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Arkansas City pronounced Ar-kan'-sas, three miles north of the Oklahoma border at the confluence of the Walnut and Arkansas Rivers, is a shipping and refining center for oil fields at the north, east, and south. Long lines of tank cars emerge from the city on its four railroads; freight yards are piled high with incoming shipments of oil machinery and pipeline supplies. The local oil refinery has a daily capacity of 20,000 barrels.

The rivers, following almost parallel courses to their junction, flank the city on the east and west. The business district, atop a hill between the two streams, has modern shops with tile facades, and older structures of native limestone. Summit Street, the main thoroughfare, begins in bottom lands along the Arkansas, climbs to the business section, descends through a residential area on the opposite slope, and trails off in farming country at the north. Summit Street shop windows, in addition to the usual displays, also feature various colored trinkets to catch the eye of the Indians. Because the city caters to oil areas in two States, Oklahoma license plates are almost as numerous along Summit Street as those of Kansas.

The founders of Arkansas City arrived at the site on January i, 1870. The settlement, platted the same year, was named Walnut City. It was soon renamed Adelphi, and subsequently Creswell in honor of the Postmaster General in President Grant's cabinet. The community was incorporated as a city under its present name on June 10, 1872.

Although surrounded by bands of hostile Indians, the settlement was unmolested. This immunity was earned largely through the efforts of Henry Norton, who arrived in 1870. His honesty in dealing with the Indians immediately won their friendship and, eventually, their unreserved confidence. He went to their villages unaccompanied and was permitted to see their religious ceremonies. At his invitation, the Indians visited the settlement frequently, buying supplies, and trading furs and horses. Occasionally they came in their finest regalia and entertained the settlers with tribal songs and dances. In payment the whites gave them colored beads, tasseled handbags, plumed hats, and barbecued meat.

By the end of 1870 the settlement boasted a cluster of stores, a score of houses, two sawmills, and a newspaper, the Arkansas City Traveler. Founded by M. G. Mains, this sheet was named for the old riddle tune, "The Arkansas Traveler," and early issues carried a fiddle below the masthead. The community in these years was a rendezvous for horse thieves who stole stock from settlers in Kansas and drove the animals into Oklahoma. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, then United States Marshal, made the vicinity his headquarters during the early seventies. At times, however, settlers administered the law as indicated in the following item from the Arkansas Valley Democrat: "S. P. U.'s take notice: There will be a meeting of the Stock Protection Union this evening at the Bland School House. Every member is requested to be present as business of great importance is to be transacted. Don't fail to come out men. We have work to do."

C. M. Scott of the Traveler, soon afterwards hinted poetically at the nature of the work done by the Stock Protective Union with:
He found a rope and picked it up,

And walked with it away
It chanced that on the other end,
A horse was hitched, they say;
They found a tree and tied a rope
Unto a swinging limb
It happened that the other end
Was somehow hitched to him.

The steamboat Aunt Sally, first to ascend the Arkansas River to Arkansas City, arrived on a Sunday morning in June 1878. Services were in progress at the village church, but at the firs!' sound of the steamer whistle the pastor and the congregation rushed out to welcome the boat. Local merchants, intent on developing an inland shipping point, promptly purchased the Kansas Miller. On its first trip the vessel grounded on a sandbar. Subsequent journeys were unsuccessful and the Kansas Miller, renamed the Walnut Belle, was converted into a pleasure boat.

The growth of Arkansas City was stimulated in the 1880's by the discovery of gold in the region. Assays indicated rich deposits and the community seethed with activity. Mining operations revealed but little metal and the boom soon subsided.

When the first of the Cherokee lands in Oklahoma Territory was opened in 1889, hundreds of settlers made the run from Arkansas City. Four years later the Cherokee Strip that land between the original southern border of Kansas and the corrected southern border (see HISTORY) was opened to settlers. In the late summer of 1893 between 50,000 and 60,000 people swarmed into Arkansas City, which at that time had approximately 5,000 inhabitants. On the day of the rush, September 16, 1893, the streets were deserted by 7 a.m. Those who did not participate gathered at the south end of town to watch the excitement.

Afoot, on horse, in heavy lumber wagons, buggies, covered wagons, and all manner of horse drawn vehicles, the settlers lined up to await the gunshot which signified that the Strip was open. Impatient settlers inspected wagon wheels, harness, and saddles in a last minute checkup. At high noon came the signal and the boomers dashed across the line. For an instant the row held unbroken and then, as settlers on fast horses outdistanced the others, it splintered into a tangle of wagons, buggies, and shouting drivers.

By the beginning of the present century Arkansas City had lost its frontier aspect and had become a conventional market town. The discovery of oil nearby in 1914 and in the post War years altered the economic course of the city. Indians, made rich by wells brought in on their lands in northern Oklahoma, came to Arkansas City to splurge. They came by train, on horseback, or even on foot, and returned to their homes in gleaming new automobiles piled high with gaudy wares. Not a few of the cars were purchased because of a tricky gadget on the dashboard or a chrome figurine on the radiator cap.

Two decades of wealth, however, have scarcely changed the outward appearance of the Indians in the region. Apart from an occasional giant diamond on a rough brown hand, or a massive gold watch chain dangling from a bright colored shirtfront, there are no marks to distinguish the rich from the poor. The shabbiest Indian may, as residents put it, "own half of Oklahoma."

Arkansas City has two flour mills, a meat packing plant, foundries, creameries, a sand and gravel plant, overall factories, and an oil field machine shop.

Websites about Arkansas City Kansas:

  1. City of Arkansas City, Kansas
  2. Cherokee Strip and Land Rush Museum
  3. Arkansas City, Kansas on Wikipedia
  4. Kansas Facts: Cowley County Facts 
  5. Aviation History in Arkansas City,Kansas