The state of Arizona is a strange blend of past and present. On Mesa tops are Native American villages where ancient rituals are still carried out to this day, their origins lost in time -- and at the Lowell Observatory scientists use the most modern scientific advances to map the contours of the moon!
Long before the Spaniards arrived in the state, Arizona was inhabited by three very different ancient cultures that followed the main geographical areas of the state:
- The Hohokam who inhabited the Southern Deserts and built elaborate canals that can still be seen today to irrigate the desert landscape.
- The Mogollan in the Central Mountain region.
- The Anasazi on the Northern Plateau.
Other than the ruins of their cultures that have been found, we do not know much about these early peoples or what brought about their decline.
The first European visitors, that we know of, were members of a Spanish expedition, which was shipwrecked in the Gulf of Mexico in 1528. Four survivors from this wreck roamed the Southwest after escaping from the Indians.
One of the survivors, a slave named Esteban, is honored in black history as one of the earliest American pioneers.
In 1539 he lead a small search party from Mexico to locate the Seven Cities of Cibola and the gold that they were said to hold. Although this search ended in his death at the hands of Zuni Indians, he paved the way for the area to be claimed by Spain.
In 1692, the Jesuit missionary Father Eusebio Francisco Kino established a mission at Guevavi, eight miles north of what is now Nogales.
The beautiful Mission of San Xavier del Bac, recalls these far off days. In the following years more missions were built and the area was ruled by Spain. However, during the last 10 years of Spanish rule there was continual warfare as Spanish soldiers tried to protect Mexico from raids by the Apache and Comache Indians.
When Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1822, they inherited the unrest and the area. Troops crossed the land on their way to California during the war between the United States and Mexico in 1846 and opened Arizona to its first American settlers.
Into the state came the professional big-game hunters, Mormon settlers, Confederate veterans, gold seekers, cattle and sheep ranchers, and the gunfighters who made Tombstone, Bisbee and other mining towns notorious.
The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed in 1848, gave the United States the territory north of the Gila River and in 1853 additional land was purchased from Mexico for a southern railroad.
In 1863 after a huge gold field was discovered, President Abraham Lincoln created the Arizona Territory. Many early pioneers were attracted to the new Territory because of its gold, silver and copper resources.
In 1888 copper surpassed gold and silver in importance as new uses were found for the metal and Arizona became the nation's leading producer of this resource. Many other pioneers came to farm the fertile soil and benefit from the long growing season.
Arizona remained a territory for many, many years and did not become a state until 1912.
Arizona's population growth in the last half of the 20th century has been tremendous, especially in its major urban centers.
Between 1950 and 1960 its population increased more than 74%. In the next decade the increase was 36%, still larger than any state except Nevada. In the 1970s the increase in residents was more than 53%.
According to the 1990 census, it was one of the five Southwestern states that continued to attract more people in search of a better environment.
Arizona is bounded on the north by Utah, on the east by New Mexico, and on the south by the Mexican state of Sonora.