The Quapaw Indians are a tribe of American Indians that historically lived lived along the Mississippi in the part of the United States that eventually became Arkansas. The tribe still exists today, but like many Indian nations, its numbers decreased substantially during the colonization of America by Europe. The term Quapaw means "down stream people," describing where the Quapaw made its home for hundreds of years. The rival Illini Indian tribe identified the Quapaw as Akansea, which is also what European settlers called the tribe at first. The state name Arkansas is derived from this name.
The tribe believe that before making its home along the Mississippi in the south its members originally lived in the Ohio Valley along the Ohio River. Records of the tribe's habitation of the southern Mississippi date back hundreds of years. The tribe's first interaction with Europeans came in the 1673, when French explorers discovered them while searching for a trading route through the Americas to the Pacific Ocean.
The French developed a hospitable relationship with the Quapaw tribe, who became allies with the French so they could get access to what they saw as powerful weapons and tools. During the French-Indian War, France would use Indian tribes like the Quapaw to fight British soldiers. When the French lost the war they withdrew completely from the Mississippi area, giving the area up for Spanish rule. Instead of allying with the Spanish though, the Quapaw Indians entered an alliance with the British. This alliance also led to peace with the Qickasaw tribe, a rival Native American tribe that the Quapaw Indians battled with for years before.
Neither the French-Indian War nor battles with rival tribes decimated the Quapaw numbers. Instead, as with the case of most American Indian tribes, numbers fell due to diseases brought over by the Europeans. The Quapaw had no natural immunity to diseases such as smallpox and it led to the tribe being decimated. When the Quapaw Indians were first contacted by the French in the 1600s it was estimated that the tribe's population was greater than 5,000. Within 100 years they were down approximately 700, due largely in part to a brutal smallpox epidemic that claimed thousands in 1699. In 1909, the tribe was numbered at just 305.
By that point the Quapaw Indians had relocated to Oklahoma. The Quawpaw Indians are recognized as an official tribe of Oklahoma, with a reservation and official government body set up in the state.