafauna such as mastodon, mammoth, giant sloth, and an extinct form of bison, leading to the classification of Paleo-Indians as nomadic bands of big game hunters. Recent research in both western
and eastern North America, however, suggests that the subsistence base of Paleo-Indiancultures may have been considerably broader than initially suggested (Early and Limp 1982). Paleo-Indian
settlement patterns in the Ouachita Mountains, however, are difficult to determine. No in situ Paleo-Indian components are recorded in Arkansas. In the eastern Ouachita Mountains, however, fluted
points have been recovered. Two finds were made on high terraces or promontories overlooking major stream valleys, one at the site of Blakely Mountain Dam on the Ouachita River and the other on a
high terrace or alluvial fan at the junction of the Caddo River and one of its tributary creeks near Caddo Gap. These discoveries confirm that Paleo-Indian cultures were present in the Ouachitas, at
least for short periods of time (Early and Limp 1982).
The Dalton Period, 10,500-9,500 B.P., occurs during the late Pleistocene/early Holocene transition known as the Hypsithermal episode. This gradual warming trend which began
with the retreat of Wisconsinan ice around 14,500 B.P. led to drier climatic conditions conducive to the development of oak-hickory forests, and may have contributed to the extinction of the
Pleistocene megafauna around 10,000 B.P. Climatic amelioration also caused changes in human populations. Dalton peoples relied more on deer and intensively foraged for nuts, berries, and other plant
foods for subsistence. The artifact assemblage for the period is defined by the Dalton projectile point, formally similar to earlier Paleo-Indian points. The Dalton point was utilized both as a
projectile and as a cutting tool. Other implements for processing plants and for woodworking are present in the Dalton assemblage. Dalton components are evident on sites in the eastern Ouachitas,
both on terraces overlooking major rivers and at higher elevations (Early and Limp 1982:35).
The Archaic Period, 9,500-2,000 B.P., is subdivided by Early, Middle, and Late Phases. Because of a lack of archeological information, Early and Middle Phases, 9,500-5,000
B.P., are combined for the Ouachita Mountain Region. This period roughly corresponds with the Hypsithermal (6,000-3,000 B.P.). TheArchaic Period was a time of population growth which may have led to
increased sedentism and a more complex form of social organization. Archaic cultures placed less emphasis on deer for subsistence and relied more on smaller mammals such as rabbit and squirrel. The
diet was supplemented with birds, fish, and mussels, and as reflected by the presence of manos and metates in the archeological record, a greater reliance was placed on plant resources. Regional
manifestations of the Middle Archaic Period include the Tom's Brook and Crystal Mountain Phases (Schambach 1970:384-396). Tom's Brook Phase components contain Johnson stemmed projectile
points while Crystal Mountain Phase components contain Big Sandy projectile points and notched pebbles. In the eastern Ouachita Mountains, Tom's Brook and Crystal Mountain Phase sites contain
midden deposits with dense accumulations of lithic debris, mostly novaculite. The settlement pattern suggests greater reliance on riparian resources. Tom's Brook Phase components reveal the first
sustained use of novaculite resources in the Ouachita Mountains (Early and Limp 1982). Aboriginal quarries and archeological sites located on terraces downstream from quarries contain large
quantities of novaculite chipping debris and unfinished tools in association with Archaic projectile points (Early and Limp 1982). Late Archaic manifestations in the Ouachita region, from 5,000-2,500
B.P., are identified as the Wister Phase. The characteristic Wister Phase settlement pattern reflects a division between riparian base camps and short term special-use sites. The base camps contain
substantial midden deposits, human and dog burials, pits, postholes, hearths, and burned clay concentrations (Williams, Abbott, and Joseph 1992).
The Woodland Period, 2,500-1,100 B.P., is marked by changes in material culture, subsistence base, and sociopolitical or ideological systems. The principal Woodland
manifestation in the northern Ouachita Mountains is the Fourche Maline Phase which appears to be a cultural continuation of the Wister Phase. During the Woodland Period, the hunter-gatherer
adaptation continued to evolve with a greater emphasis on ground stone plant processing tools and with the addition of ceramics to the cultural repertoire. Fourche Maline peoples cultivated several
species of native annual plants and the first tropical cultigens may have been introduced at this time (Early and Limp 1982). New styles of stone tools suggest technological diversification as well
as the importance of lithic resource procurement. Diagnostic Fourche Maline artifacts include Gary contracting-stemmed projectile points, single and double bitted chipped stone axes, ground and
polished boatstones, pitted cobbles, and Williams Plain ceramics. These characteristic thick walled vessels are tempered with clay, bone or grit and are undecorated. The construction of burial mounds
and the presence of exotic materials interred with the cultural elite indicate a more complex social order. The typical Fourche Maline settlement pattern contains major mound centers with midden
accumulations along terraces with small sites on tributary streams (Early and Limp 1982). Sabo (1990) notes that sites at higher elevations above stream valleys include short term hunting and
collecting camps, quarries, and other special use sites. Late in the period, however, a pattern of small, dispersed farmsteads prevailed.
The widespread appearance of political and religious hierarchies between 1,100-300 B.P. marks the Mississippian Period. New forms of social integration emerged in cultures
across most of the Southeast, continuing the social evolution sparked in the Late Woodland Period. Subsistence continued to be derived from a mixture of wild plant and animal foods, but with
substantial reliance on Mesoamerican cultigens--particularly corn and beans. Platform mounds were used for special purpose buildings, functioned as repositories for burial of elite society members,
served as the nucleus of society, and provided tangible evidence of the power of sociopolitical and religious leaders. The regional Mississippian manifestation is known as the Arkansas Valley Caddoan
tradition (1,100-450 B.P.) which is subdivided into three sequential phases: Harlan, Spiro, and Fort Coffee. The characteristic Caddoan settlement pattern contains a large mound center surrounded by
small, dispersed farming hamlets as well as temporary camps and special use areas along tributaries and in interriverine upland areas. Two such mound centers occur near Ouachita National Forest. The
Bluffton Mound is located on the Fourche-LeFave River in Yell County and Mound Site 3LO15 occurs in the upper Petit Jean River Valley in Logan County (Williams, Abbott, and Joseph 1992). Caddoan
sites are characterized by diagnostic arrowpoints and other lithic artifacts, and shell tempered ceramics, often richly embellished with Caddoan iconography. New vessel forms occur including bottles,
plates, and carinated jars, and nonutilitarian human and animal effigies were also manufactured. Mississippian cultures continued to flourish in Arkansas and the southeastern United States until the
arrival of European explorers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
In Arkansas, the historic Quapaw Indians, 1673-1860 (A.D.), were reported living south of the Arkansas River in the Ouachita Mountain region. The Cherokee Indians, 1794-1828,
after removal from their lands east of the Mississippi River, settled along the middle Arkansas River and tributaries along the north edge of the Ouachita Mountains. These historic Indian groups were
sedentary farmers living in comfortable log houses with gardens, fields, and orchards with cultivated grains, vegetables, cotton, and tobacco, and raised cattle, horses, hogs, goats and fowls
(Williams, Abbott, and Joseph 1992). In 1825, Choctaw Indians were removed from their ancestral home and inhabited the Ouachita Mountains in Oklahoma. All settlers, Native American and European,
occupied the rich agricultural lands along streams. Eventually, settlement spread to lands along smaller streams and to upland areas (Smith 1988).
In the early nineteenth century, a town developed at the hot springs in Arkansas. After the Civil War, the availability of free acreage under the Homestead Act encouraged
rural settlement on less fertile lands. The Ouachita Mountains, however, remained thinly populated by subsistence farmers. Eventually, isolation decreased when the interstate railroad system reached
the Ouachitas. With access to new markets, farmers began to grow cash crops for export and more settlers moved into the area. The railroads spurred a regionwide boom in lumbering. Beginning in the
1880s, lumbermen and speculators assembled large tracts of timberland and developed their own railroad lines to supply raw material for the sawmills. Large land tracts were obtained from the Public
Domain through the use of land bounty warrants, timber and stone claims, and homestead claims. Some homesteads were fraudulently acquired by speculators intent on getting the land for its valuable
timber (Smith 1988).
Even after 1900, a large portion of the Ouachitas' interior remained in the Public Domain. On December 18, 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt set aside much of this
public land as the Arkansas National Forest, which in 1926 was renamed the Ouachita. The Forest Service in its first fifteen years in Arkansas attempted to curb timber-stealing and wildfires, to set
up ranger outposts and a telephone communication system. By the 1920's, the Forest Service had built trails and some primitive roads on the National Forest, and was up grading its stands of trees
by enforcing rules for selective cutting by lumbermen who bought government timber. During the depression of the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) battled woods fires, erected buildings,
and constructed all-weather roads on the National Forest. Campgrounds, picnic areas, and swimming lakes were constructed at Shady Lake, Bard Springs, Iron Springs, and Albert Pike recreation areas.
Bankrupt farmers and defunct lumber companies sold large acreages of their unwanted land. Cutover timberland was purchased at low prices by the Dierks family, by the International Paper Company, and
by the Forest Service. During this decade, the Ouachita National Forest more than doubled in size and expanded its boundaries into Oklahoma. Since World War II, the pattern of land ownership has
become more stable. Farmers continue to hold the best agricultural land, private timber companies own the largest part of the better timberland, and the U.S. Forest Service has most of the more
rugged backcountry areas (Smith 1988).
For more information about the Ouachitas and the Ouachita National Forest,
Go to the Ouachita National Forest Web Site.