Nestled in the backwoods of Monroe County just across the Phillips County line is an area that has been designated as the Louisiana Purchase State Park. It is here that the history of the “Natural State” officially began. October 2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase in which the land now known as Arkansas became property of the United States.
In conjunction with the bicentennial of the historical event, Commissioner of State Lands has announced that his office is opening a new exhibit featuring the Louisiana Purchase Survey.

Nestled in the backwoods of Monroe County just across the Phillips County line is an area that has been designated as the Louisiana Purchase State Park. It is here that the history of the “Natural State” officially began. October 2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase in which the land now known as Arkansas became property of the United States.

In conjunction with the bicentennial of the historical event, Commissioner of State Lands has announced that his office is opening a new exhibit featuring the Louisiana Purchase Survey.

“This is the bicentennial of the beginning of the Louisiana Purchase survey,” stated Thurston. “Several other organizations are hosting events later in the year, but my office is offering a snapshot of a surveyor’s life and what they might have seen as they began their survey, especially in southeast Arkansas where the initial point was established.”

The land purchased from France in 1803 more than doubled the size of the United States. President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Hunter-Dunbar Expedition and other explorations to explore the newly acquired land. However it wasn’t until 1815 during the administration of President James Madison that the land was surveyed to prepare it for settlement.

In October 1815 Principal Deputy William Rector hired two other deputy surveyors to begin the work. On October 27, Prospect Robbins and Joseph Brown journeyed to the new land. Robbins headed north from the mouth of the Arkansas River. Brown’s journey began several miles further north near the mouth of the St. Francis River. This area was later termed the “baseline” of the survey.

Robbins reached the baseline on November 10 and sent a message to Brown, who had traveled farther west to return to the baseline. This became the Initial Point of the first survey. From this point, lands in Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, North Dakota and parts of Minnesota and South Dakota were measured.

“While we all know the basic history of the Louisiana Purchase and the survey, few rarely think about the day-to-day life of the surveying teams, the equipment they carried or the tools that they used. This exhibit gives a small window into that life,” said Thurston.

According to Thurston, this exhibit includes documents from the Commissioner of State Lands records, as well as physical artifacts of the surveyors. Documents include original journals, field notes and maps from the 1815 survey.

Other items in the exhibit include camping and cooking supplies, a journal for the surveyors’ field notes and animals native to the land where they traveled – from squirrels to various snake species to an alligator.

The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission’s Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center, the Historic Arkansas Museum and historical re-enactors, Timothy and Sharlene Richardson developed the exhibit.

“We appreciate the assistance from all of these groups,” Thurston commented. “The artifacts they have loaned us have built this exhibit into something that will be interesting for all ages.”

The exhibit can be viewed at the Commissioner of State Lands Office, Room 109 of the State Capitol during regular office hours, Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.