The name of this city is not pronounced like the nearby state of Arkansas, but rather as // (the final "s" is pronounced). Over the years there has been much confusion about the regional pronunciation of "Arkansas", which locals render as // rather than //. Throughout much of Kansas, residents use this alternative pronunciation when referring to the Arkansas River, as well as Arkansas Street in the city of Wichita. Because of this, and for the sake of brevity, Arkansas City is most often referred to as simply Ark City.
In 1601, New Mexico Governor Juan de Oñate led an expedition across the Great Plains and found a large settlement of Indians he called Rayados. The most likely location for the Rayado settlement was along the Walnut River in the eastern part of Arkansas City. Extensive remains of Indian settlements have been found along six miles (9.7 km) of the Walnut River. The Rayados were the ancestors of the Indians later called Wichita. Wichita settlements from the 18th century are also found a few miles south of Arkansas City on the west bank of the Arkansas River. (See Deer Creek/Bryson Paddock Sites)
White settlers first congregated in the area where Arkansas City now stands in the 1860s. The natives referred to the place as "Nichonka", which roughly translates as "place between the waters" — a reference to the confluence of the Arkansas and Walnut rivers.
Settlers supposedly established a town in around 1870. They had difficulty choosing a name; at first they hoped to flatter U.S. Postmaster General John A. J. Creswell (and win a highly sought-after post office) by naming the town Creswell in his honor, but cities in other states had already used the name. The town fathers considered other names, such as Adelphia and Walnut City. Finally, the name Arkansas City was adopted for the town. The first post office in Arkansas City was established on May 16, 1870.
In 1877, the Florence, El Dorado, and Walnut Valley Railroad Company built a branch line from Florence to El Dorado, in 1881 it was extended to Douglass, and later to Arkansas City. The line was leased and operated by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway. The line from Florence to El Dorado was abandoned in 1942. The original branch line connected Florence, Burns, De Graff, El Dorado, Augusta, Douglass, Rock, Akron, Winfield, Arkansas City.