graphicIt seems that every time a construction crew starts digging in Tucson, more remains of the area’s ancient inhabitants emerge. The Tucson area is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the United States.

Until 1997, it was believed the first people were the Hohokam, who farmed and irrigated the area along its rivers for 700 years until they disappeared after 1450 AD. But when a new Santa Cruz River site was uncovered and the results were released in 1997, history had to be rewritten.

The largest settlement of its period in the southwest was uncovered along the Santa Cruz River and scientists have determined it was a people who pre-dated the Hohokam, dating back to the Cienega phase (800 BC to 150 AD) of the Late Archaic period. Finding 171 "pit" dwellings, storehouses and communal structures, it is believed they were occupied between 760 BC and 200 BC.

Other Indian tribes followed the Hohokam into the area, settling along the Santa Cruz River and farming the valley. The Pima Indians clustered at the foot of Sentinel Peak. This prominent volcanic "black mountain" gave the Pima Indians the name of their village Stjukshonso (pronounced "Chukson"), meaning, "spring at the foot of dark mountain."

Eventually Chukson would evolve to the name Tucson after European settlers arrived.

The Spanish arrived almost a century before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. Spanish explorers were sweeping through the southwest in search of gold. What they found were several groups of Indians living peacefully and farming the fertile river valley. But there were also the nomadic Apache who were not as friendly. It wasn’t until the late 1600s that Europeans established any settlements here.

Spanish settlers continued to be attracted to the area and it became clear the settlement was important to the Spanish army’s continuing battles with the Apaches and their mountain stronghold. In 1775, the Spanish army made the decision to move their garrison from nearby Tubac to Tucson, and they selected a presidio site that would be surrounded by a 12-foot adobe wall.

graphicSome historians believe it’s the only walled city in our nation’s history, and the one-time wall is the origin of Tucson’s nickname: The Old Pueblo. The original presidio covered about 12 acres and included the downtown area outlined by Church Avenue on the east, Washington Street on the south, Main Avenue on the west and Pennington Street on the north.

The Mexican Revolution had pretty much bypassed Tucson and the Spanish flag continued to fly until Mexico gained her independence from Spain in 1821. For the 65 European settlers in the presidio, it only meant changing their flag. In 1854, the Gadsden Purchase bought some 30,000 square miles of Arizona and the southwest from Mexico for $10 million; Tucson’s population was now part of the United States’ New Mexican Territory.

For the next few years Anglo and Mexican goods began arriving in the area, and the relationships between the Mexican and Anglo settlers formed the backbone of today’s rich culture.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, the American federal troops all over the frontier were called east, leaving settlers defenseless against the Apaches. By May 20, 1862, Union Colonel Joseph West took possession of Tucson. By the time Lincoln gave Arizona its own territorial status and named Prescott the capital, Tucson’s reputation for gambling, prostitution and filthy streets was common reading in eastern newspapers. But by 1867, Tucson had garnered enough political clout to force a vote to change the territorial capital from Prescott to Tucson. The city remained the capital for 10 years until it was returned to Prescott due to the power of mining interests in the northern area. During this decade, Tucson fast became a "city" and bustling business crossroads with a population of 3,200 by 1869.

By 1872, the city had opened its first permanent public school, and boasted two flour mills, four livery stables, two hotels, two breweries and several saloons with roulette wheels turning 24 hours a day. The telegraph had already arrived in 1873. The first Southern Pacific Railroad train arrived to this city of 7,000 in March 1880. That same year, the state’s first hospital, St. Mary’s, was built in Tucson. The telephone first rang in 1881, and gas operated streetlights were turned on the first time in Tucson on March 20, 1882. Suddenly Tucson was a bit less "Wild West." Ironically, that same night Wyatt Earp shot and killed

Frank Stillwell at the Tucson railroad station, taking revenge for his brother Morgan’s death in Tombstone earlier that week.

Due to a grant of $25,000 from the Thirteenth Territorial Legislature in 1885, Tucson agreed to establish a university, the first in a territory that had no high schools. Though it was thought the University of Arizona would bring economic benefits, the citizens wanted to be returned to territorial capital status instead, since a university might have a bad influence on the city’s gambling status. They did not get their wish. By 1891, "Old Main," as it’s known today, opened its doors with 36 students and six faculty members on about 40 acres of land.

By 1886, Geronimo and his band of renegade Chiricahua Apaches had been captured and exiled to Florida, ending the official Indian Wars that had lasted almost 30 years. Tucson would now move in a direction of losing the "wild west" designation for good. In 1896 the first mule-driven streetcars began running, and the following year the first "horseless carriage" sputtered down the dirt streets. By 1906, electric streetcars replaced the mules, making a three-mile loop from downtown to the University.

On a Territorial level, Arizona had begun its battle for statehood driven by the territorial capital, which was finally relocated to Phoenix in 1889. The day came on February 14, 1912, when President Taft made Arizona the 48th state and Tucson’s population of 13,125 was ready to party. But it would not be at gambling saloons - the territorial government had outlawed them in 1905.

By 1920, the population had grown to 20,292 and the first of many resort hotels was built to draw easterners to Arizona’s warm, dry climate. World War II also proved to be a boon for the state and Tucson, drawing an influx of people to the city seeking employment opportunities connected with military operations.

By 1950, the population was 55,454 in the city and 118,034 in the metropolitan area. The area’s growth during the 1950s is often attributed to the advent of air conditioning. With the post-war boom continuing and a huge influx in tourism, the area has not stopped growing.

During the 1980s, more high-tech businesses began to come to Tucson, led by aviation-related technologies, and the metropolitan area’s population grew to 431,988 in 1993. It was also during this period that Madison Avenue advertising agencies began using the deep, Saguaro-studded desert to sell everything from cars to beer, to jeans, to credit cards. This constant romantic image of the west showing up in print and TV ads actually spurred growth in all of Arizona’s population. And though the Santa Cruz River has all but gone dry most of the year, mother nature raised her head in 1983 and 1993 to remind Tucson of her power with major floods both those years that wiped out bridges and even ranches downstream. It was also during this period that gambling returned to Tucson in the form of Indian casinos.

Over the years, Tucson has maintained its relationship with nearby Mexico as a trading partner. With the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, Tucson and Arizona have expanded their international market. As Tucson rolled through the 1990s, the city watched major expansion and breakthroughs at the University of Arizona, including participation in the space program, major optics and agricultural research, and the creation of an Integrated Medicine Center at the University Medical Center in 1997, the first in the nation. Today, the population of the Tucson area is roughly 845,000 and the primary activity is tourism, which adds $1.8 billion to the economy each year and provides one in every four jobs in Pima County. But despite its growth and interest in high-tech industry, the combination of Native American, Hispanic and European cultures remain deeply embedded in Tucson’s textured historical fabric.


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