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Colbert Raid

On April 17, 1783, British-sympathizing Native Americans and British nationals carried out an attack upon the Spanish garrison based at Arkansas Post on the Arkansas River. This attack was considered the only battle of the American Revolution to be fought in what is now Arkansas.

In 1762, Spain took control of French Louisiana west of the Mississippi after King Louis XV ceded the area in anticipation of losing the ongoing French and Indian War. It was 1766 before Spanish troops arrived to take over Arkansas Post from the French garrison. The Spanish struggled to maintain order at the post, which was still mainly populated by French trappers, and to protect it from the English who were just across the Mississippi River. In 1779, a few years after the American Revolution began, Spain offered assistance to the colonists as an ally of France. Even before this, Indian allies of the Spanish were operating against the British and their allies in the area.

When news of the alliance with the French and American colonists finally arrived at Arkansas Post, the garrison was in the midst of completing a move to higher ground that was more defensible and less likely to flood. The Spanish soldiers at the post traveled down the river and took the abandoned British Post of Concordia, located across from the mouth of the Arkansas River, and claimed the eastern bank of the Mississippi River from the mouth of the St. Francis and White rivers to the garrison at Natchez in Mississippi for Spain. Over the next year, fighting continued between the Spanish garrisons on the lower Mississippi and British troops, including each side’s respective Indian allies. Most of the English soldiers were captured, but a few joined with the Chickasaw under the command of James Colbert, formerly a captain in the British army. While Colbert’s group was unable to throw the Spanish out of the area, he did vow to disrupt the flow of commerce on the Mississippi, and thus the garrison at Arkansas Post became a target. If Arkansas Post could be neutralized, Colbert and his men could terrorize any boats on the river north of the garrison at Natchez.

The attack was launched early in the morning on April 17, 1783. Stopping at the Quapaw village downstream from the fort, Colbert informed the Indians, who were reportedly intoxicated, that he and the others were Americans who wished to simply visit with the Spanish garrison. Passing on to the fort and the small village surrounding it, the English and their Indian allies prepared their attack. With the first shot, Colbert and his 100 men captured the Spaniard who was second in command of the garrison, along with his entire family, outside the fort’s walls in the small village. As the attackers (consisting of Colbert and his eleven sons, as well as Natchez and Chickasaw allies) approached the fort, the Spanish garrison was awakened by the firing. The Spanish launched a quick counterattack to rescue the captured officer and civilians, but it was easily repulsed, with the loss of two dead. After this, the two sides settled down to a long-range duel that lasted for several hours. The Spanish were safe inside the new fort walls while the attackers took shelter in a nearby ravine that sheltered them from the cannon fire from the fort. At 9:00 a.m., Colbert sent a message to the garrison under a flag of truce to demand its surrender. After refusing to surrender, the Spanish launched a counter attack. Ten soldiers, accompanied by four Quapaw Indians, rushed from the fort yelling, which surprised the attackers. This small force caused the attackers to flee in confusion and take to their canoes to escape. One attacker was killed at this time, and another was wounded. Colbert’s men fled back down the Arkansas River with several prisoners from the village.

The Quapaw who had been duped by Colbert soon followed him down the Mississippi to redeem themselves to their Spanish allies. Surrounding the enemy party south of the mouth of the Arkansas River, the Quapaw were able to gain the release of all but four prisoners, who were used by Colbert as protection during the trip back to Chickasaw country. The Spanish suffered two dead, one wounded, and eight taken prisoner. The attackers lost a single man killed and another wounded.

The impact of Colbert’s raid on Arkansas Post was minimal. Few people were injured or lost their lives, and traffic on the Mississippi was not greatly disrupted. The Colbert Raid is interpreted by the National Park Service at Arkansas Post National Memorial near Gillett (Arkansas County).

For additional information:
Arnold, Morris A. Colonial Arkansas, 1686–1804: A Social and Cultural History. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1991.

———. Unequal Laws Unto a Savage Race: European Legal Traditions in Arkansas, 1686–1836. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1991.

Bearss, Edwin C. Special History Report: The Colbert Raid, Arkansas Post National Memorial, Arkansas. Denver: National Park Service, 1974. Online at http://www.nps.gov/archive/arpo/colbert/ (accessed August 11, 2009).

Coleman, Roger E. The Arkansas Post Story: Arkansas Post National Memorial. Santa Fe: National Park Service, 1987.

David Sesser
Henderson State University

Last Updated 9/14/2010

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