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The history of Arizona as recorded by Europeans began in 1539 with the first documented exploration of the area by Marcos de Niza, early work expanded the following year when Francisco Vásquez de Coronado entered the area as well. Arizona was part of the state of Sonora, Mexico from 1822, but the settled population was small. 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, what is now Arizona south of the Gila River in 1853.
In 1863, Arizona was split off from the Territory of New Mexico to form the Arizona Territory. The remoteness of the region was eased by the arrival of railroads 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.
Major issues in recent years include illegal immigration and a crashing of real estate values caused by the Recession of 2008.
Arizona was thinly colonized by Mexico in the 1840s, with little protection from much larger Indian population. The U.S. won the Mexican-American War (1846–1848) and in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), Mexico ceded to the U.S. the northern 70% of modern-day Arizona.
Starting in 1853, the entirety of present-day Arizona was part of the New Mexico Territory. In 1849, the California Gold Rush led as many as 50,000 miners to travel across the region, leading to a boom in Arizona's population. In 1850, Arizona and New Mexico formed the New Mexico Territory. In 1853, President Franklin Pierce sent James Gadsden to Mexico City to negotiate with Santa Anna, and the United States bought the remaining southern strip area of Arizona and New Mexico in the Gadsden Purchase.
Before 1846 the Apache raiders expelled most Mexican ranchers. One result was that large herds of wild cattle roamed southeastern Arizona, By 1850, the herds were gone, killed by Apaches, American sportsmen, contract hunting for the towns of Fronteras and Santa Cruz, and roundups to sell to hungry Mexican War soldiers. and forty-niners en route to California.
During the Civil War, on March 16, 1861, citizens in southern New Mexico Territory around Mesilla (now in New Mexico) and Tucson invited take-over by the Confederacy. They especially wanted restoration of mail service. These secessionists hoped that a Confederate Territory of Arizona (CSA) would take control, but in March 1862, Union troops from California captured the Confederate Territory of Arizona and returned it to the New Mexico Territory.
The Battle of Picacho Pass, April 15, 1862, was a battle of the Civil War fought in the CSA and one of many battles to occur in Arizona during the war. Between three sides, Apaches, Confederates and Union forces. In 1863, the U.S. split up New Mexico along a north-south line to create the Arizona Territory. Prescott was a small village when it was replaced by Tucson as the territorial capital in 1877.
In the late 19th century the Army built a series of forts to guarantee the Indians would stay on their reservations. The first was Fort Defiance, set up 1851 to awe the Navajos. Small skirmishes were common. In April 1860 one thousand Navajo warriors under Manuelito attacked the fort and were beaten off. The fort was temporarily abandoned during the Civil War but was reoccupied in 1864 by Colonel Kit Carson and the 1st New Mexico Infantry. Carson's force trapped the Navajos and forced them on the Long Walk to the reservation. They promised to no longer raid their neighbors, and instead focused on sheep ranching; the more sheep a man owned the higher his social status. Fort Defiance was the agency for the new Navajo reservation until 1936; today it provide medical services to the region.
Fort Apache was built on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation by soldiers from the 1st Cavalry and 21st Infantry in 1870. Only one small battle took place, in September 1881, with three soldiers wounded. When the reservation Indians were granted U.S. citizenship in 1924, the fort was permanently closed down. Fort Huachuca, east of Tucson, was founded in 1877 as the base for operations against Apaches and raiders from Mexico. From 1913-33 the fort was the base for the "Buffalo Soldiers" (black soldiers) of the 10th Cavalry Regiment. During World War II, the fort expanded to 25,000 soldiers, mostly in segregated all-black units. Today the fort remains in operation and houses the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and the U.S. Army Network.
After the Civil War Texans brought large-scale ranching to southern Arizona. They introduced their proven range methods to the new grass country. Texas rustlers also came, and brought lawlessness. Inexperienced ranchers brought poor management resulted in overstocking, and introduced destructive diseases. Local cattleman organizations were formed to handle these problems. The Territory experienced a cattle boom in 1873-91, as the herds were expanded from 40,000 to 1.5 million head. However the drought of 1891-93 killed off over half the cattle and produced severe overgrazing. Efforts to restore the rangeland between 1905 and 1934 had limited success, but ranching continued on a smaller scale.
Arizona's last major drought occurred during Dust Bowl years of 1933-34. This time Washington stepped in as the Agricultural Adjustment Administration spent $100 million to buy up the starving cattle. The Taylor Grazing Act placed federal and state agencies in control of livestock numbers on public lands. Most of the land in Arizona is owned by the federal government which leased grazing land to ranchers at low cost. Ranchers invested heavily in blooded stock and equipment. James Wilson states that after 1950, higher fees and restrictions in the name of land conservation caused a sizable reduction in available grazing land. The ranchers had installed three-fifths of the fences, dikes, diversion dams, cattleguards, and other improvements, but the new rules reduced the value of that investment. In the end, Wilson believes, sportsmen and environmentalists maintained a political advantage by denouncing the ranchers as political corrupted land-grabbers who exploited the publicly owned natural resources.
In 1885 Lewis Williams opened a copper smelter in Bisbee and the copper boom began, as the nation turned to copper wires for electricity. The arrival of railroads in the 1880s made mining even more profitable, and national corporations bought control of the mines and invested in new equipment. Mining operations flourished in numerous boom towns, such as Bisbee, Douglas, Ajo and Miami.
Arizona's "wild west" reputation was well deserved. Tombstone was a notorious mining town that flourished longer than most, from 1877 to 1929. Silver was discovered in 1877, and by 1881 the town had a population of over 10,000. Western story tellers and Hollywood film makers made as much money in Tombstone as anyone, thanks to the arrival of Wyatt Earp and his brothers in 1879. They bought shares in the Vizina mine, water rights, and gambling concessions, but Virgil, Morgan and Wyatt were soon appointed as federal and local marshals. They killed three outlaws in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, the most famous gunfight of the Old West. In the aftermath, Virgil Earp was maimed in an ambush and Morgan Earp was assassinated while playing billiards. Walter Noble Burns's novel Tombstone (1927) made Earp famous. Hollywood celebrated Earp's Tombstone days with John Ford's My Darling Clementine (1946), John Sturges's Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) and Hour of the Gun (1967), Frank Perry's Doc (1971), George Cosmatos's Tombstone (1993), and Lawrence Kasdan's Wyatt Earp (1994). They solidified Earp's modern reputation as the Old West's deadliest gunman.
Jennie Bauters (1862–1905) operated brothels in the Territory from 1896-1905. She was an astute businesswoman with an eye for real estate appreciation, and a way with the town fathers of Jerome regarding taxes and restrictive ordinances. She was not always sitting pretty; her brothels were burned in a series of major fires that swept the business district; her girls were often drug addicts. As respectability closed in on her, in 1903 she relocated to the mining camp of Acme. In 1905, she was murdered by a man who had posed as her husband.
By 1869 Americans were reading John Wesley Powell's reports of his explorations of the Colorado River. In 1901, the Santa Fe Railroad reached Grand Canyon's South Rim. With railroad, restaurant and hotel entrepreneur Fred Harvey leading the way, large-scale tourism began that has never abated. The Grand Canyon has become an iconic symbol of the West and the nation as a whole.
The Chinese came to Arizona with the construction of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1880. Tucson was the main railroad center and soon had a Chinatown with laundries for the general population and a rich mix of restaurants, groceries and services for the residents. Chinese and Mexican merchants and farmers transcended racial differences to form 'guanxi,' which were relations of friendship and trust. Chinese leased land from Mexicans, operated grocery stores, and aided compatriots attempting to enter the United States from Mexico after the Mexican Revolution in 1910. Chinese merchants helped supply General John Pershing's army in its expedition against Pancho Villa. Successful Chinese in Tucson led a viable community based on social integration, friendship, and kinship.
In the early 20th century, Arizona almost entered the Union as part of New Mexico in a Republican plan to keep control of the U.S. Senate. The plan, while accepted by most in New Mexico, was rejected by most Arizonans. Progressives in Arizona favored inclusion in the state constitution of initiative, referendum, recall, direct election of senators, woman suffrage, and other reforms. Most of these proposals were included in the constitution that was submitted to Congress in 1912. Taft signed the statehood bill on February 14, 1912, and state residents promptly put the provision back in. Hispanics had little voice or power. Only one of the 53 delegates at the constitutional convention was Hispanic, and he refused to sign. In 1912 women gained suffrage (the vote) in the state, eight years before the country as a whole.
Arizona's first Congressman was Carl Hayden (1877–1972). He was the son of a Yankee merchant who came to Tempe because he needed dry heat for his bad lungs. Carl attended Stanford University and moved up the political ladder as town councilman, county treasurer and Maricopa County sheriff, where he nabbed Arizona's last train robbers. He also started building a coalition to develop the state's water resources, a lifelong interest. A liberal Democrat his entire career, Hayden was elected to Congress in 1912 and moved to the Senate in 1926. Reelection followed every six years as he advanced toward the chairmanship of the powerful Appropriations Committee, which he finally reached in 1955. His only difficult campaign came in 1962, at age 85, when he defeated a young conservative. He retired in 1968 after a record 56 years in Congress. His great achievement was his 41-year battle to enact the Central Arizona Project that would provide water for future growth.
The Great Depression of 1929-39 hit Arizona hard. At first local, state and private relief efforts focused on charity, especially by the Community Chest and Organized Charities programs. Federal money started arriving with the Federal Emergency Relief Committee in 1930. Different agencies promoted aid to the unemployed, tuberculosis patients, transients, and illegal immigrants. The money ran out by 1931 or 1932, and conditions were bad until New Deal relief operations began on a large scale in 1933. Construction programs were important, especially Hoover Dam (originally called Boulder Dam), begun by President Herbert Hoover. It is a concrete arch-gravity dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border with Nevada. It was constructed by the Federal Bureau of Reclamation between 1931 and 1936. It operationalized a schedule of water use set by the Colorado River Compact of 1922 that gave Arizona 19% of the river's water, with 25% to Nevada and the rest to California.
Construction of military bases in Arizona was a national priority because of the state's excellent flying weather and clear skies, large amounts of unoccupied land, good railroads, cheap labor, low taxes, and its proximity to California's aviation industry. Arizona was attractive to both the military and private firms and gthey stayed after the war.
Fort Huachuca became one of the largest nearly-all-black Army forts, with quarters for 1,300 officers and 24,000 enlisted soldiers. The 92nd and 93rd Infantry Divisions, composed of African-American troops, trained there.
During the war Mexican-American community organizations were very active in patriotic efforts to support American troops abroad, and made efforts to support the war effort materially and to provide moral support for the young American men fighting the war, especially the young Mexican-American men from local communities. Some of the community projects were cooperative ventures in which members of both the Mexican-American and Anglo communities participated. Most efforts made in the Mexican-American community, however, represented localized American home front activities that were separate from the activities of the Anglo community. Mexican-American women organized to assist their servicemen and the war effort. An underlying goal of the Spanish-American Mothers and Wives Association was the reinforcement of the woman's role in Spanish-Mexican culture. The organization raised thousands of dollars, wrote letters, and joined in numerous celebrations of their culture and their support for Mexican-American servicemen. Membership reached over 300 during the war and eventually ended its existence in 1976.
Heavy government spending during World War II revitalized the Arizona economy, which was still based on copper mining, citrus and cotton crops and cattle ranching, with a growing tourist business.
Military installations peppered the state, such as Davis-Monthan Field in Tucson, a main training center for air force bomber pilots. Two relocation camps opened for Japanese and Japanese Americans brought in from the West Coast.
The population grew rapidly after 1945, exploding by almost ten times from 700,000 in 1950 to over 5 million in 2000. Most of the growth was in the Phoenix area, with Tucson a distant second. Urban growth doomed the state's citrus industry, as the groves were turned into housing developments. The cost of water made cotton growing less and less profitable, so the state's production steadily declined. By contrast, manufacturing employment jumped from 49,000 in 1960 to 183,000 by 1985, with half the workers in well-paid high tech firms such as Motorola, Hughes Aircraft, and Goodyear Aircraft, Honeywell, and IBM in the Phoenix area. By 1959, Hughes Aircraft built advanced missiles with five thousand workers in Tucson.
Although a small state, Arizona produced numerous national leaders for both parties. Two Republican Senators were presidential nominees: Barry Goldwater in 1964 and John McCain in 2008. Both carried Arizona and lost the national election. Senator Ernest McFarland, a Democrat, was the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate 1951-52, and Congressman John Rhodes was the Republican Minority Leader in the House, 1973-81. Democrats Bruce Babbitt (Governor 1978-87) and Morris Udall (Congressman 1961-90) were contenders for their party's presidential nomination. In 1981 Sandra Day O'Connor became the first woman on the Supreme Court, serving until 2006.
The warm winters and low cost of living attracted retirees from the snow belt who moved permanently to Arizona after 1945, bringing their pensions, Social Security and savings with them. Trolander shows that real estate entrepreneurs catered to them with new communities with amenities pitched to older people, and with few facilities for children. Typically they are "gated" (with controlled access), and have pools, recreation centers, and sometimes a golf course. In 1954, two developers bought 320 acres (1.3 km2) of farmland near Phoenix and opened the nation's first master-planned, adult community dedicated exclusively to retirees at Youngtown. In 1960, developer Del Webb, inspired by the amenities in trailer parks in Florida, added facilities for "active adults" in his new Sun City planned community near Phoenix. In 1962 Ross Cortese opened the first of his gated Leisure Worlds. Other developers copied the popular model so that by 2000, 18% of the retirees in the state lived in "lifestyle" communities.
The issues of the fragile natural environment, compounded by questions of water shortage and distribution, led to numerous debates. The debate crossed traditional lines, so that the leading conservative, Senator Barry Goldwater, was also keenly concerned. For example, Goldwater supported the controversial Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP). He wrote:
I feel very definitely that the [Nixon] administration is absolutely correct in cracking down on companies and corporations and municipalities that continue to pollute the nation’s air and water. While I am a great believer in the free competitive enterprise system and all that it entails, I am an even stronger believer in the right of our people to live in a clean and pollution-free environment. To this end, it is my belief that when pollution is found, it should be halted at the source, even if this requires stringent government action against important segments of our national economy.
Water issues were central. Agriculture consumed 89% of the state's strictly limited water supply, while generating only 3% of the state's income. The Groundwater Management Act of 1980, sponsored by Governor Babbitt, raised the price of water to farmers, while cities had to reach a "safe yield" so that the groundwater usage did not exceed natural replenishment. New housing developments had to prove they had enough water for the next hundred years. Desert foliage suitable for a dry region soon replaced water-guzzling grass in Arizona lawns.
Cotton acreage declined dramatically, freeing up land for suburban sprawl as well as releasing large amounts of water and ending the need for expensive specialized machinery. Cotton acreage plunged from 120,000 acres in 1997 to only 40,000 acres in 2005, even as the federal treasury gave the state's farmers over $678 million in cotton subsidies. Many farmers collect the subsidies but no longer grow cotton. About 80% of the state's cotton is exported to textile factories in China and (since the passage of NAFTA) to Mexico.
Illegal immigration continued to be a prime concern within the state, and in April 2010, Arizona SB1070 was passed and signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer. The measure attracted national attention as the most thorough anti-illegal immigration measure in decades within the United States.
On June 30, 2013, nineteen members of the Prescott Fire Department were killed fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire. The fatalities were members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a hotshot crew, of whom only one survived as they were working in another location.