Like a bit of legend with your outdoor recreation? This park has that.
Petit Jean State Park and Petit Jean mountain were named for a poignant figure from the 1700s with a tragic tale. Was she real? Perhaps you can ask her wandering spirit, said to haunt the mountaintop.
Legend has it that Petit Jean was a beautiful young girl from Paris whose real name was Adrienne. Her fiance, Chavet, was a French explorer who planned an excursion to the Louisiana Territory. Adrienne wanted to marry Chavet and join his expedition. But Chavet refused, saying they would marry when he returned — and if he felt the New World was safe, they would go together.
Adrienne took matters into her own hands. She disguised herself as a cabin boy, called herself Jean (French for John), and got a position on Chavet’s ship. No one, not even Chavet, recognized her. Sailors on the ship called her Petit Jean — meaning “Little John.”
Eventually, the ship arrived in the New World and sailed up the Arkansas River to the area now called Petit Jean Mountain. Chavet, sailors and Petit Jean — still not recognized for who she really was — spent the summer with Native Americans on the mountain. In the fall, they prepared to sail back to France.
Tragically, Petit Jean became severely ill the night they were to leave, and her true identity was discovered. She begged Chavet for forgiveness and made him promise to bury her on the mountaintop overlooking the river if she should die — which she did. Years later, a mound was discovered where legend has it she was buried. It’s now known as her gravesite which visitors can view at Stout’s Point.
Factual or not, the adventurous spirit of Petit Jean is a fitting legend for this enchanting mountain and park.