Arizona Timeline

Timeline of Arizona History : 1800’s – Time of Statehood


Spanish Army Captain Hugo O’Conor establishes El Presidio Real de San Augustin del Tucson, marking the official birth date of the City of Tucson.


Sylvester Pattie and his son James are the first American trappers to set foot in Arizona. Journals written by James Pattie record the first descriptions of Arizona by an Anglo. Other trappers and scouts, including Kit Carson, Pauline Weaver and Bill Williams, follow in short succession.


Gold is first discovered in the Prescott area; later discoveries in the Bradshaw Mountains in the 1860s contribute to the Town of Prescott being founded along Granite Creek.


The Mexican War, fought partly over control of California and the Arizona-New Mexico territories, begins early in the spring; later that same year the Mormon Battalion, under the command of Lt. Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, crosses southern Arizona, establishing a wagon road to California.


The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ends the Mexican War, giving the United States title to California and Arizona lands north of the Gila River. The Arizona Gila Trail also becomes one of the main routes to newly discovered California gold fields; Papago tribes help gold-seekers survive the desert crossing.


Camp Calhoun, named for John C. Calhoun, is established on the west bank of the Colorado River by a military surveying crew who also start the first of several ferries across the Colorado near the site that would become Fort Yuma and the town of the same name.


The Compromise of 1850 allows citizens of the New Mexico (including present-day Arizona) and Utah territories to decide whether they would allow slavery.


Fort Defiance (in Canyon de Chelly) establishes a U.S. Army presence on rich Navajo grassland, leading to years of dispute that culminate with an unsuccessful attack on the fort in 1860. After being abandoned during the Civil War, the fort is reestablished as an Indian agency in 1868.


The Army Corp of Engineers, under the command of Captain Lorenzo Sitgreaves, begins its first survey of Arizona along the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers.


The Gadsden Purchase acquires additional land from Mexico for $10 million and extends Arizona’s boundaries south from the Gila River to its present border in hopes of finding a southern route for a transcontinental railroad.


The state’s first mining company, the Arizona Mining and Trading Company, is formed by Peter Brady and sets up an operation in the Ajo area; it was abandoned several years later.


In the course of surveying a road route from the Rio Grande to California, Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale sets up camp east of present-day Flagstaff and orders his men to strip the branches from a Ponderosa pine tree so it can be used to fly the United States flag. By 1886, Flagstaff is the largest town along the railroad between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and California.


Charles D. Poston (known as the “Father of Arizona” because he would be the first territorial delegate sent to the U.S. Congress in 1863) forms the Sonoran Exploring and Mining Company to extract silver in the Tubac area. A local conference in Tucson also makes the first petition to the U. S. Congress to create a separate Arizona Territory.


Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale leads an expedition to map a route across northern Arizona, using camels as pack animals. He is assisted by a Syrian camel handler nicknamed “Hi Jolly.” Because of the difficult temperament of the animals and the pending domestic troubles that will lead to the Civil War, the Camel Military Corps was abandoned by 1860.


The Butterfield Overland Stage is established to carry mail between St. Louis and San Francisco and includes stops in Tucson, Maricopa, Gila Bend, and other Arizona locales, but operations cease in 1861 after the start of the Civil War.


The Weekly Arizonian, Arizona’s first newspaper, is founded after a Washington hand press is shipped from Ohio via the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, through the Gulf of Mexico, across the Isthmus of Panama, through the Gulf of Cortez to Guaymas, and finally by ox cart to Tubac. The newspaper quickly becomes an ardent voice for the establishment of Arizona as a territory separate from New Mexico.


Apache chief Cochise and his family and an Army infantry group led by George Nicholas Bascom engage in a series of clashes in southeastern Arizona over the alleged kidnapping by the Apache of an Anglo boy. Several of Cochise’s relatives are killed, resulting in the Apache Wars that would last until the 1880s.


After Lieut. Colonel John Baylor declares the Arizona territory for the Confederacy in 1861, the Confederate Congress and President Jefferson Davis make Arizona a state of the Confederacy.  The Battle of Picacho Pass, considered the westernmost battle of the Civil War – and the only Civil War battle in Arizona – is fought between First California Cavalry and a Confederate band led by Captain Sherrod Hunter. Although Hunter’s soldiers chase off the Union troops in that battle, the Confederates soon abandon Arizona as an outpost.


President Abraham Lincoln establishes the Arizona Territory; John N. Goodwin becomes the first territorial governor after Lincoln’s first choice, John A. Gurley, dies before taking office. Goodwin designates Prescott as the territorial capital as gold discoveries in the region lead to the founding of the Castle Dome Mine in the Bradshaw Mountains, Rich Hill nearby, and the Vulture Mine in Wickenburg.


The first territorial legislature convenes in Prescott, and Arizona’s four original counties are established: Yuma, Yavapai, Pima, and Mohave. The first Governor’s Mansion is also constructed in Prescott from Ponderosa pine logs and later becomes the Sharlot Hall Museum in 1928.


Camp Verde and Fort McDowell are established at points along the Verde River in the Tonto Basin to defend settlers against Apache attacks; the renamed Fort Verde is abandoned in 1891, and Fort McDowell becomes a reservation for the Yavapai Apache in 1890.


The Civil War having ended and southern Arizona safely ensconced in Union hands, the 4th Territorial Legislature, led by Underwood Barnett of Pima County, votes to move the territorial capital from Prescott to Tucson.


The Navajo Treaty of 1868 allows Navajos interned near Fort Sumner, New Mexico, to return to their tribal home in Arizona, culminating years of disputes that began in 1851 with the establishment of Fort Defiance and continued when legendary scout Kit Carson forced the Navajo on the “Long Walk of the Navajo” to Bosque Redondo, New Mexico.


John Wesley Powell sets out on his first exploratory trip down the Colorado River and traverses the Grand Canyon.  His journals will become the first definitive description of this natural wonder.


The Yavapai County Supervisors recognize the settlement of Phoenix with an election precinct in 1868, but it is not until two years later that local community leaders lay out the original town site on 320 acres bounded on the north by Van Buren Street, the south by Jackson Street, the east by Seventh Street, and the west by Seventh Avenue. The whole Arizona territory has a population of only 9,568.


Territorial Governor A. P. K. Safford pushes a bill through the territorial legislature to establish the first public school system in the Arizona; Maricopa County becomes the first county carved out of Arizona’s original four counties and is named for the Native American tribe that had settled along the Gila River.


As part of General George Crook’s campaign against the Apache, he engages in a search and destroy mission in the Salt River Canyon at Skull Cave. While the most famous Apache warrior, Geronimo, evades capture, the battle’s outcome leads to the establishment of the San Carlos and Chiricahua reservations.


The Silver King Mine, richest lode in Arizona history, is located southwest of Superior. During its heyday from 1876 to 1887, more than $7 million in silver ore is extracted. The mine eventually is abandoned because of the rising cost of extracting the mineral and the nation’s shift from a silver standard to the gold standard.


Pinal County is formed. Carved out of Maricopa and Pima counties, it is first settled because of its rich mining lodes, and later develops into cotton, vegetable, and fruit farms. It also is home to four Native American communities: the Ak Chin, the Gila River, the Tohono O’odham, and the San Carlos Apache.


The Yuma Territorial Prison is completed, and its first occupants are seven convicts who had helped build the facility; the prison is closed in 1909 in favor of a new, larger facility in Florence, Arizona, but the Yuma Union High School uses the buildings from 1910 to 1914.


The 9th Territorial Legislature moves the capital from Tucson back to Prescott, but commerce in Southern Arizona is burgeoning; silver is discovered near Tombstone, the Copper Queen Mine is established in Bisbee, and Fort Huachuca is established in the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains to protect settlers and travelers between Arizona and Mexico from Apache raids.


“The Phoenix Charter Bill” is passed by the 11th Territorial Legislature and signed by territorial Governor John C. Fremont in February to incorporate Phoenix and provide for a mayor and four council members. Later that year Phoenicians elect John T. Alsap as the first mayor. In southern Arizona, a clash between U.S. Marshall Wyatt Earp and his brothers and the Clanton gang occurs in Tombstone and soon becomes the part of Western lore known as the “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.”


The Atlantic & Pacific (Santa Fe) Railroad crosses Northern Arizona and connects at Needles, California to the Southern Pacific Railroad, which had been completed through southern Arizona in 1881.


Jacob Walz is reputed to have discovered what becomes known at the Lost Dutchman’s Mine although no one has located it since. The romantic lore surrounding Walz’s life and the secret stake of gold he discovered continues to fascinate more than 100 years later.


The University of Arizona is established by the territorial legislature under Lincoln’s Land Grant Act, and the Tempe Normal School, later to become Arizona State University, is founded near Hayden’s Ferry to train teachers.


Apache Chief Geronimo surrenders to General Nelson Miles after 30 years of battle against the U.S. Army, signaling the end of the Indian Wars in the Southwest. He is exiled to Florida and later is relocated to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he dies in 1909.


The Southern Pacific Railroad, which first crossed into southern Arizona six years earlier, makes its first stop in Phoenix on July 4th, Independence Day.


Its economy invigorated by the arrival of the railroad, Phoenix is declared the territorial capital by the 15th Territorial Legislature, partly because it is located halfway between Prescott and Tucson.


U. S. District Court Judge Joseph Kibbey issues a decision regarding the ownership of water, defined as the “right of prior appropriation,” by saying that a right to water is tied to the land where it is used and is determined by when that water was first used for the benefit of the land. The concept “first in time, first in right” forms the basis for western water law even as it exists today.


Arizonans join the Rough Riders to serve in the Spanish-American War.  The volunteer cowboy regiment (the first troop of the first squadron of the first U.S. Volunteer Cavalry) is inspired by Alexander Brodie, first commander of the Arizona National Guard, and Prescott Mayor “Bucky” O’Neill.


The Northern Arizona Normal School is established in Flagstaff as a teachers’ college, and the college’s first president recruits students by scouring the countryside in horse and buggy. The school, later named Arizona State Teacher’s College at Flagstaff, is designated Northern Arizona University in 1966.


The Arizona Capitol building is completed in Phoenix at a cost of $136,000, and the population of Arizona is 122,931. The foundations are constructed of malapais rock quarried from Camelback Mountain; first-floor walls of granite are taken from the South Mountains, and all of the upper story walls are made of tufa stone from the Yavapai Mountains near Kirkland.


The Carnegie Library opens in Tucson, the first of four to be located in Arizona through grants from industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (Prescott, 1903; Phoenix, 1908; and Yuma, 1917).


Landowners in the Salt River Valley, having struggled since 1867 to develop irrigation systems for their farms, finally form the Salt River Water Users’ Association and contract with the federal government to build a dam that will give them a sure supply of delivered water. The Salt River Project becomes the first of five reclamation projects in U.S.


Mary Colter, architect of numerous Fred Harvey hotels and concessions, is commissioned to design the Hopi House at the Grand Canyon to display and sell Indian arts and crafts and to resemble the buildings in the ancient Hopi village of Oraibi.


Tonto National Forest is established, primarily to protect the watershed of the Salt River from development that would lessen the capacity of the land to drain water into the river to be stored behind Theodore Roosevelt Dam; this protection has preserved thousands of archaeological sites that are the remains of ancient indigenous people who hunted and farmed in the area.


Congress passes a joint statehood bill calling for a single state called Arizona, which includes the territories of Arizona and New Mexico. The bill requires approval by a majority of voters in both territories.  New Mexico voters approve the joint statehood by a two-to-one vote, but Arizona citizens reject the merger by five-to-one (16,265 to 3,141).


Reverend Julius Atwood establishes St. Luke’s Home (later to become St. Luke’s Hospital) with 12 tents to care for tuberculosis patients; in 1911 President Theodore Roosevelt will dedicate a 10-bed infirmary addition.


Five years after the Yuma project is conceived by the Yuma County Water Users’ Association, the first component of the project, the Laguna Diversion Dam, is completed in southeastern Arizona. Meanwhile, the Salt River Valley gets its first hydroelectric power from Theodore Roosevelt Dam.


Territorial Chief Justice Edward Kent issues a decree that sets the order of priority for rights to water from the Salt River. This provides the basis for all future Arizona water law and determines how the water stored behind Theodore Roosevelt Dam will be used. The territory’s population just exceeds 204,000.


Arizona draws the attention of the nation as former President Theodore Roosevelt arrives to dedicate the dam on the Salt River that will bear his name. Meanwhile, President William Howard Taft vetoes admission of Arizona as a state of the union over a clause in the state Constitution that allows judges to be recalled.


On February 14, President William Howard Taft signs a proclamation declaring Arizona to be the 48th State of the Union, culminating a two-year process that began with the convening of a Constitutional Convention in 1910; an unsuccessful bid for statehood in 1911 because President Taft objected to a clause in the Arizona Constitution that allowed recall of judges; a vote by Arizonans in December 1911  to delete the recall of judges; and the election of initial executive officers, including George W.P. Hunt as the first governor and  Sidney P. Osborn as the first Secretary of State. The state adopts the motto Detat Deus or “God Enriches,” and shortly after the statehood proclamation, voters restore the recall of judges to the constitution, and women are granted the right to vote.

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