Tag Archives: Arkansas State Parks

The Legend of Petit Jean

Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas is probably one of my favorites in the entire state, not just because of its breathtakingly beautiful views, but also because of the lovely ‘love’ story that is the Legend of Petit Jean.

In the early days of explorers in Arkansas, somewhere back in the 1700’s, a French nobleman named Chavet was bitten by the adventure bug and received permission from the King of France to explore the Louisiana Territory, and was given a grant for a portion of the land for his efforts.  At the time, Chavet was engaged to a young woman, and (I picture a petulant young thing!) she wanted them to get married so that she could go with him to the New World.  But he said it was far too dangerous, and that she would have to wait to be married when he returned. (You know what happens next.)

Chavet’s group made their way up the Mississippi River and then down the Arkansas River, stopping at a high bluff overlooking the river.  They stayed for several months, interacting with and learning from the local people. During this entire journey, Chavet never realized that one of his crew was his fiance, who disguised herself as a young cabin boy.  (I’m just going to interject right here that it must’ve been a heck of a disguise for nobody to have figured out ‘she’ was a ‘he’ until much later.  Wow.)  It wasn’t until fall, when they were packing to return to France, that the truth was revealed.  Petit Jean came down with a high fever, and that’s when Chavet and the others realized who Petit Jean really was.  She would not survive the fever, and before she died she told Chavet that she wished to be buried on the mountain overlooking the river.  Chavet honored her request.  Even though the real name of this young woman was Adrienne Dumont, she will forever be known as Petit Jean (“Little John”).

Petit Jean

View from Petit Jean Mountain

This legend shows the French influence in the early settlement of this part of Arkansas.  Mount Magazine, the highest point in the state, is derived from the French word ‘magasin’ which means ‘barn, warehouse, depot or store’.  Not really sure about the connection since Mount Magazine is not that close to Belle Point, which would later be Fort Smith.  Fort Smith was certainly a depot of sorts in that the five or six American forts in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) relied on supplies to come from Fort Smith.  Anyway…

For those interested in the paranormal, there have been sightings of strange lights around the mountain, and some people who have taken photographs have noted seeing orbs in the pictures.  I think it’s so beautiful up there that she still wants to hang around and enjoy it!

If you make a cool day trip to visit Petit Jean State Park, you’ll definitely want to have lunch at Mather Lodge.  Great food at reasonable prices!  And pick up a souvenir while you’re there 🙂

Toltec Mounds, Part II

Autumnal Equinox Celebration
September 21, 2013

It was a gorgeous day, thankfully, after the dreary rainy day we had yesterday.  Puddles of water still stood in the flat “plaza” area at Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park today, as about 50 of us, of all ages, came out to watch the sun set over Mound A from the vantage point at Mound H, much as the Plum Bayou culture natives did on this same spot a thousand years ago.

I learn something every time I visit Toltec Mounds!  Today, the Park Archaeologist, Dr. Elizabeth Horton, gave a presentation to the families who came out, a little bit of the background of what we already know about the Plum Bayou people as well as give us some updates on what has been discovered more recently and the current projects she is working on.

We walked the Knapp Trail around the mounds, finishing up by Mound H where the staff had set up seating for us so that we could observe the setting sun from the correct angle.  The fall equinox marks one of two days during the year where the days and nights are the same length of time.  The other day occurs in the spring (“vernal equinox”), and there is a mound alignment for that here at Toltec as well, I believe.

As the sun was setting, it didn’t appear to me to be directly over Mound A, but a little bit far to the south.  I figured it was probably an optical illusion due to the point where I was standing.  Then, as the sun continued to go down, it seemed to move more and more towards the ‘center’ of Mound A… and the moment we had all be waiting all afternoon for was about to happen!

Toltec Mounds Autumnal Equinox September 21, 2013

Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park, Autumnal Equinox, September 21, 2013

In a matter of minutes, we all started taking pictures of the setting sun… then we stood there and gazed in awe at the stunning view.

One of the interpreters had mentioned that there are some Native Americans communities who still utilize this site for certain ceremonies and rituals.  I have to admit that stepping into the ‘inner circle’ around the mounds does bring about a sense of respect and reverence.  Maybe it’s because it is such a large cleared area, and standing there makes one feel quite small and almost insignificant in the big scheme of things.  By the same token, being here as part a large group of people (much larger than we had today), make give a person a sense of community, of belonging, and that’s why these sacred areas were designed this way…. ah, who knows, right?

I should have been an anthropologist like I told my dad I wanted to be.  (He had given me this quizzical look before asking me again if I had thought about what I wanted to do when I grew up – lol!)  I find all this tremendously fascinating, and I hope to share some of my enthusiasm with you!

FYI, my future blog posts will be about other things Arkansas… people, events, food!  But just know that history and lore are where my true passions are.  Well, food, too, but that’s another matter 🙂

Toltec Mounds State Park, Scott AR

Toltec Mounds State Park

We went on a field trip last weekend!  It’s been a while since I’ve visited Toltec Mounds State Park, and long overdue.  But, it was a little like re-reading a great book from 10 years ago – you remember the gist of the story and how good it was, but going there again brings back all the nuances and details you’d forgotten, and made it all new again.

The good news is that we will be going back again next weekend (September 21) for the Fall Equinox Celebration from 3pm to 7pm.  At 4:30, the staff will give a presentation demonstrating how the mounds aligned at particular solar events (seasons).  Cost is $4 for adults, $3 for children 6-12, and under 6 is free.  I can’t wait!

A brief history for those who may not have ever heard of Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park, the area was officially made a state park in 1975.  Prior to that, it was privately owned land – farmland, no less – and almost all of the historic mounds were razed in their efforts to grow crops, mostly cotton, in the fertile ground that used to be a channel in the Arkansas River.

The mounds at one time were believed to have been built by members of the Toltec culture in Mexico, but anthropologists and archaeologists later concluded that this was highly unlikely.  From then on, the culture that lived here from about 650 A.D. to 1050 A.D. has been generally referred to as the Plum Bayou culture, for lack of a better descriptor.

Since there was no written language for these people, much of what we know was gleaned from the things they left behind, and from certain shared characteristics among tribes and cultures in the area during that time period.

From what I learned (re-learned!) during our visit was that there are probably more questions than answers when you look at the brief existence of these peoples here.  Where did they come from?  What was their social structure?  civil structure? How many people considered this particular location their Mecca and travel here for ceremonies or festivals or celebrations?  And most puzzling is, why did they abandon this site… and where did they go?

From what we can piece together, the Toltec Mounds was likely a smaller group made up of the leaders of the larger community.  The other members were scattered about throughout the area, and would gather here for special occasions.  And we have every reason to believe these people were a peaceful lot.  There is no evidence of war or crime.  Yay!

The Plum Bayou culture lived on this spot for approximately 400 years, which, in the grand scheme of things, is a short period of time.  We do not know where they came from nor who their descendants are.  We do know they had knowledge of astronomy because the mounds are spaced and placed at specific heights and locations in order to line up during the solstices and equinoxes to help the natives with their still-developing planting and harvesting skills.

So many other fascinating facts, but I’ll save them for you to learn when you visit!  If you can’t come this weekend for the Fall Equinox Celebration, do try to visit sometime,

Toltec Mounds is not far from Little Rock, so for those of you who are in the central Arkansas area, this makes a good day trip.  Check out their particulars at www.arkansasstateparks.com.

Toltec Mounds State Park

Knapp Trail at Toltec Mounds

Toltec Mounds State Park Gift Shop

The friendly and knowledgeable staff at the Visitors’ Center.

Toltec Mounds State Park