Arkansas Land Records
This entry was originally written by Wendy Bebout Elliott, Ph.D., FUGA in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Arkansas is a Public-Domain State.
When Missouri Territory, encompassing the present state of Arkansas, was established in 1812, the United States government agreed to acknowledge private land previously granted by Spain and Mexico. Two grants were also awarded to previous French claims.
The largest percentage of Spanish and Mexican grants were located in the present-day counties of Arkansas and Desha. Preemption rights were acknowledged in 1814, and private land claims were heard by land commissions. Spanish control of land was loose, and many officials and landowners failed to comply with regulations, resulting in continuous claim problems, some extending for forty years after statehood. At times, no surveys were conducted for these grants. Frequently forgeries were made of the governor’s signature on land grants, resulting in a high percentage of fraudulent claims. Early Spanish land claims and the original tract book are available at the National Archives and the FHL (see Territorial Papers references in Background Sources).
A French measurement term used in some Spanish grants is “arpents”; one arpent is a little more than four-fifths of an acre. Most early land grants to heads of household were for parcels of 800 arpents, or approximately sixty-eight acres. An additional parcel of fifty arpents or about forty-two acres was awarded for each child.
Between 1803 and 1836, Native Americans were forced to cede their lands in Arkansas and move west. As the federal government acquired land, it was made available for settlement. Territorial land transactions began in 1803 for the Arkansas District (which was part of Louisiana Territory until 1812 when the district became part of Missouri Territory) and again in 1819, when the district became Arkansas Territory. First Settlers of the Missouri Territory, 2 vols. (Nacogdoches, Tex.: Ericson Books, 1983), lists early land grants in Arkansas. An index, arranged by county in several volumes, is available for those who acquired land through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM): Sherida K. Eddlemon, Index to the Arkansas General Land Office, 1820–1907 (Bowie, Md.: Heritage Publishers, various dates). Originally negotiated by William Lovely as cession land, Lovely purchase donation claims generated from the private sale of land for the present-day area of northwest Arkansas are grouped and microfilmed along with disputed Spanish land claims and the original tract book. A recent compilation provides a complete transcript of the depositions made at the federal land offices at Batesville, Fayetteville, Helena, and Little Rock: Melinda Blanchard Crawford and Don L. Crawford, The Settlers of Lovely and Miller County, Arkansas Territory, 1820–1830 (Rockport, Me: Picton Press, 2002). This work is a must for those researching any one of the over 1800 individuals who were displaced when this region was ceded to the Choctaw and Cherokee nations.
Bounty land for War of 1812 service was distributed by lottery. See Katherine Christensen, Arkansas Military Bounty Grants, War of 1812 (Hot Springs, Ark.: Arkansas Ancestors, 1971). Limited information is available through a commercial site <www.digisources.com/military.ctm>. The master index for the War of 1812 Bounty Land Warrants can be accessed by name. This extremely limited but helpful search can be conducted by Soundex, warrant number, or regiment, and lists the General Land Office patent accession number. Other possibilities are <www.state.ar.us> and NARA (see pages 11-12).
The rectangular survey system (see page 6) of land measurement was incorporated in 1815 with one principal meridian located at the eastern border of present-day Monroe and at the western border of Lee and Phillips counties. The first land office was established in 1818 with the U.S. General Land Office (GLO) ordering a survey of sixty townships. The first survey was finished in 1819, but no land was actually sold until 1821. Land offices opened at Arkansas Post and Davidsonville in 1820 were soon moved to Little Rock and Batesville, respectively.
In 1832 Congress divided the territory into four land districts. Two additional land offices were then opened at Fayetteville and Washington. Increased demand for land led to additional offices at Helena and Clarksville before 1840, followed by Champagnole before 1850 and Huntsville in the next decade. New land offices appeared by 1870 at Camden, Dardanelle, and Harrison. But between 1880 and 1900 the only land offices open in all of Arkansas were those located in Camden, Dardanelle, Harrison, and Little Rock. The latter remained open until 1933. The federal government records for 1820 to 1908 are accessible via the Internet at <www.glorecords.blm.gov>. These show the initial transfer of land from the federal government to an individual. The data included on the website includes name of individual, legal description of the land, county, and date of issue. Images of these documents are also available.
The original case files, claims, applications, and records for initial acquisition of Arkansas’ public-domain land are in the National Archives (see pages 11-12). Land patents granted for successful claims are housed at the BLM, Eastern States Land Office (see page 6). Copies of tract books, plat maps, and field notes of land offices are kept at the Arkansas State Land Commissioner’s Office, State Capitol, Little Rock, AR 72206. These records are organized by legal description or claim number only, and there is no comprehensive index yet. Microfilm copies of the tract books are in the Arkansas History Commission. Arkansas land records from the federal government’s Bureau of Land Management are available online at <www.glorecords.blm.gov>.
Land patents of federally owned land in Arkansas have been published by county with all seventy-five counties included in the fifty-seven volumes. Under a general title of Arkansas Land Patents (Conway, Ark.: Arkansas Research, 1991), these records were prepared for publication by Desmond Walls Allen and Bobbie Jones McLane. Most counties are separate, but those combined with others include: Arkansas, Chicot, and Desha counties; Clay, Craighead, Crittenden, Cross, Greene, Lee, Mississippi, Monroe, Phillips, Poinsett, and St. Francis; Conway, Faulkner, and Perry; Grant and Saline; Jackson, Lawrence, and Woodruff; and Lonoke and Prairie.
In 1862 Congress passed the Homestead Act; Arkansas was included since it was a federal-land state. Original and entry case files and application papers for homestead land are in the National Archives. The Arkansas History Commission has some homestead records, although not case files, generated by the state.
After the initial acquisition, all subsequent land transfers are recorded at the county seat through the county clerk’s office. Many Arkansas county land records have been microfilmed by the FHL, and copies are held at the Arkansas History Commission. To access the microfilm number and determine which records have been microfilmed, see <www.ark-ives.com/selected_materials/index.php>.