Arkansas City lies in the peninsula formed by the meeting of the wide Arkansas and swift Walnut Rivers, in Cowley County, one of 105 counties in Kansas. Prior to July 15, 1870, settlers in this part of the country were on Indian land and were obliged to pay head rights to Chetopa, Osage Indian Chief. But when Osage lands were opened for settlement on July 15, 1870, claims were accepted.
The town of Arkansas City was surveyed in 1870. Its newspaper began that year as well as a department store. Shortly thereafter, a post office, First Methodist school, saw mill, flour and feed mills commenced operation. The year 1872 saw incorporation of the town and the Santa Fe Railway extended its line from the north on December 3, 1879.
The town had its own water works by 1881, utilizing a spring as a source and pumping the water to a reservoir on a hill in the south part of town. From this point pipes to the town residences distributed it.
These were a few of the starts that were noticeable during the first years after this area came into the hands of the white man, but the Indian had been a contributing factor in the growth of Arkansas City. The town has played a vital role in the territorial development of Indian lands to the south in the state of Oklahoma.
When history’s most fantastic races were made, Arkansas City was the starting point, i.e. the Run of 1889 and the even more exciting event in 1893 when the renowned Cherokee Strip was opened. The prize on this occasion was 8,000,000 acres of fertile ranch and farm lands. The starting point was the Kansas –Oklahoma border – four miles south of Arkansas City. Some months prior to the big land race, Arkansas City was the rendezvous point of 100,000 eager settlers who made plans and “big deals” before the first pistol shots were fired signaling the start of the race at noon on September 16, 1893. Jockeying for positions were every conceivable mobile vehicle of the time. Ox carts, bicycles, covered wagons, Indian ponies, and racehorses were all seen lined up. In addition, thousands walked and/or ran.
Industry which now plays an important role in this southern Kansas town, first made its appearance with the construction of two steel barges for navigation on the Arkansas River in 1886. Those were the days when steamers plied the Arkansas between Arkansas City and Fort Smith carrying as much as 100,000 pounds of Kansas flour on every trip.
Ark City’s illustrious history includes a Kansas Governor, Robert Docking, and two federal judges. By heritage its residents are not afraid of work – a healthy, strong, industrious people that welcome the opportunity to prove to everyone that they are welcome in Arkansas City, Kansas.