The story of how Little Rock went from a population of one family to becoming the capital of the Arkansas Territory in the space of a few short years is one of political deals and questionable ethics. It also reveals how politics was practiced in the early days of Arkansas’s Territorial period.
Politicians in the Arkansas Territory rarely were concerned with appearances of conflicts of interest. For example, Speaker of the House Joeb Hardin owned property at Cadron, possibly fueling his support for it becoming the capital. Russell, who stood to gain financially if his tract of land in Little Rock was chosen, realized he would need to convince Cadron supporters to switch their votes to Little Rock. Russell offered Hardin a block of land from his claim in Little Rock, and Hardin agreed to the deal and changed his vote.
Russell then turned to Thomas Tindall and Radford Ellis, who also supported Cadron as the site of the future capital. Russell offered Tindall and Ellis a deal to make Cadron the permanent county seat of Pulaski County if they changed their votes to support Little Rock as Arkansas Territory’s new capital. They agreed to the deal.
But the fight wasn’t over. A group of land speculators led by St. Louis attorney Chester Ashley claimed property in the Little Rock area. In the wake of the New Madrid earthquake of 1811, settlers who could claim that property had been destroyed in the earthquake were entitled to government land elsewhere. Ashley’s group quickly bought many of the New Madrid claim certificates, laying claim to much of the property in Little Rock. Then, they renamed the area as “Arkopolis” and began selling land.
Meanwhile, Russell also began selling land. For a time, there were two rival towns in the disputed area: Little Rock, which was owned by the Russell faction, and Arkopolis, which was owned by the Ashley faction.
Russell was not to be outdone by what he called the “enterprising gentlemen from St. Louis.” He rounded up support from some of the territory’s leading political powers and sued the St. Louis group. Russell contended the New Madrid claims were illegitimate. The court agreed with Russell and ruled in 1821 that the St. Louis group did not legally own the land they had been selling. Shortly after the verdict, Little Rock became the new capital in the same year.
Soon after the court ruling, the Ashley faction loaded their houses with gunpowder and destroyed any vestige of Arkopolis. As for Cadron, despite the promise the village would remain Pulaski County’s permanent county seat, the territorial legislature voted to move the county seat to Little Rock in 1822.
About the Arkansas State Archives
Arkansas State Archives is a division of the Department of Arkansas Heritage and is responsible for collecting and maintaining the largest collection of historical materials on Arkansas in the world. The State Archives has two branch locations at Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives in Powhatan and the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives in Washington.