Ralston was originally known as Riverside because it was located on the west bank of the Arkansas River, and a post office was designated on June 15, 1894. A railroad and a bridge soon connected Ralston with outside markets. In early 1927 the Osage County and Santa Fe Railway (later, the AT&SF) built a line from Pawhuska (Osage County) to Ralston, connecting it to the previously completed line from Newkirk to Ralston in 1902.
On March 16, 1903, territorial Gov. Thompson B. Ferguson signed a legislative bill authorizing the incorporation of Ralston. An early, short-lived enterprise was started by Charles Dodson, who mined coal nearby and sold it to townspeople. Due to Ralston’s close proximity to the Osage Reservation, where liquor was banned, saloonkeepers derived a thriving business before 1907 statehood and prohibition. In 1903 seven saloons operated on Main Avenue. By 1909 three banks, two weekly newspapers, and a public school served the community. Nine years later the town had evolved into an agricultural trade center that offered a cotton gin, a sorghum mill, and two elevators. In the 1930s a cotton gin, a broom factory, an elevator, a wholesale oil company, and a sand company operated. During the early 1930s outbound shipments consisted of grain and sand, and inbound brought livestock, fuel, and general merchandise to the community. Between the mid-1940s and 1950s a blacksmith, a sand and gravel company, and a petroleum products and implements company as well as grocery stores and gasoline stations served the Ralston area.