Cleveland County is located in south-central Arkansas, about 32 km (20 mi) SW of Pine Bluff and 92 km (57 mi) S of Little Rock.
Originally this county was designated as Dorsey County when the AR General Assembly created it in April 1873 and named it after US Senator Stephen W. Dorsey. The General Assembly changed the name to Cleveland County in 1885 to honor President Grover Cleveland. Cleveland County was formed from parts of Jefferson, Dallas, Bradley, and Lincoln Counties. The county seat is Rison.