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Statewide Culture 3

Absurd Arkansas Laws: Fact or Fiction?


If you search for strange state laws on the internet, you’ll find them. Odd and antiquated laws from Arkansas range from “It’s prohibited to mispronounce Arkansas” to “Don’t let your dog bark after 6 p.m. in Little Rock.” Even though these laws are fun to read, can they possibly be true? Take a look at these rumored Arkansas laws to see if they are fact, or if you’ve fallen for fiction.

Arkansas by C.W. Green (1888) courtesy of the Library of Congress.     

Fiction: It’s illegal to mispronounce the name Arkansas.

The state name of Arkansas refers to the Quapaw tribe, the original inhabitants in the state. The French explorers who first arrived called the Quapaw the Acansa, a name borrowed from the Algonquin term for the Quapaws. Other spellings used historically include Acansea and Arkansaw. In 1881, the General Assembly in Arkansas put to rest the debate over how to both spell and pronounce the state’s name correctly.

Be it therefore resolved by both houses of the General Assembly, that the only true pronunciation of the name of the state, in the opinion of this body, is that received by the French from the native Indians and committed to writing in the French word representing the sound. It should be pronounced in three (3) syllables, with the final “s” silent, the “a” in each syllable with the Italian sound, and the accent on the first and last syllables. The pronunciation with the accent on the second syllable with the sound of “a” in “man” and the sounding of the terminal “s” is an innovation to be discouraged.  Resolution 1-4-105

Note there is no mention of the illegality of mispronouncing the name, nor any penalty associated with mispronunciation. The law simply clarifies how to say the name correctly.

Fiction: In Fayetteville it’s illegal to kill “any living creature.”

Fayetteville city ordinance 92.03 states, “It shall be unlawful for any person to shoot, hunt, kill, chase, wound, or molest any wild animal within the corporate limits of the city.” This ordinance pertains specifically to wild animals, which are further defined in the city ordinance as “any nonhuman primate, raccoon, skunk, fox, wolf, coyote, poisonous snake, leopard, panther, tiger, lion, lynx, or any other warm blooded animal which can normally be found in the wild state, or the offspring borne to wild animals bred with domestic dogs or cats.” Cats, dogs and other pets are also protected under Fayetteville city ordinances, and mistreatment of animals is punishable by a fine, and could result in a misdemeanor charge and the revocation of the privilege of owning animals.

In short, warm-blooded animals are protected in Fayetteville, and many other cities in Arkansas have similar laws. However, it is not illegal to swat that mosquito on your arm or the fly in your house, which are living creatures.

The old Washington County Courthouse by C.M Highsmith. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Fiction: In Little Rock, men and women are not allowed to flirt in public or could face up to 30 days in jail.

The myth of this law does have roots in reality. According to an article in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Little Rock struggled with prostitution as early as 1841. In attempts to curb this activity, the city issued various ordinances against prostitution and “bawdy houses.” They also regularly fined the madams running these types of houses. But this didn’t fully dissuade prostitution. In 1913, all bawdy houses were ordered to close, but illicit activity still continued. So in 1918, the city issued ordinance 2502, which states:

It shall be unlawful for any person to attract or to endeavor to attract the attention of any person of the opposite sex, upon or traveling along any of the sidewalks, streets or public ways of the City of Little Rock, by staring at, winking at, coughing at or whistling at such person, with the intent, or in any way calculated to annoy, or to attempt to flirt with any such person.

This ordinance was issued strictly with the prohibition of prostitution in mind. If a person was found violating the ordinance, they were subject to pay a fine between five and 25 dollars, with no jail time included. Arkansas code 5-70-1-2 continues to prohibit prostitution, but there is no law that prohibits flirting in Little Rock, so couples can still enjoy a stroll downtown and a date in the River Market District.

Main Street, Little Rock. 1900-1920. Library of Congress.

Fiction: Dogs may not bark after 6 p.m.

Many cities have sound ordinances to control the level of noise, especially at night, and Little Rock is no different. In fact, the city does have an ordinance against dogs who bark excessively. Section 6-18 of Little Rock’s city code on animals declares, “It shall be unlawful for any person to keep on his premises, or under his control, any dog which by loud and frequent barking and howling shall disturb the reasonable peace and quiet of any person.” The city ordinance does not mention a time when it becomes unlawful for the dog to bark, and in fact, only regulates “loud and frequent” barking.

Fiction: Teachers may not bob their hair if they want a raise.

In 2007, Lorraine Lorne, then assistant director of the Young Law Library of the University of Arkansas, researched this idea in her article, “Virtually Legal: Or don’t believe everything you see on the internet!” Lorne found no evidence on any legal records for this law in Arkansas. However, school boards often dictate dress codes for the employees within their school districts. It’s possible a directive like this might have existed in the 1920s, when bobbing hair became the fashion fad for women. Whether the sentiment was true or not, nothing on record indicates that teachers were denied raises for cutting their hair short.

Fiction: A man may legally beat his wife, but only once a month.

This myth just won’t go away, and it does Arkansas no favors. Lorraine Lorne researched this idea in her article and found nothing to suggest that men were legally allowed to beat their wives, but only once a month, in Arkansas. She did find evidence that chastising your wife was once commonly accepted, especially in English Common Law, and likely was a practice that was carried into the United States. It’s certainly true that women have held few rights in history, and beginning in the late 1840s, women began to push back against discriminatory practices with women’s rights conventions. Still, domestic abuse laws weren’t established until the Domestic Violence Prevention Act of 1991. Laws continue to be passed to help support and protect victims of domestic violence. The Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence has sought to protect and support victims of abuse since 1981.

Fiction: Don’t walk your cow down Main Street after 1 p.m. on Sunday in Little Rock.

Livestock laws were, and still are, quite common in Arkansas. They govern everything from fencing to the types of animals that can be kept inside city limits. Little Rock certainly had laws prohibiting where livestock could be kept. But in her research, Lorraine Lorne didn’t find any indication that this specific law about taking cattle down Main Street after 1 p.m. was ever on record. However, the city did have laws against driving livestock down certain streets as early as 1882. It’s possible that the “law” against driving your cow down Main Street after 1 p.m. on a Sunday was simply common practice. But with no evidence to prove it, this one has to remain fiction.

The Arkansas River flooded frequently. This photo shows devastation from a flood in 1943. Library of Congress

Fiction: The Arkansas River may not rise higher than the Main Street Bridge in Little Rock.

This final absurd law is often repeated in articles with nothing to verify it ever existed in any law book. Lorraine Lorne deeply researched the idea and found no evidence that any legislative session ever considered the idea of legislating the Arkansas River. There are laws about flood control, and the 1927 Great Flood that devastated Arkansas prompted the federal passage of the 1928 Flood Control Act. That act changed the landscape as many Arkansas dams were built to ensure such a devastating flood never occurred in the state again.

While it’s certain that some laws once existed that might be puzzling today, you can now be sure that these absurd Arkansas laws aren’t actually in practice. Or if they are, they’re used in the context of a detailed city code. For a more thorough reading about laws attributed to Arkansas, read Lorraine Lorne’s excellent article, “Virtually Legal: Or don’t believe everything you see on the internet!” The next time someone brings up an absurd law in Arkansas, you’ll have the facts to set the story straight.

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Kimberly S. Mitchell loves journeys, real or imagined. She has hiked the Inca Trail, walked into Panama on a rickety wooden bridge and once missed the last train of the night in Paris and walked several miles home (with friends). She believes magic can be found in life and books, loves to watch the stars appear, and still dreams of backpacking the world. Now she writes adventures to send her characters on journeys, too. Pen & Quin: International Agents of Intrigue - The Mystery of the Painted Book is her debut novel. Find out more at KSMitchell.com.

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3 responses to “Absurd Arkansas Laws: Fact or Fiction?”

  1. […] Desafortunadamente, descubrirá que muchas de las leyes escritas hace años estaban arraigadas en ideas sexistas sobre cómo deberían funcionar una comunidad y una familia. En la ciudad de Little Rock, es ilegal que hombres y mujeres coqueteen entre sí en espacios públicos. Cualquier persona que viole esta ley podría enfrentar hasta 30 días en la cárcel del condado y recibir una multa (por Sólo en Arkansas). […]

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