Why Kansan's Call The Arkansas River The Ar-Kansas?



My Reason.

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 "Ar-Kan-Saw".

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 Indians. 

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 "arc"* 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, webmaster.

(CLICK HERE to see update on why it is pronounced like the State of Arkansas by most of the world)

Pronunciation: 'ärk
Function: noun

1 : the apparent path described above and below the horizon by a 
celestial body (as the sun)
2 : something arched or curved


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 http://anythingarkansas.com/arkapedia

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 Caddo, Cherokee and Osage Nations.
On June 15, 1836, Arkansas became the 25th state of the United States as a slave state. Arkansas seceded from the Union on May 6, 1861 during the American Civil War. Under the Military Reconstruction Act, Congress, by June 1868, had readmitted Arkansas, as well as North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama and Florida.
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 school".

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?

Don Crouch,
Sacramento, Ca.
My Reply.
Dear Don.
     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. 
           “The 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 tribe.
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 French pronunciation.
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.
        ”The Kanza belonged to the Siouan linguistic stock and constituted, with the Osage, Quapaw, Omaha, and Ponca a distinct subgroup called by Dr. J. O. Dorsey (1897) Dhegiha.
Location. 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 we are.
     Origin of state's name: French interpretation of a Sioux word "acansa," meaning "downstream place."  This is how Arkansas was named; you can see this by going to http://www.50states.com/arkansas.htm.  They changed the Sioux name to french.   
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 are the 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 found at http://www.randomhouse.com/wotd/index.pperl?date=19980331 also 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.
Pete Thomas
Back From Don.
Mr. Thomas,

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.
I 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 words.