A popular legend concerns a French maiden who, when her beloved joined the
navy, dressed up as a cabin boy and sailed to America in pursuit, known to her
shipmates as Little John or, in French, Petit Jean. Her adventure resulted in a long
poem and, it is said, the name of an Arkansas mountain, river, and state park.
Another legend concerns a French aristocrat, Jean la Caze, who fled the
Revolution but whose wife and son, John Junior or Little John (Petit Jean), died on
the mountain. The elder Jean lost his mind, says the story, but his flute can still be
heard. These are wonderful stories, but in fact, an 1818 French map of the area
names the river the Little Yellow River, or la Riviere Petite Jeune, which over time
took on the spelling and pronunciation we know today as Petit Jean.
Daniel Boice, University of Arkansas at Monticello