The first known inhabitants of the West Memphis area was a tribe of Native Americans known as Mound Builders. However, the first European to come this far inland was Hernando Desoto and a group of his followers. Records indicate that the original site of West Memphis came from a Spanish land grant.
In a whole, Crittenden County was established by an act of legislation during 1825 while Arkansas was still a territory. The county was named after Robert Crittenden, the first secretary of the Arkansas Territory. In the first census of 1830, a total of 1,272 inhabitants were recorded. Among the first citizens in this area were two brothers, William and Robert Vance. They built a log cabin on 600 acres purchased by their father. At this time the only structures were their home and the railroad station, which were both built on stilts because of floodwaters.
In 1884, the sons of Robert and Hope Vance mapped out the town of West Memphis and upon the appointment of Robert Vance Jr. as postmaster in 1885; the town had a population of approximately 200. By 1888, three stores had been established on the river site: Winchester Brothers, Richard Brothers, and C.B. Givin.
The lumber industry played a large role in the founding of West Memphis. Zack Bragg came to this region around 1904. He established the Bragg Mill believing the best opportunity because the logging end of the lumber industry lay in the timber of Eastern Arkansas. Bragg used the Mississippi River and the new railroads as transportation for his logs.
Although the mill and its surroundings were known as Bragg they were later referred to as West Memphis because of the higher prices it would bring for lumber. Another man who realized the potential of the lumber industry was P.T Bolz of St. Louis. In 1914, he sent William Hundhausen to survey the area. This resulted in the Bolz Slack Barrel Cooperage Plant. Its location near the intersection of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and Rock Island allowed for easy transportation by rail or by river.
What was once the town of Hulbert also played a large part in the settlement of West Memphis. This small town was a railroad center, with a general store, motel, and boarding house. A Memphis attorney owned the town of Hulbert and its surrounding farmlands. In 1910, when the Rock Island Railroad stops were built, Hulbert was established as a permanent community.
West Memphis was incorporated in 1923. It was preceded by settlements at Hopefield, on the banks of the Mississippi River since before the Civic War until it was destroyed by flood in 1912, and Hulbert, founded in the late 1800s and annexed to West Memphis in 1955.