A Brief History of Pocahontas, Arkansas

Steamboats docked at the Port of Pocahontas ca. 1890s. Photo courtesy of Randolph County Tourism Association.

Pocahontas lies along the Black River and is the county seat of Randolph County, Arkansas. Ransom S. Bettis is considered the founder of Pocahontas. In 1827 he came by ferry from Greenville, Missouri, down the Black River looking for a site for a trading post and ferry dock. He found the ideal spot at Pocahontas – a broad, relatively flat plain above a high bank at a major bend of the river which would become the Port of Pocahontas. Above the port area, a limestone bluff rose over 200 feet. This was important as it would allow settlement above the river’s floodplain in an area relatively free of mosquitoes and the malaria and yellow fever they bore. Bettis established a trading post on the site of an old French trading post, established a river ferry there, and built a large home on the bluff above the river. The bluff and the settlement that had originally been named Cracked Skull Commons became known as Bettis Bluff. Local legend holds that Pocahontas was named the county seat through an act of trickery. In 1835, Bettis and his son-in-law, Thomas S. Drew, provided a free barbeque with abundant free liquor at a county meeting to determine which city would become the county seat. When the time came to vote, the only delegation not passed out or otherwise influenced was that from Bettis Bluff. At that time, Drew and Bettis changed the name of the town from Bettis Bluff to Pocahontas. Many theories abound as to why the name was changed, but no record or document exists to explain the change. The city was named after the Native American from Jamestown, Virginia. A statue of her is located in Overlook Park along the Black River (Pocahontas, 2019).


(2019). About the City of Pocahontas. Retrieved from cityofpocahontas.com.

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