The first settlers in what is now Jonesboro and Craighead County were the Indians. When white men began to arrive in Arkansas, they found the territory inhabited by Osages, Caddoes, and Quapaws. The Osages were warlike buffalo hunters who roved over northern Arkansas and the upper valleys of the Arkansas River. The Caddoes were peaceful farmers who lived along the streams of southwest Arkansas. The Quapaws (or Arkansas) Indians inhabited the east central part. It is from them that the name Arkansas (land of the Arkansas Indian) came. Voyagers, trappers, Indian traders, and adventurers were here shortly after 1800 trafficking with the Indians for furs and pelts, but no attempt at permanent settlement was made prior to 1815.
Jonesboro, located on Crowley's Ridge and bordering the Mississippi delta, was selected as permanent seat of justice in 1859 when the county was formed out of parts of Mississippi, Greene, and Poinsett counties. Jonesboro was named after William A. Jones for his support of the legislative act creating the county. The county, itself, received its name through a practical joke. Senator Thomas B. Craighead, who represented Crittenden and Mississippi counties, was against the formation of the county and campaigned actively against it. Senator Jones waited until a day when Craighead was absent to call for a vote on the act. Senator Craighead didn't know anything about it until he got back and found that the county had been named for him.
After Jonesboro had been selected as the permanent seat of justice, a two-story frame court house was planned. The site was chosen because it had the highest elevation in the city limits. (Of course, the city has spread out over outlying hills, so this is no longer the case.) After the site was chosen, however, the plans for the building were delayed because the building would be right in the middle of a deer trail and the early settlers didn't want to ruin the good deer hunting. Finally, the structure was built and stood until February 14, 1869 when it was consumed by fire. A frame store across the street was then rented and used as a court house until 1876, when it also burned. A similar building was then erected on the same ground and used as a court house until 1878 when it was destroyed in a general fire which burned most of the businesses in the downtown area. This fire reportedly started in a bar room brawl. Soon after, the court house, which is still standing, was built. The yard of this court house was the scene of a minor skirmish during the civil war.
The first railroads reached Jonesboro in 1881, when the Cotton Belt Railroad laid its tracks just north of town. The first train stuck on a hill outside of town and the supplies had to be carried up the hill. Today, the Missouri Pacific, St. Louis San Francisco Railroad, Burlington Northern, and Cotton Belt railroads provide the city with daily scheduled arrivals and departures.
Today, Jonesboro has established itself as the perennial hub of Northeast Arkansas' agricultural production. To the east lies the alluvial cotton delta and to the southwest is the fertile rice land. Large farms produce soybeans, rice, cotton, fish, and livestock. One of the world's two largest rice mills, Riceland Rice, is located here.