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This question has been asked of Danville’s students and residents since the name first appeared as the School Mascot shortly after WWII. There have been various explanation’s given for what a Little John is from the obvious: A character in the Robin Hood stories to a pirate or the perennial favorite used by the schools rivals, a small outhouse. In reality, the question should not be WHAT but, “WHO was Little John?” And no Littlejohns (as one word) is not correct.
There is probably not a more interesting collection of stories behind the origin of a school mascot than those behind that belonging to the Danville School’s. Whether the following story is true or not is a subject of coffee shop debate, however it is the most popular and the “official” version provided by the Arkansas State Park that bears the name Petit Jean. More often than any other, this is the story used to explain what a Little John is.
In the early days of the French
revolution, Jean Chavet, a young nobleman, left France to the New World. He was
to chart areas for further French settlements along the Mississippi and Arkansas
Rivers. In return for this expedition, he would be given his choice of the areas
for a settlement and lands with the possibility of a leadership role in the new
According to the most popular version of the legend, the incredibly cleaver little girl fooled everybody, her lover included, for three years. They crossed the Atlantic and then sailed up the Mississippi, the Arkansas, and then the Petit Jean rivers. They eventually came to the foot of what is now known as Petit Jean Mountain. Chavet and his sailors settled for the summer with local Indians. During that time, Petit Jean fished the streams and hunted the forests until Fall came and it was time to return to France.
As the time came to return, Petit Jean became sick and was given over to one of the local tribes for treatment. It was the Indians who discovered she was a woman. On her deathbed she confessed to her lover and shipmates the truth. The Indians claimed her spirit caused her sickness and death to keep her spirit at the mountain so she would be forever happy and at peace.
So there you have it. Little John is not a what but a who. The rough English translation of Petit Jean. For whatever the story behind the true meaning of Petit Jean, those words have come to represent good things about our area. The beauty of the land, a muddy meandering river through the heart of Arkansas and the courage of a young girl determined to follow her true love. For the complete story of Adrienne DuMonde, consider purchasing the book “The Legend of Petit Jean” by Dr. T.W. Hardeson. Copies are available at the Petit Jean Mountain State Park Visitors Center and Gift Shop. Or better yet, visit Petit Jean Mountain State Park in central Arkansas for the complete experience.
Folks in Danville might be willing to bet that except for the schools in the Nottinghamshire area of England, there is possibly not another in the world with a mascot called Little Johns.