Arizona History

Based on the findings of ancient arrowheads from the Stone Ages, scientists have calculated that presumably as early as about 16.000 BC some native groups have crossed through the American Southwest. Back then, there was a very different climate in that region which enabled humans to hunt large mammals such as mammuts. At the end of the Ice Age, the image of the landscape changed and little by little, until about 2000 BC, the sceneries developed that can be found here today. It is assumed today that the humans, who had originally come from Alaska, would have been unable to adapt to the changed conditions, if they had not learned from other cultures from the Mexico area the techniques to extract food from the desert soil. Presumably from 3500 BC on, there have been first agricultural efforts and the growing of corn.

Gadsden Purchase

The expedition of Spanish explorer Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, who was actually searching for the mythical “seven cities of gold”, in 1526 presumably brought the first European into the area of today’s Arizona. He reported vast reservoirs of natural resources, mostly copper, which brought numerous other explorers and miners into the area. Soon enough, a vivd exchange between natives and new settlers took place. However, at the same time, diseases were transmitted, against which the native peoples had no resistance forces. Franciscans and Jesuits after a while began building mission churches. The priest Eusebio KIno, sent out by the Catholic church to convert the Natives, rather successfully founded a number of churches, mostly in Arizona’s south, for example in Tucson. Alongside the clergy, several Spanish and Basque settlers came to the region, among them Bernardo de Urrea, near whose lands silver was found in 1736. De Urrea’s ranch was called “Arizona”, derived from the Basque words for “good oak” and soon enough, the name of the silver reservoir was used to designate the entire area. The find lured many newly-arriveds and a few of these soon became very rich by the large resources that indeed existed. Soon, however, the relations between the Spanish and the Natives deteriorated. In 1751, members of the O’odham people murdered two Jesuit priests, which made the settlers build a garrison near Tubac in 1752, the first permanent Spanish settlement in Arizona.

When at the end of the 18th century the economical and political power of the Spanish royalty abated and the throne finally even went to a relative of French King Louis XIV., many reforms were implemented that impacted Spain’s activities in the New World. These were now put under more direct control of the Spanish crown, contrary to the previous administration through a deputy in Mexico. But most significantly, the reforms from 1765 took away the influence of the Jesuits, the missions they ran were handed over to the Franciscans. This impacted the co-existence with the Natives, to whom the Jesuits had found considerably better access. With the Apaches especially, clashes happened often. In the 1780s, Juan Bautista de Anza, Governor of New Mexico, won the support of other Native peoples against the Apaches, the Navajos being one of those. He also implemented a peace program that promised advantages to those Apaches who laid down their guns and was very successful with it. Until around 1800, the number of Apaches joining the program had continuously risen.

Following ten years of the War of Independence, Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821. The war had greatly damaged the country’s infrastructure and left it close to bankruptcy. Correspondingly, the country had no means to finance the reconstruction of the destroyed structures or to keep on supporting the missions and peace programs. Subsequently, the attacks of the Apaches on the settlers increased again and discontent in the population grew. In 1824, Mexico gave up on its central administration concept and delegated responsibility for many issues to the individual states. This further weakened the military that was supposed to protect the people against the Apache attacks. The violence from both sides steadily grew larger in the 1830s and 1840s. In 1846, the USA declared war on Mexico in reaction to a Mexican attack on American troops. Previously, the USA had attempted several times to purchase parts of Mexico. Additionally, many Americans believed it to be their country’s “manifest destiny”, to take possession of the entire continent. With the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo the war was ended in 1848 and the USA received - next to California, Texas and New Mexico - the part of today’s Arizona that’s located north of the Gila River. Only one year later, it was announced that gold had been found in California and many of those who had previously settled in Arizona now moved further west to search for gold. They were joined by thousands of people from the eastern parts of the country, some of whom decided to stay when they crossed through Arizona, causing a rapid boost of population numbers. In 1853, the USA bought even more land from Mexico in the Gadsden Purchase. This territory later was in large parts added to the south of the state of Arizona around Tucson, but at first, it came to the New Mexico territory.

In the Civil War, in March 1861, parts of Southern Arizona declared themselves the Confederate Territory of Arizona and joined the Confederation. However, as early as in March 1862, Union troops re-conquered the region. One month later, in April, the Battle of Picacho Pass, in which a few soldiers of the Confederation were able to defeat a Union unit (there is an annual reenactment of the battle at the original site). The fighting against the South caused the neglect of many military posts in Arizona, which in turn enabled the Natives to run successful attacks on the settlers again. These only ended in 1886 when the Natives were deported into reservations. In the meantime, gold had been found in Arizona as well. Together with the decree of the Desert Land Act of 1877, which awarded a large tract of land to each settler for very little money, this effected a strong population growth. In 1912, the state of Arizona was formed.

The extensive needs of the war machine in both World Wars each brought economic boosts to Arizona, where many of the resources in demand were being mined. In 1941, the academy for fighter pilots was opened near Phoenix, followed later by another on in Tucson. Additionally, several military bases were opened in the state and planes were being assembled at several locations. After World War II, a notable number of technology enterprises were being set up in Arizona.

In the more recent past, Arizona often made headlines thanks to its politicians. The Republican Senator Barry Goldwater was his party’s candidate for the Presidency in 1964, but all odds turned against him and in favor of his Democrat opponent Lyndon B. Johnson, when President John F. Kennedy was murdered. In 1988, Arizona’s governor Evan Mecham was impeached when it was found that he had embezzled public monies. Leading up to the year 2000, the problems with illegal immigration from Mexico began to escalate; in 2005, the governors of Arizona and New Mexico declared a state of emergency along the border, because they felt that Washington did not do enough against violence, drug trafficking and illegal immigration. This issue is still a controversial and very important political topic in Arizona and the neighbor states. 




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