Partly because its colonial settlements were tiny, remote, and inconsequential, the early history of Arkansas has been almost entirely neglected. Even Arkansas Post, the principal eighteenth-century settlement, served mainly as a temporary place of residence for trappers and voyageurs. It was also an entrepot for travelers on the Mississippi—a place to be while on the way elsewhere. Only a very few inhabitants, true agricultural settlers, ever established themselves a or around the Post.
For most of the eighteenth century, Arkansas’s non-Indian population was less than one hundred, and never much exceeded five or six hundred. Its European residents of that era, mostly French, have left virtually no physical trace: the oldest buildings and the oldest marked graves in the state date from the 1820s. Drawing on original French and Spanish archival sources, Morris Arnold chronicles for the first time the legal institutions of colonial Arkansas, the attitude of its population towards European legal ideas as were current in Arkansas when Louisiana was transferred to the United States in 1803. Because he views the clash of legal traditions in the upper reaches of the Jefferson’s Louisiana as part of a more general cultural conflict, Arnold closely examines the social and economic characteristics of Arkansas’s early residents in order to explain why, following the American takeover, the common law was introduced into Arkansas with such relative ease.