Benard de la Harpe, a Frenchman leading an exploration party up the Arkansas River on April 9, 1722, noted the first outcropping of the rock he had seen along the banks since leaving New Orleans. He reportedly called it ‘la petite roche’ or ‘the little rock,’ to distinguish it from a larger cliff across the river.
The area was largely wilderness, inhabited by the Quapaw or Arkansas Indians, and had been explored by Spanish gold hunters and by itinerant hunter-trappers. The country became a part of the Territory of Louisiana, which was governed by France, Spain and then France again, from which it was purchased by the United States in 1803.
Little Rock had become a well-known crossing when the Arkansas Territory was established in 1819. The permanent settlement of Little Rock began in the spring of 1820, and the first building has been described as a cabin, or shanty, and was built on the bank of the river near La Petite Roche. Territorial Governor James Miller signed legislation designating Little Rock as the new capital for Arkansas, a mere ten (10) months after the first permanent settlement was established in Little Rock. The Act provided that after June 1, 1821, the sessions of the Legislature and the Superior Court would be held at Little Rock.
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