The Ouachita River begins in the Ouachita Mountains near Mena, Arkansas and flows generally south until it flows into the Tensas River near Jonesville, Louisiana to form the Black River.
During the late 1700s, when the area was controlled by the Spanish and French, the river served as a route for early colonists, and for land speculators such as the self-styled Baron de Bastrop. The "Bastrop lands" later passed into the hands of another speculator, former Vice President Aaron Burr. He saw potential for big profits in the event of a war with Spain following the Louisiana Purchase. Burr and many of his associates were arrested for treason, before their band of armed settlers reached the Ouachita.
During the 1830s, the Ouachita River Valley attracted land speculators from New York and southeastern cities. Its rich soil and accessibility due to the country's elaborate river steamboat network made it desirable. Developers cultivated land for large cotton plantations; dependent on slave labor, cotton production supported new planter wealth in the ante-bellum years. Steamboats ran scheduled trips between Camden, Arkansas and New Orleans, for example. A person could travel from any eastern city to the Ouachita River without touching land, except to transfer from one steamboat to another.