U.S. State History: Arizona

With its amazing landscape, Arizona is aptly known as the Grand Canyon State. It was the last of the 48 coterminous United States to be admitted into the union and achieved statehood on February 14, 1912. Arizona was originally part of New Mexico, but the land was ceded to the United States in 1848 and became a separate territory in 1863.

Copper was discovered in 1864, and copper mining was Arizona’s prime industry until around the 1950’s. After WWII, the widespread availability of refrigeration and air conditioning caused Arizona’s population to rise. Phoenix became one of the fastest growing cities in America.

Arizona is the 6th largest state in the country in terms of area. It’s population has always been predominantly urban, particularly since the mid-20th century, when urban and suburban areas began growing rapidly at the expense of the countryside.

There are some scholars who believe that the state’s name came from a Basque phrase meaning “place of oaks”, while others attribute it to a Tohono O’odham (Papago) Indian phrase meaning “place of the young (or little) spring.”

The Early History of Arizona

Little is known of the earliest indigenous cultures in Arizona, but they probably lived in the region as early as 25,000 B.C. A later culture, the Hohokam (A.D. 500–1450), were pit dwellers who constructed extensive irrigation systems. The Pueblo flourished in Arizona between the 11th and 14th cent. and built many of the elaborate cliff dwellings that still stand. The Apache and Navajo came to the area in c.1300 from Canada.

The history of Arizona as recorded by the Europeans started in 1539 with the first documented exploration of the area by Marcos de Niza, early work expanded the following year when Francisco Vasquez de Coronado entered the area as well. Arizona was part of the state of Sonora, Mexico in 1822, but the settled population was small.

The Arizona region came under Mexican control following the Mexican war of independence from Spain (1810–21). In the early 1800s, U.S. mountain men, trappers and traders such as Kit Carson, trapped beaver in the area, but otherwise there were few settlers.

In 1848, under the terms of the Mexican Cession, the United States took possession of Arizona above the Gila River after the Mexican-American War, which became part of the Territory of New Mexico. By means of the Gadsden Purchase, the United States secured the northern part of the state of Sonora, which his now Arizona south of the Gila River in 1853.

In 1863, just ten years later, Arizona was split off from the Territory of New Mexico to form the Arizona Territory. The remoteness of the region was ceased by the arrival of the railroad system in 1880. Arizona became a state in 1912, but was primarily rural with an economy based on cattle, cotton, citrus, and copper. Dramatic growth came after 1945, as retirees who appreciated the warm weather and low costs emigrated from the northeast.

 

U.S. Acquisition and the Discovery of Minerals

In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), ending the Mexican War (1846–48), Mexico relinquished control of the area N of the Gila River to the United States. This area became part of the U.S. Territory of New Mexico in 1850. The United States, wishing to build a railroad through the area S of the Gila River, bought the area between the river and the S boundary of Arizona from Mexico in the Gadsden Purchase (1853).

Arizona’s minerals, valued even by prehistoric miners, attracted most of the early explorers, and although the area remained a relatively obscure section of the Territory of New Mexico, mining continued sporadically. Small numbers of prospectors, crossing Arizona to join the California gold rush (1849), found gold, silver, and a neglected metal—copper.

In 1861, at the outbreak of the Civil War, conventions held at Tucson and Mesilla declared the area part of the Confederacy. In the only engagement fought in the Arizona area, a small group of Confederate pickets held off Union cavalry NW of Tucson in the skirmish known as the battle of Picacho Pass.

Modern Development

Arizona has contributed several major figures to national politics. Among them, Senator Barry M. Goldwater, the unsuccessful 1964 Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency, was long the standard bearer for American conservatism. Democrat Stewart L. Udall served as secretary of the interior under presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

With the development of irrigation and hydroelectric projects along the Colorado River and its tributaries, water rights became a subject of litigation between Arizona and California. In 1963 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Arizona had rights to a share of the water from the Colorado’s main stream and sole water rights over tributaries within Arizona. In 1968, Congress authorized the Central Arizona Project, a 335-mi (539-km) canal system to divert water from the Colorado River to the booming metropolitan areas of Phoenix and Tucson. The canal, which uses dams, tunnels, and pumps to raise the water 1,247 ft (380 m) to the desert plain, was opposed by environmentalists, who feared it would damage desert ecosystems. Construction was completed in 1991, at a cost of over $3.5 billion.