The Arkansas River basin was a focal point for the exploration and development of the Plains region. Credit for finding the Arkansas and first naming it goes to Coronado, but the main reason is he kept better records to document his travels. Another famous name from the time was Hernando de Soto, who miraculously was in the same area the same year, 1541. They were in different areas of the Arkansas however. Coronado crossed the river near present Dodge City, KS, at a point commonly used by Native Americans and buffalo herds for fording the river . DeSoto followed the river south and crossed near present Arkansas Post, before again turning north in search of the Indian city of Coliqua near present Little Rock.
DeSoto had begun his expedition by landing at present day Shaw’s Point, Bradenton, Florida, in May 1539. Arriving with nine ships, he put 220 horses and 620 men ashore for an exploration north and west. By winter, they had reached the head of Apalachee Bay, and the area of the Aucilla and Ochlockonee Rivers. Archeological evidence has confirmed that the DeSoto expedition wintered-over about a mile east of present Tallahassee. In the spring, they continued into Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas. On May 8,1541, deSoto’s men became the first Europeans to cross the Mississippi River near Memphis. He wintered along the Arkansas River. A year later, May 21, 1542, deSoto died from a fever on the west bank of the Mississippi River near McArthur, Arkansas. While his remains were never found, writings by members of the expedition indicate his remains are believed to be in Lake Chicot, at Lake Village, Arkansas. From a historical perspective, deSoto’s expedition is considered a failure. His documentation was weak, his men managed to spread disease among the native populations, and they created hostile relations with any Native Americans they encountered.