Arkansas City is situated at the confluence of the Arkansas and Walnut rivers in Cowley County, 60 miles from Wichita. The local pronunciation of the name mimics the pronunciation of the state, arkanzas rather than arkansaw. Both for speed and to avoid problems with pronunciation, the city is often just called Ark City.
Arkansas City was founded in 1870 as Walnut City and incorporated under its present name in 1872. When settlers headed for newly opened land in the Indian Territory in 1889 and 1893, many of them used Arkansas City as a jumping-off point. The city's population reportedly jumped from 5,000 to 150,000 and returned to 5,000 after the rush. The 1893 event was called the Cherokee Strip Land Rush and the city maintains the Cherokee Strip Land Rush Museum to commemorate those days.
At the start of the 20th century, Arkadelphia was a worthy rival to Wichita, but its economic base has dwindled and the population has stagnated. Arkansas City's most famous descendant is Elizabeth Taylor, both of whose parents were born here.
Arkansas City wanted to be the county seat, but lost that distinction to Winfield, a dozen miles away. The history of the county is on display at the Cowley County Historical Museum in Winfield. Arkansas City is served by Cowley County Community College and South Central Kansas Regional Medical Center.