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”).
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 🙂