Bordering Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, and Mississippi, America’s landlocked 25th state is full of food festivals, spooky legends, and rare animals. Here are 25 facts you might not know about “The Natural State.”
1. Though Kansas and Arkansas both derive their name from the same etymological source, the word “Arkansas” is pronounced with a silent “s” at the end, while the “s” in “Kansas” is pronounced. French settlers mistakenly called the Quapaw people, then living in Arkansas, the Arcansas after learning about them from the Algonquin, and their pronunciation stuck. Acansa is a combination of the Algonquin prefix a-, referring to an ethnic group, and the Siouan word /kká:ze. Meanwhile, the actual Kansa lived along the Kansas river. There, the English pronunciation won out.
2. Arkansans take their state’s pronunciation so seriously, it’s actually against state law to mispronounce the word “Arkansas” while in the state.
3. Country music legend Johnny Cash was born in Kingsland, Arkansas. He immortalized his feelings about his home state in the song “Arkansas Lovin’ Man.”
4. Diamond State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas, is home to the only diamond-producing mine in the United States—the largest diamond ever discovered in North America, weighing in at 40.23 carats, was found there 1924. It was called the “Uncle Sam Diamond.”
5. Nowadays, Diamond State Park is open to the public, and anyone can search for diamonds there—for a small fee. It’s the only diamond-producing site in the world that lets the public dig for diamonds.
6. Former president Bill Clinton was born in Hope, Arkansas, and served twice as governor of the state before becoming president. Today, you can visit his presidential library in Little Rock.
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Sam Walton opened the first ever Walmart in Rogers, Arkansas, in 1962. Though the discount department store chain has gone on to open locations around the world, its headquarters are still in Arkansas. Today, the original Walmart location has been transformed into a Walmart museum, featuring exhibits and even an old-timey soda fountain.
8. Ernest Hemingway wrote portions of his masterpiece A Farewell to Arms at his wife’s family’s home in Piggott, Arkansas. The site is now a museum.
9. Arkansas, known as "The Natural State," is made up of several diverse climates—often divided into six geographic regions—which range from the mountainous Ozarks region in the north, to the swamps and bayous in the eastern delta region, to the forest-blanketed Timberlands in the southwest.
10. There is an alligator farm in Hot Springs that’s been running since 1902. The folks at the farm not only raise alligators, they also operate an alligator petting zoo that lets visitors get up close and personal with the reptiles.
Arkansas is home to a rich variety of wildlife, including one species of terrestrial snail that’s only found in the state. Called the Magazine Mountain shagreen, the species inhabits just 22 cumulative acres around Magazine Mountain, Arkansas’s highest peak.
12. Arkansas has a rich culinary history. It’s home to numerous food festivals, including The Johnson County Peach Festival, The Cave City Watermelon Festival, and the Magnolia Blossom Festival and World Championship Steak Cook-Off.
13. Arkansans love celebrating their favorite foods so much, several towns have declared themselves “Capitals” of their favorite fruits and vegetables. For instance, Alma, Arkansas, has declared itself the "Spinach Capital of the World" (the town was home to a massive spinach canning plant and has its own annual Spinach Festival, as well as a Popeye statue); meanwhile, Mulberry calls itself the “Edamame Capital of the U.S.” and Cave City has dubbed itself the “Home of the World’s Sweetest Watermelons.”
14. Arkansas is the biggest rice-producing state in the United States, accounting for 48 percent of the country’s rice production. Nearly 9 billion pounds of the grain are grown in Arkansas annually.
15. Legend has it that the Fouke Monster, or "Southern Sasquatch," roams the swamplands around Fouke, Arkansas, destroying livestock and occasionally attacking people. The myth has become so popular, it was even the subject of a 1972 horror movie called The Legend of Boggy Creek.
16. The design for the state flag of Arkansas was chosen by contest in 1913, and honors the state’s diamond mining history by portraying the state’s name in the center of a diamond.
The fiddle was adopted as Arkansas’ official state instrument in 1985. It has long been associated with the folk music and culture of early Arkansas.
18. In order to honor the state’s musical history, the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View holds an annual “Old-Time Fiddling Championship.”
19. The official state beverage of Arkansas is milk.
20. In 1991, the Square Dance was named the official state dance of Arkansas.
21. Since the 1830s, people have been getting the spa treatment at the natural hot springs in Hot Springs National Park. Some of America's most famous (and/or infamous) people have traveled from all over to bathe in the springs, such as Babe Ruth, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Al Capone.
22.Hot Springs, Arkansas, is home to the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, which is the oldest nonfiction film festival in North America.23.
Until 1932, it was illegal for a man and woman to openly flirt on the streets of Arkansas’s capital, Little Rock. (Although, to be fair, it was an ordinance enacted as a way to make it more difficult for brothels to conduct their businesses [PDF].)
24. There is a 65.5 foot statue of Jesus that sits atop Magnetic Mountain in Eureka Springs. Called “Christ of the Ozarks,” it was built in 1966. One art critic likened it to a “milk carton with a tennis ball stuffed on its top.”
Paranormal investigators have long puzzled over Arkansas’s Dover Lights, a mysterious illuminationthat occurs in an Ozarks valley. Some believe the wandering lights are the ghosts of coal miners killed in a mine collapse, while others think the lights belong to the spirits of Spanish Conquistadors, lost in the hills while searching for gold.