Arizona's first people discovered this land more than 15,000 years ago. Spears in hand, tribespeople hunted bison, camel, horse, antelope, and mammoth. Smaller game and wild plant foods completed their diet. About 9000 B.C., when the climate grew drier and grasslands turned to desert, most of the large animals died off or left. Overhunting may have hastened their extinction.
Desert Culture Tradition
The early tribes survived these changes by relying on seeds, berries, and nuts collected from wild plants and by hunting smaller game such as pronghorn, deer, mountain sheep, and jackrabbit. Having acquired a precise knowledge of the land, the small bands of related families moved in seasonal migrations timed to coincide with the ripening of plants in each area. They traveled light, probably carrying baskets, animal skins, traps, snares, and stone tools. Most likely they sought shelter in caves or built small brush huts. Some Arizona tribes continued a similar nomadic lifestyle until the late 1800s.
Emergence of Distinct Cultures
Between 2000 and 500 B.C., cultivation skills came to the uplands of Arizona from Mexico. Groups planted corn and squash in the spring, continued their seasonal migration in search of wild food, then returned to harvest the fields in autumn. Agriculture became more important after about 500 B.C., when beans were introduced; the combination of beans, corn, and squash gave the people a nutritious, high-protein diet. The earliest pottery, for cooking beans and storing other foods and water, was developed at about the same time.
From about 100 B.C. to A.D. 500, as they devoted more time to farming, the tribes began building villages of partly underground pithouses near their fields. Regional farming cultures appeared: the Hohokam of the southern deserts, the Mogollon of the eastern uplands, and the ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) of the Colorado Plateau in the north.
Growth and the Great Pueblos
Villages grew larger and more widespread as populations increased from A.D. 500 to 1100. Above-ground pueblo dwellings began to replace the old-style pithouses. Trade among the Southwest cultures and with those in Mexico brought new ideas for crafts, farming, and building, along with valued items such as copper bells, parrots (prized for their feathers), and seashells and turquoise for jewelry. Cotton cultivation and weaving skills also developed.
Major towns appeared between A.D. 900 and 1100, possibly serving as trade centers. Complex religious ceremonies, probably similar to those of the present-day Hopi, took place in kivas (ceremonial rooms) and village plazas in the uplands. Ball courts and platform mounds, most often found in the southern deserts, likely served both religious and secular purposes. Desert dwellers also dug elaborate irrigation networks in the valleys of the Salt and Gila Rivers.
Decline and Consolidation
People began to pack up and abandon, one by one, whole villages and regions throughout Arizona between 1100 and the arrival of the Spanish in 1540. Archaeologists attempt to explain the migrations with theories of drought, soil erosion, warfare, disease, and aggression of Apache and Navajo newcomers. Refugees swelled the populations of the remaining villages during this period; eventually, most of these places emptied too.
Some ancestral Puebloans survived to become the modern Hopi in northeastern Arizona, but the Mogollon seem to have disappeared completely. Pima, likely descendents of the Hohokam, have legends of conflicts among the Hohokam that brought an end that civilization.
The Athabaskan Migration
From western Canada, small bands of Athabaskan-speaking people slowly migrated to the Southwest. They arrived about 1300 to 1600 and established territories in the eastern half of present-day Arizona and adjacent New Mexico. Never a unified group, they followed a nomadic life of hunting, gathering, and raiding neighboring tribes. Some of the Athabaskans, later classified as Navajo on the Colorado Plateau and Apache farther south and east, learned agriculture and weaving from their pueblo neighbors.
Estevan, a Moorish slave of the viceroy of Mexico, became the first non-Native American to enter what is now Arizona. He arrived from the south in an advance party of Fray Marcos de Niza's 1539 expedition, sent by the viceroy to search for the supposedly treasure-laden Seven Cities of Cíbola.
The first of these "cities" that the party entered, a large Zuni pueblo in present-day New Mexico, proved disastrous for the explorers—they met their deaths at the hands of the villagers. Upon hearing the news, Fray Marcos dared view the pueblo only from a distance. Though he returned to Mexico empty-handed, his glowing accounts of a city of stone encouraged a new expedition led by Francisco Vásquez de Coronado.
Coronado departed from Mexico City in 1540 with 336 soldiers, almost 1,000 Native American allies, and 1,500 horses and mules. Instead of gold, the expedition found only houses of mud inhabited by hostile people. Despite hardships, Coronado explored the region for two years, traveling as far north as present-day Kansas. A detachment led by García López de Cárdenas visited the Hopi mesas and the Grand Canyon rim. Another officer of the expedition, Hernando de Alarcón, explored the mouth of the Colorado River in hopes of finding a water route to resupply Coronado. He found the task impossible.
Missions and Presidios
Nearly 100 years passed after Coronado's failed quest before the Spanish reentered Arizona. A few explorers and prospectors made brief visits, but Franciscan missionaries came to stay. They opened three missions near the Hopi villages and had some success in gaining converts, despite strong objections from traditional Hopi.
When pueblo villages in neighboring New Mexico revolted against the Spanish in 1680, the traditional Hopi joined in, killing the friars and many of their followers. Missionary efforts then shifted to southern Arizona, where the tireless Jesuit priest, Eusebio Francisco Kino, explored the new land and built missions from 1691 to 1711. Harsh treatment by later missionaries and land abuses by settlers caused the Pima tribes to revolt in 1751. The Spanish then instituted reforms and built a presidio at Tubac to prevent another outbreak. Similar harsh treatment by Spaniards at two missions on the lower Colorado River caused a revolt there in 1781; no attempt was made to reestablish them.
A fantastic silver strike during the Spanish era in 1736 drew thousands to an arroyo known by local Native Americans as Arizonac, where sheets of native silver weighing 25-50 pounds each were said to cover the ground. The exact location of this extraordinary find is uncertain, but it probably lay west of present-day Nogales. The boom soon ended, but a book published in 1850 in Spain recounted the amazing story. An American mine speculator picked up the tale and used it to publicize and sell mining shares. The name Arizonac, shortened to Arizona, became so well known that politicians later chose it for the entire territory. At least that's one theory of how Arizona got its name.
This land had always existed on the far fringes of civilization, so politics and the Mexican fight for independence had little effect on Arizona. When three centuries of Spanish rule came to an end with Mexican independence in 1821, almost nothing changed. In the presidios, a new flag and an oath of loyalty to Mexico marked the transition. Isolation and hostile Apache continued to discourage settlement. Mission work declined as the Mexican government expelled many of the Spanish friars.
Early in the 19th century, adventurous traders and trappers left the comforts of civilization in the eastern states to seek new lives in the West. In 1825, Sylvester Pattie and his son made the first known journey by Anglos to what is now Arizona. The younger Pattie later set down his adventures in The Personal Narrative of James Ohio Pattie. Although occasionally suffering attacks by hostile tribes, the Patties and later mountain men coexisted more or less peacefully with the Mexicans and Native Americans. When U.S. Army explorers and surveyors first visited Arizona in the 1840s and 1850s, they relied on mountain men to show them trails and water holes.
Arizona Enters the United States
Anglo traders did an increasingly large business in the Southwest after Mexican independence—their supply route from Missouri was far shorter and more profitable than the Mexicans' long haul from Mexico City. Arizona was of little importance in the Mexican War of 1847-48, which was ignited by American desire for Texas and California, disputes over Mexico's debts, and Mexican indifference to a political solution. The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded to the United States not only Texas and California, but everything in between—including Arizona and New Mexico. As part of the vast New Mexican Territory, created by Congress in 1850, Arizona remained a backwater. The Gadsden Purchase added what's now southernmost Arizona in 1854.
Most early visitors regarded Arizona as nothing but a place to cross on the way to California. The safest routes lay within the lands of the Gadsden Purchase, where Capt. Philip Cooke built a wagon road during the Mexican War. Many ‘49ers, headed for gold strikes in California, used Cooke's road, better known as the Gila Trail. Hostile tribes and difficult mountain crossings discouraged travel farther north, even after Lt. Edward Beale opened a rough wagon road across northern Arizona in 1857. Steamboat service on the lower Colorado River, beginning in 1852, brought cheaper and safer transportation to western Arizona.
Americans Settle In
As the California Gold Rush died down in the mid-1850s, prospectors turned eastward to Arizona. They made their first big find, a placer gold deposit, near the confluence of the Colorado River and Sacramento Wash in 1857. More strikes followed. For the first time, large numbers of people came to Arizona to seek their fortunes. Farmers and ranchers established themselves, cashing in on the market provided by the new mining camps and army posts.
Native American Troubles and the Civil War
Mountain men and government surveyors initially maintained good relations with local tribes, but this peace ended only a few years after first contact. Conflicts between white people and tribespeople over economic, religious, and political rights, and over land and water, led to loss of land and autonomy for the Native Americans. Both sides committed atrocities as each sought to drive out the other. Army forts provided a base for troops attempting to subdue the tribes as well as a refuge for travelers and settlers.
Most Arizonans sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War, but quickly switched when large numbers of federal troops arrived. The Battle of Picacho Pass, on April 15, 1862, was the most significant conflict of the Civil War this far west. Confederate forces killed Lt. James Barrett, leader of the Union detachment, and two privates. Aware that Union reinforcements would soon arrive, the Confederates retreated back down the Butterfield Road to Tucson and on toward Texas.
Despite the wars and uncertainties of the early 1860s, Arizona emerged for the first time as a separate entity on February 24, 1863, when President Lincoln signed a bill establishing the Arizona Territory. Formerly, as part of New Mexico, Arizona had lacked both federal representation and law and order. In 1864, Gov. John Goodwin and other appointed officials laid out Arizona's first capital at Prescott.
Control of hostile tribes, especially the Apache and Navajo, proved to be the new territory's most serious problem. Although Arizona's Native Americans failed to drive out the newcomers, they did succeed in holding back development. Not until the great Apache leader Geronimo surrendered for the last time in 1886 did white residents of the territory feel safe.
Frontier Days End
The arrival of the railroads in the 1870s and 1880s and concurrent discoveries of rich copper deposits brought increasing prosperity. Ranching, farming, and logging grew in importance. By 1890 Arizona no longer needed most of its army forts. Only Fort Huachuca in southeastern Arizona survived as an active military post from the Indian wars to the present.
Mormons in Utah, seeking new freedoms and opportunities, migrated south into Arizona. They first established Littlefield in the extreme northwest corner of Arizona in 1864. A flood washed out the community in 1867, but determined settlers rebuilt in 1877. Mormons developed other parts of the Arizona Strip in the far north and operated Lees Ferry across the Colorado River, just upstream from the Grand Canyon. From Lees Ferry, settlers headed as far south as St. David on the San Pedro River in Cochise County. Some settlements had to be abandoned due to land ownership problems, poor soil, or irrigation difficulties. Mormon towns prospering today include Springerville (founded 1871), Joseph City (1876), Mesa (1878), and Show Low (1890).
After years of political wrangling, President William H. Taft signed a proclamation admitting Arizona as the 48th state on Valentine's Day, February 14, 1912. Citizens turned out for parades and wild celebrations. In Phoenix, Governor-elect George W.P. Hunt led a triumphal procession to the Capitol. He had arrived in the territory in 1881 as an unemployed miner, then worked his way up to become a successful merchant, banker, territorial representative, and president of Arizona's Constitutional Convention. Hunt's support of labor, good roads, and other liberal causes won him seven terms in the governor's office.
Arizona lived up to its nickname, the Copper State, riding the good times when copper prices were high, as during WW I and the Roaring ‘20s, then suffering during economic depressions. The need for water, that all-important resource for farms and cities, also preoccupied citizens. New dams across the Gila, Salt, and Verde Rivers of central Arizona ensured the state's growth.
Claims on the Colorado River, however, led to a long-running feud with California and other thirsty states. Arizona pressed for its water rights from the early 1920s until 1944, even calling out the National Guard at one point to halt construction of Parker Dam, designed to supply water to Los Angeles. Wartime priorities finally forced the Arizona Legislature to make peace and join the other river states in the Colorado River Compact.
WW II and the Postwar Boom
The pace of life quickened considerably during WW II, when Arizona devoted much of its land and resources to the war effort. The good flying weather convinced the Army Air Corps to build training bases here. Arizona deserts proved ideal for General Patton and other army officers to prepare their troops for coming battles. Aeronautical and other defense industries built factories, helping state manufacturing income to jump from $17 million in 1940 to $85 million just five years later. Several massive POW camps housed captured Germans and Italians. Japanese-Americans also endured internment; in fact, authorities herded so many Japanese into the Poston camp south of Parker that for a time it ranked as Arizona's third-largest city.
The war, and the air-conditioning that made low-desert summers bearable, changed the state forever. Many of the workers and armed forces people who passed through during the hectic war years returned to settle in Arizona. Even some of the German POWs, it's said, liked Arizona so well that they made their homes here. Much of the industry and many military bases remained as well. Retired people took a new interest in the state's sunny skies and warm winters. Whole towns, such as Sun City, rose just for the older set. Arizona has continued to grow and diversify, yet it retains its natural beauty and Old West heritage.
THE FABULOUS FIVE
In 1998, women swept into all five top executive spots in Arizona's state government. Crowned the "Fabulous Five" by local newspapers, Jane Dee Hull won the governor's race, Betsey Bayless took Secretary of State, Janet Napolitano became Attorney General, Carol Springer the Treasurer, and Lisa Graham Keegan the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Never before had a state elected women to even the top two executive offices, let alone to all five! "This was not a backlash against men," stated Napolitano, "This was about qualified women running for office and winning." In January 2003, Janet Napolitano took over the reins of governor and another woman, Janice K. Brewer, stepped into the number two spot—Secretary of State.
Women had earned important posts in Arizona government since the early days, when Sharlot Hall had accepted the appointment of Territorial Historian in 1909. The challenges of Arizona politics during early statehood in 1915 didn't deter Rachel Allen Berry, who took her seat in the Arizona House of Representatives, and Frances Willard Munds, who became an Arizona State Senator. Both women were among the first in the nation to hold such posts. Women have gone to the top in the judicial branch too. Sandra Day O'Connor, after rising to Arizona Senate Majority Leader, took on the job of Maricopa County Superior Court Judge, then served as an Arizona Court of Appeals Judge before becoming the first woman to be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court (in 1981).
On to Tribes