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.
Early in the territory’s existence, it became clear Arkansas Post was not going to be suitable for a capital. The Arkansas Territory was created March 2, 1819, and the territorial legislature convened for the first time on July 28, 1819, at the Arkansas Post, which was the territorial capital. At the time, Gov. James Miller wrote to his wife in New Hampshire “the people live miserably poor, their houses but little better than a square of rail fence.”
Flooding, poor crop harvests and ongoing fights with Native Americans in the area plagued Arkansas Post. Everyone agreed the site was temporary, and in fact, the legislature did not even bother passing any bills funding the construction of permanent government buildings.
Then on Feb. 20, 1820, Thomas Tyndall, a representative from central Arkansas, submitted a bill to move the territorial capital. From the outset, it seemed as if every member of the legislature had his own personal choice for where the capital should be located. Miller offered Crystal Hill, where he had settled just over the river from Little Rock, but others supported Cadron, a small settlement north of modern-day Conway.
William Russell, who had made a career of land speculation, claimed ownership to a tract of land in what was known as the Little Rock. Thomas Nuttall, a naturalist who traveled through the area in 1818, noted only one family living in the area. Still, Little Rock’s central location on the Arkansas River and the major road linking St. Louis and Mexico made it a prime choice for the new capital.
However, Cadron seemed the most likely choice because of the large amount of settlers along the creek. Cadron had some drawbacks, though. There was little level ground, which could hinder settlements and farming. Despite that, supporters continued to back Cadron, leading the legislature to establish Cadron as the county seat of newly formed Pulaski County. Legislators also voted to appropriate money for a jail and courthouse in the Cadron settlement.
More next week