Why Kansan's Call The Arkansas River The Ar-Kansas?
WHY ARKANSAS THE
STATE THINKS IT IS PRONOUNCED ARKANSAW,
AND WHY DO PEOPLE FROM THAT
STATE CALL THEMSELVES ARKANSANS???
I could never figure out where they got
the pronunciation of the state of Arkansas. When asked why Kansans'
pronounce Arkansas as Ar-Kansas I
have an answer that usually brings smiles, but one that I take very
seriously. That answer is, "because I don't live in Kan-Saw".
During the winter of 2000 I
told some people from Arkansas who were in Cimarron looking for some
tractors my reason. They did not think it was as funny as most people
do, however their reply to me was quite surprising. They told me that it
made more sense to them than any other thing they had ever heard, and that
they could never figure out why the river or their state was pronounced
I went on to tell them the theory
that was taught to me while I attended grade school here in Cimarron.
Originally there were many tribes of
Indians that roamed the great plains in the area of present-day Kansas.
The prominent Indian tribe was called the "Kanza" Indians. When it was
time for the territory to be named, it was named Kansas after the Kanza
The river going through the Kansas
Territory was named by combining the territory's name and a very peculiar
feature of the river.
Starting in the present southwest
Kansas area around Ford KS and going northeast from there, the river
started making a great
away from its easterly path. The present-day city of Great Bend now sits
where the river made its turn back to the southeast. The river proceeded
southeast to an almost straight line position from the river's original
path, about 125 miles east of Ford where the city of Wichita sits today.
From Wichita it continues southeast,
through Oklahoma, and then it crosses Arkansas and empties into the
Mississippi river. The city of Great Bend got its name from the "great
bend" or "arc" in the river. The territory name combined with the unique
"Arc" in the river gave it the name Arkansas. (pronounced ar-kansas)
If the river had
continued its path from Ford on to the east instead of its real path
to the northeast, it would have
bi-passed the present day Wichita location. In theory however,
Wichita would still have been on the river as it would have been built
somewhere on the river, and Great Bend and Hutchinson would be south, but still on the
river more than likely, depending of whether they were built near a
water supply or along a railroad route. At the same time, the name Great Bend
would not have been used and the name of the river would not be the
Arkansas due to no "Arc" in the river. It also would not be the
Kansas river as there is already a Kansas river. Wouldn't it be
funny if Arkansas was named differently, still after the same river, but
a different name altogether? Perhaps the river would have been the
Kanza and then Arkansas would be Kanza or Kansaw if they preferred.
It would sure take the argument out of the situation.
Of course, the state of Arkansas was
named for the Ar-kansas river. How the state's name became pronounced
"Ar-Kan-Saw" remains a mystery. By, Pete Thomas,
HERE to see update on why it is pronounced like the State of
Arkansas by most of the world)
1 : the apparent path described above and below the horizon by a
celestial body (as the sun)
2 : something arched or curved
WHY ARKANSAS THE
STATE THINKS IT IS PRONOUNCED ARKANSAW.
On occasion I receive mail about
my "Ar-Kansas River Page". I received the following notes from Don
Crouch, Sacramento CA. I thought his letter was very interesting so I
replied with my thoughts. It is interesting to me to see how other
people think and how people find the web site. I think Don is on
his way to becoming an "honorary Kansan". Below are those notes.
I hope you enjoy them.
A friend and I were
having a discussion about the blog on Just Cimarron Stuff. called
Why do Kansans call the Arkansas River the Ar-Kansas?
Our Pastor was born and raised in Kansas before coming to California to
be our Pastor. He calls Arkansas (Ar-kan-zus) not the traditional (Ar-kan-saw).
When I mentioned this to my Oklahoma friend, I was immediately corrected
and sent to the Official website of the State of Arkansas Encyclopedia
There it says, quote:
The state is the only one with an official pronunciation..."that
received by the French from the Native Indians, and committed in writing
by the French word representing the sound; and in accordance with same
it should be pronounced in three syllables, with the final 's' silent,
the 'a' in each syllable with the Italian sound, and the accent on the
first and last syllables." This traditional form "ARKansaw" was made
official by the Arkansas state legislature in 1881.
So does Wikipedia:
The early French explorers of the state gave it its name, which is
probably a phonetic spelling for the French word for "downriver" people,
a reference to the
Quapaw people and the river along which they settled. Other
Native American nations living in present-day Arkansas were
1836, Arkansas became the 25th state of the
United States as a
slave state. Arkansas seceded from the Union on
1861 during the
American Civil War. Under the Military Reconstruction Act,
Congress, by June 1868, had readmitted Arkansas, as well as
The state is the
only one with an official pronunciation. The traditional form "arkanSAW"
was made official by the state legislature in 1881.
Really, you should
put in some supporting information....not just "when i was in grade
I can find no supporting facts in your blog to back this assertion,
neither name, school, or teacher. Apparently this is just a fanciful
dreamed up idea. Do you have anymore supporting information than
what you presented? Any comments, corrections or retractions?
I am not sure
why you think this article is a blog. It is just what I state it to be,
a recollection from my childhood days. I have no problem with anyone
thinking it is a "fanciful dreamed up idea". This site is intended for
people interested in our little town and I do not put anything on with
the intention of starting an argument.
(1) It is a fact
however; that the Arkansas River was named before the state of Arkansas
and the state of Arkansas was named after the river.
state name Arkansas ultimately derives from the name of an
Siouan people who lived in the valley of the Arkansas River. The area
was first settled by the French, who usually used the spelling
Arkansa to refer to the tribe and to the village in which they
lived. They used the plural, Arkansas, to refer to members of the
The French used the
name in the plural to refer to the Arkansas River--la rivière des
Arkansas, "the river of the Arkansas"--and the name Arkansas
was then applied to the territory, and, eventually, to the state.
After the region was
de-Frenched in the early nineteenth century, the pronunciation remained
the French one--or, rather, an Anglicized version of the French
one--which would be something like "Arkansaw." In fact, the
Arkansaw spelling is the one used on the Act that created the
territory. But in the end, the original Arkansas spelling is the
one that prevailed, but it did so with an Anglicized version of the
By the way, the
state of Kansas, also named by the French for an Indian people
and with the -s representing a French plural, dropped the French
pronunciation entirely and adopted an English pronunciation based on the
Kansas spelling, which is why the pronunciation of Kansas
and Arkansas differ.”
(2)It was also my
teacher’s opinion that the river was named after the *Kanza Indians as
well as the state of Kansas was once the Kansas territory, named after
the Kanza Indians. This makes much more sense than changing a
pronunciation just because it is different than what the French speak.
belonged to the Siouan linguistic stock and constituted, with the Osage, Quapaw, Omaha, and Ponca a distinct subgroup called by Dr. J. O. Dorsey
They were usually on some part of the Kansas River, which derives its
name from them.”
(3)The State of
Arkansas putting their version on how the Arkansaw name came to be is
their business. Why I think it is pronounced the way most
Kansans pronounce it is our business. Your Pastor is correct because
once a Kansan, always a Kansan. We can't explain it; it is just the way
Origin of state's name:
interpretation of a Sioux word
"downstream place." This is how Arkansas was named; you can see this by
http://www.50states.com/arkansas.htm. They changed the Sioux name
Kansans are very
glad that Arkansas decided to make their state name pronunciation
different for more than one reason. I must assume, that since they
only State to make the pronunciation of their State official, they must have felt a need to
do so to justify their pronunciation. If Arkansas
wants to re-write history that is their prerogative, so be it; Just
leave the name of the river the way it was intended.
I have no problem
with that. That doesn't change the way we pronounce our river and we
are more than happy to pronounce their state their way. Another article
explains how the French changed the pronunciation.
Thanks for the
note. I have had this brought to my attention before and have no problem
with it. If you would like your note to be posted on my site, send me
your name and town and I will post it along with my reply.
Sorry I didn't name the teacher but it was in the fifties and I remember
just a few of my teachers and fewer yet by name, or which one may have
taught me about the name of our river.
Back From Don.
Thanks for your reply. If you wish to use any of our correspondence on
your site you are welcome. I was in no way trying to show any disrespect
to you, your site or your state. And my intention was not to start an
argument either, but just to ferret out the "truth" if there was any to
be had. I sincerely appreciate your information that has helped to
clarify this confusion.
People that put up respectable websites such as yours are to be admired
and commended for commenting and contributing to our community of
Internet users and the world at large. My point entirely was the seeming
discrepancy between your information and, according to my friend, who
was also quoting the (Arkansas State Website) the "Official" answer to
the question of how the word Arkansas was pronounced. I will be sharing
your explanation with my Pastor, I'm sure this will confirm what he
already knew and he will get a chuckle at the same time. I will also
share it with my friend in hopes it will settle it.
Many thanks and hopes that your website is a larger success than it
currently is. And again, Thanks for taking the time to respond.
have lost my reply but it I told Don that I had taken no disrespect from
his note but that
once I start with an "however" it usually leads to quite a few more