Hot Springs National Park, formerly known as Hot Springs Reservation, is located next to the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas in the United States. Established in 1832, it is the oldest Federal Reserve, and at 5,000 acres (20 square kilometers) is the smallest national park in the U.S. by area.
In 1541, Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernando de Soto became the first European to witness what the Native American had then called the Valley of the Vapors. Prior to its discovery by de Soto, the valley had been visited by many native tribes for more than 8,000 years. This was because of the valley’s hot springs, which had been renowned for its healing properties.
Several tribes such as the Caddo, the Choctaw, and the Cherokee would eventually settle in the area some time in the 18th century. The Quapaw tribe that lived in the delta of the Arkansas River would also occasionally come to the springs. The tribes had made an agreement that they would set weapons and hostilities aside while they peacefully partook of the healing spring waters of the valley.
French Jesuit missionary Father Jacques Marquette and French Canadian explorer Louis Lolliet would claim the valley in the name of France in 1673. The land was later relinquished to Spain by the Treaty of Paris in 1763, but France eventually took back control in 1800. France’s claim would last until the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.
An expedition to the hot springs was conducted by Dr. George Hunter and Scottish American explorer William Dunbar in December 1804. Soon, modern settlers would come to the springs; the first was Jean Emmanual Prudhomme, who arrived in 1807. After bathing in the healing waters for 2 years, Prudhomme was restored to good health, going back to his home in Louisiana soon after.
During the 19th century, the Native American tribes that had settled around the hot springs were consigned to a reservation located south-east from the springs. The Quapaw tribe would sign a treaty to yield the land around the springs to the U.S. on August 24, 1818. In 1820, the Arkansas Territorial Legislature made a request to set aside the springs and the adjacent mountains as a federal reserve.
On April 20, 1832, the Hot Springs Reservation became the first national park to be granted federal protection by the U.S. Congress. It would later be renamed as the Hot Springs National Park on March 4, 1921. The park would grow to more than 900 acres (3.6 square kilometers), eventually expanding to an area of 5,000 acres or 20 square kilometers.