History Features

The Outrageous History of Arizona

From the Beginning of Time to Statehood.


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This place has always been majestic, awe-inspiring and dangerous.

The people who came here, and continue to arrive, are strivers, connivers and survivors. What follows are some of the outrageous characters who made Arizona what it is today.


What If They’d Had a John Deere?
The Hohokam lived in the Salt River Valley from about 300 BC to AD 1450. They had a sophisticated 1,000-mile system of canals emanating from the Salt River. All this, without the aid of metal or even a wheel. In spite of these handicaps, their crops flourished and they had time for art, jewelry and sports (huge ball courts). Some 50,000 Hohokams called this area home for twice as long as the modern-day farmer has been here. In fact, it took Phoenix well into the 20th century to get back to 50,000 population.


The First White Man in Arizona Was a Black Man
An African slave, Esteban de Dorantes, or Estevanico, helped spread the idea of Seven Cities of Gold in Spain. Consequently, he was sent on an expedition, in 1539, into northern Mexico, headed by Marcos de Niza who took Esteban as a guide. Niza sent Estevanico to scout ahead and the slave was well received, especially by the women who admired his physique and charm (Esteban learned languages, quickly endearing him to those he met). Unfortunately, his sex appeal went to his head and he was killed by Zunis.


Not Bad for a Chronic Yawner
In the Apache custom, his parents named him Goyathlay for a particular trait: “he who yawns.” Born circa 1829 near the headwaters of the Gila River, he grew up to be a warrior and struck fear into his Spanish-speaking adversaries, who noted he fought like San Jerónimo. The nickname stuck, and he became known as Geronimo.




Shore Leave
In 1846, when the Mormon Battalion crossed Arizona during the Mexican-American War, Lt. George Stoneman decided to test the navigability of the Gila. His men built a raft and loaded it with supplies. The young lieutenant cast off into the Gila and floated a short distance before the naval craft sank. Like any good skipper, Stoneman went down with his ship...then walked ashore.


Hi Jolly
Hadji Ali reportedly hailed from Syria and arrived in Texas in 1856 to escort a shipment of camels for use by the U.S. Army. In 1857, leaving from Texas’s Camp Verde, he crossed the desert with Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale and his camel experiment to open a wagon road across Arizona from Fort Defiance to the Colorado River at Fort Mohave to Fort Tejon in California. He became known far and wide as Hi Jolly, a corruption of Hadji Ali. Hi Jolly then prospected and became a part-time scout for the army. Returning to Arizona, he was naturalized as Philip Tedro in 1880 in Tucson, where he married and had two daughters. In 1889 he resumed prospecting near Quartzsite. He died there, in 1902, and a monument to his irrepressible soul was erected there in 1935.


Damned Babies
The future “Father of Arizona,” Charles Poston, arrived in the little adobe pueblo of Tubac in 1856 where he became the magistrate, alcalde or just “El Cadi” to the citizens. Tubac, in those days, had no Catholic Church, so he performed marriages, baptized babies and even granted divorces. When the bishop in Santa Fe discovered what was happening, he dispatched a priest to Tubac to declare all marriages null and void. The resulting civil unrest among the citizens was quickly resolved when Poston and the priest reached an agreement. The “El Cadi” would make a donation to the church and in return the priest would bless the marriages and make all the little Carlos and Carlottas legitimate again.


Pie Town
Allen Street, in Tombstone, is not named for a famous gunfighter, but for a man who got his start selling pies. John Pie Allen began baking and selling pies in Arizona in 1857 and earned the nickname “Pie Allen.” He eventually opened a bakery in Tombstone in 1879 on the southwest corner of Fourth and Allen Streets.


The Beer Border
Lots of early Arizona land surveying involved wingdinging. A wingding is when you stand at a geographical point, slam your palms together and wherever your joined palms point to, that’s the route to take. See that wingdinged, catty-wampus angle at the bottom of Arizona? According to legend, after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, a group of surveyors was supposed to map out a new boundary by heading west from New Mexico to the Gulf of California, thus ensuring Arizona would have a bona fide seaport. Unfortunately, when the surveyors got to Nogales, they heard there was a whole bunch of beer in Yuma (and besides it was kind of cold out). So, they made an executive decision, executed a wingding, turned their transit and pulled their chains toward Yuma. Remember, when it comes to Arizona landmarks, you always follow the beer.


His Vision? Not So Grand
Lieutenant Joseph Ives explored Arizona’s waterways in 1858. Trekking to a remote canyon, with native guides, he made a bold prediction: “Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality.” The area was later named Grand Canyon National Park.



Placer Police
Colonel Jake Snively’s 1858 gold strike on the Gila River a few miles east of Yuma eventually drew Jack Swilling to the new boomtown of Gila City. Constant raids by Tonto Apache on the prospectors led to the forming of a militia called the Gila Rangers. The men elected Swilling leader. On January 7, 1860, while leading a punitive expedition against the Apache, Swilling and his Rangers came upon the Hassayampa River, previously unknown to white men. The area was too remote and dangerous to explore for gold, but Jack would return at a later date.


Deadlines Missed
On July 8, 1859, in Tubac, silver capitalist Sylvester Mowry and newspaper editor Edward Cross squared off with Burnside rifles at 40 paces. Cross took umbrage with Mowry amping up the population of the territory to encourage immigration. Yet on that windy day, both shooters missed. Witnesses reported: “No blood flowed.”



Criminal Law
Arizona has had three different Arizona Ranger law enforcement groups. The first Ranger group was created in 1860, the second in 1882 and the third in 1901. All three did their best to combat lawlessness, but they were all defeated by the Arizona Legislature, which wouldn’t pay them (1882) and finally voted them out of existence (1909), proving that it’s hard to beat crime when you “fight city hall.”



Chuckin’ Wagons
In July of 1862, a U.S. Army advance detachment entered Apache Pass where they were attacked by some 500 Apaches led by Mangas Coloradas and Cochise. Deploying several 12-pounder mountain howitzers, the artillery unit opened fire in earnest. The Apaches, who had never encountered artillery before, held their positions until nightfall, then retreated. Later, one of the Apaches reportedly remarked of the battle, “We did okay, until you started firing wagons at us.”


Map Quest
The first time Arizona was kicked in the teeth was when it tried to become its own territory separate from New Mexico, before the Civil War. Five times, Arizonans petitioned Washington for their own territory, and five times they were ignored. So they went over to the other side and twice voted to align themselves with the South, which finally took them in. Confederate President Jefferson Davis created the Confederate Territory of Arizona in early 1862. It was the first time the name “Arizona” appeared on any map. That finally got Washington’s attention, and President Abraham Lincoln swooped in on February 24, 1863, to create an Arizona Territory that was part of the Union.


Loser Mountain
During the Civil War, Gen. Irvin McDowell lost the First Battle of Bull Run and then, defying all odds, lost the second Bull Run (although he was exonerated of full blame for the second). In spite of this he rose through the ranks, and his prominence as commander of the Department of the Pacific (1864-65) led to recognition of the general in central Arizona. The McDowell Mountains, Fort McDowell and McDowell Road were all named for this loser.


Divorce, Arizona Style
Divorces were hard to get in Arizona Territory—unless you knew a legislator! As weird as it sounds today, the legislature itself granted divorces to its pals. The First Territorial Legislature got things started in 1864 when House Member John G. Capron was granted an annulment and Fort Whipple’s post surgeon Elliot Coues, a divorce. The legislature finally got out of the divorce business in 1880.


The Incredible Journey
Captured by Sonoran mercenaries near Esqueda, Sonora, Mexico (south of present-day Douglas), in the mid-1860s, Dilcthe was sold into slavery and shipped to the Baja Peninsula, where she ended up as an indentured servant at a hacienda. She and several others escaped, outrunning and outsmarting the mounted search parties sent to track them down. Crossing the Colorado River near Yuma (she couldn’t swim), Dilcthe evaded ambush by Yuma raiders and made it to her Warm Springs Apache family. She had walked more than 1,000 miles. Through it all, she carried no map, no weapons and almost no provisions. What iron will she possessed!


The Biggest Leg in Mexico
At six feet two and 200 pounds, red-headed camp follower Sarah Bowman was nicknamed the “Great Western,” after the largest steamship afloat in the 1830s. During the Mexican War, when told U.S. Army regulations required that a woman couldn’t travel with the troops unless she was married to one, she rode a donkey down the line shouting, “Who wants a wife with $15,000 and the biggest leg in Mexico?” Four husbands later, she died in Yuma of a spider bite in 1866; in 1890, her very large bones were removed to the Presidio of San Francisco in California.


Founders Flounder
Before 1860 no white person dared to travel north of the Gila River in Arizona. It was the home of the Yavapai and the Tonto Apaches, and they brooked no trespassers. Jack Swilling arrived in the Salt River Valley in 1867. Two other famous early pioneer white Arizonans in that region were Darrell Duppa and Charles Poston. (Duppa, born in France to English parents, had been educated in Europe before coming to the states. He is credited with coming up with the names of Phoenix and Tempe, both allusions to ancient history.) All three survived numerous fights with Indians, and all carried wounds from those encounters. All died poor, proving the old adage: Pioneers get the arrows, settlers get the land.


The Lost German?
Jacob Waltz, the legendary miner who came to Arizona in the 1860s and allegedly discovered a mine in the Superstition Mountains that has never been found, is known far and wide as the Lost Dutchman. Waltz was actually German.


Against All Odds
Cochise was perhaps the greatest chief of the Chiricahua Apaches. He fought his way through southeastern Arizona and into Mexico in the 1870s, killing, as he put it, “10 white men for every Indian I have lost.” Tired of fighting, Cochise negotiated for peace in 1872 and never fought again. He supposedly died of cancer on June 8, 1874, and his body is buried in a secret crevice in his Dragoon Stronghold within Arizona’s Coronado National Forest. In spite of his controversial reputation, the people of Arizona named a county after him a mere seven years after his death.


Pole Dancer: “Can You Hang Me Now?”
In 1884, John Heath was taken from the Tombstone jail by a Bisbee mob and hanged from a telegraph pole. Dr. George Goodfellow reported to the coroner’s jury that Heath: “. . . came to his death from emphysema of the lungs, which might have been, and probably was, caused by strangulation, self-inflicted or otherwise, as in accordance with the medical evidence.” The jury accepted his findings.

Climate Change Railroaded
With the proliferation of railroad building in the early 1870s, federal reports (funded by the railroads themselves) contended that even the building of railroads increased rainfall. These same reports predicted that with the planting of more trees transported to desert areas like Arizona by train, “We are of the opinion that inside of five years owing to these changes the thermometer will never have occasion to go above the 95 degree mark.”



Hanging Around the Playground
On May 2, 1873, Arizona’s first legal hanging took place in Yuma, across the street from a schoolhouse. The teacher dismissed classes for the day.


Show Low vs. a Straight Flush
In 1875, two ranchers, Corydon Cooley and Marion Clark, decided the valley they lived in wasn’t big enough for the both of them. To see who would stay and who would leave, they played Seven Up, a popular game with the cowboys in which the lowest card won. After the last hand was dealt, Clark said, “If you can show low, you win.” Cooley turned over the deuce of clubs and replied, “Show low it is.” Most residents of Show Low are glad he didn’t call for a straight flush.



Legendary Dish Washer
In the spring of 1876, Henry Antrim worked as a busboy at the Hotel de Luna at the edge of Camp Grant, Arizona Territory. He also moonlighted as a horse thief. In 1877, when a town bully called Henry a “pimp” and a “son of a bitch,” the kid shot his first man. He later changed his name to Billy Bonney and became known as Billy the Kid.




Not Everyone Loved Arizona
John C. Fremont, appointed as Arizona’s territorial governor in 1878, spent most of his career exploring California. When he was informed he had to reside in Arizona, or resign. He resigned.


Steaming into the Future
Few innovations changed the face of Arizona more than the arrival of the first steam engine in Tucson in March of 1880. Travel time for passengers going to Los Angeles, California, was reduced from five days to less than one, with the cost dropping by two thirds. Freight shipments that previously took three months now arrived in four days, and freight charges dropped to one tenth of what steamer or wagon freighters charged. Better quality lumber arrived along with special imports like El Paso pressed brick. More important, the railroad brought people from all over the world to live and to visit, spelling the end of the frontier in Arizona. Unfortunately, some of Tucson’s biggest businesses were doomed by the arrival of trains, including the freighting company Tully, Ochoa & Co. Their stage drivers were quick to say to anyone who would listen, “Many of my passengers don’t like the train. It scares them.”


But It’s a Dry Hell
Arizona has been compared to hell for a long time. In the 1870s when the “Father of Arizona” Charles Poston tried to discuss territorial status for Arizona with a congressman, the senator said, “Oh, yes, I have heard of that country—it is just like hell—all it lacks is water and good society.” When Gen. William Sherman was told in the 1880s that all Arizona needed was more water and less heat, he answered, “that’s all Hell needs.” By the way, Sherman also said, in response to cries for a war with Mexico over border depredations, that the only war he was going to fight with Mexico was one that forced them to take back Arizona and New Mexico. To hell, you say?


Drunken Loser Gets the Seal of Approval
Like most Arizona prospectors in the 1870s, George Warren wanted to get rich quick. He had some luck (the Warren Mining District and town of Warren is named for him). But he suffered from bad judgment (on July 4, 1880, he bet a friend he could outrun a horse and ended up losing his stake in Bisbee’s Copper Queen Mine). And he had a drinking problem. Oh, and late in life, he was judged insane. So it’s perhaps fitting that his likeness is on the seal of the great state of Arizona.



Curly’s Bill
Legendary outlaw Curly Bill Brocius had a perverse sense of humor. Around 1880, he broke into a dance on the San Pedro and at gunpoint forced everyone to strip naked and dance for his amusement. In Galeyville, he once went into a restaurant, ordered a meal, then placed a six-shooter on each side of his plate and ordered everyone to wait until he was through before they could leave. When he finished, Brocius laid his head down upon his arms and fell asleep. Everyone was afraid to move. Some time later, Bill awoke, paid for everyone’s meal and left.


Touched by an Angel
When Nellie Cashman arrived in Tombstone in 1880, her principal business was running a boarding house. But in a town without a hospital, she extended her self-sacrificing generosity to injured miners, many times hosting plays to raise funds for their care. Newspaper editor John Clum recalled one such prospector who “had been sinking a shaft single handed and had fallen into the shaft and broken both legs.... Nellie rushed to his aid and within a day or two secured nearly $500 for his care and comfort.” She also put herself in danger, like the time strikers had planned to kidnap and hang E.B. Gage, the superintendent of the Grand Central Mining Company. Nellie fearlessly ferried Gage in a buggy to the railway station in Benson, so he could escape on a train to Tucson. On top of all that, after the death of her sister, she was raising Fanny’s five children in the wilds of Tombstone. It’s easy to see why Clum called Nellie a “thoroughbred pioneer and seasoned ‘sourdough’” who “had no rival among her own sex, and there were few, if any, among the male adventurers who could qualify in her class.”


Wyatt Screams for Ice Cream
Wyatt Earp enjoyed eating ice cream in Tombstone. For the Lotta Crabtree estate case, Wyatt testified in 1926, “I met her [Jack Crabtree’s wife]...at an ice cream parlor...on Fourth Street between Allen and Fremont....I used to go there pretty often. I liked ice cream....” The ice cream parlor Wyatt is referring to ran an ad in the Tombstone Daily Nugget in 1881. The idea of Wyatt and Doc Holliday ordering ice cream in the wildest camp in the West (“I’ll try the Huckleberry!”) is a sight to imagine. Wyatt, his brothers and Doc walked by this very “saloon” on their way to the gunfight.


Cold-Blooded Roommates
In the fall of 1880, Doc Holliday shared a room in Prescott with John J. Gosper, the soon-to-be acting governor of Arizona. Historians want to know how Holliday, the deadly dentist and gambler, could have sunk so low as to room with a politician.





Town Too Tony to Die
According to George Parsons’ journal the first circus (Ryland’s) landed in Tombstone on September 22, 1880. Parsons also reports going to see Prof. Taylor’s magic show on May 5, 1881. In addition to circuses and theatre troupes, horse racing and baseball games, a municipal swimming pool opened in 1883, making the mining town a very cosmopolitan place.


In Vino Veritas
We have this image of Old West saloons serving rotgut, but in wild Tombstone, Kelly’s Wine House served 26 wines imported from Europe and had its own microbrewery. Ike Clanton spent two hours in this fancy joint on the evening of October 25, 1881, tuning up no doubt for the O.K. Corral gunfight the next day. Makes you wonder if he had ever even heard of rotgut.




Chip On His Shoulder . . .and His Back . . .and His Elbow
San Simon cowboy Dick Lloyd was well known in southern Arizona for his “tall bucking” (cowboy slang for riding a bronc in high style). Unfortunately, he got drunk in Maxey (near Safford) in March 1881 and rode his horse into O’Neil and Franklin’s Saloon, where Curly Bill Brocius, John Ringo and other cowboys were playing cards. Perturbed, they unlimbered their six-shooters and plugged Lloyd, dropping him to the floor of the saloon. According to legend, the cowboys continued their card game, tossing winnings onto the body to help defray his funeral expenses.


Farewell to Arm
On the night of December 28, 1881, City Marshal Virgil Earp was ambushed and hit with buckshot while he was crossing the intersection of Fifth and Allen Streets in Tombstone. His left arm was shattered. Doctors had to saw off his elbow, so his arm now hung limp without a bone connection. The tough old lawman got around fine. In fact, in 1887, Virgil joined a Tombstone posse looking for train robbers. He freaked out a Mexican tracker when an early morning gallop showcased Virgil’s lack of an elbow joint, his arm...

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