Often thought of as a primitive backwoods peopled by rough hunters and unsavory characters, early Arkansas was actually productive and dynamic in the same manner as other American territories and states. In this, the second volume in the Histories of Arkansas, S. Charles Bolton describes the emigration, mostly from other southern states, that carried Americans into Arkansas; the growth of an agricultural economy based on cotton, corn, and pork; the dominance of evangelical religion; and the way in which women coped with the frontier and made their own contributions toward its improvement. He closely compares the actual lifestyles of the settlers with the popularly held, uncomplimentary image.
Separate chapters deal with slavery and the lives of the slaves and with Indian affairs, particularly the dispossession of the native Quapaws and the later-arriving Cherokees. Political chapters explore opportunism in Arkansas Territory, the rise of the Democratic Party under the control of the Sevier-Johnson group known as the Dynasty, and the forces that led Arkansas to secede from the Union. In addition, Arkansas’s role in the Mexican War and the California gold rush is treated in detail.
In truth, geographic isolation and a rugged terrain did keep Arkansas underpopulated, and political violence and a disastrous experience in state banking tarnished its reputation, but the state still developed rapidly and successfully in this period, playing an important role on the southwestern frontier.