Tucson was born Spanish and raised Mexican - but by the time it joined the Union in 1912, it was well on its way to being a thoroughly American and mostly Anglo town.
The railroad was a big reason for that. After the Southern Pacific came to Tucson in 1880, life would never be the same.
The railroad rotated the axis of the town's commerce. It brought prosperity and created a new merchant class, even as it disrupted the town's social structure and cultural traditions.
It was the most dramatic of several waves of migration that swept over Southern Arizona - not the first, and certainly not the last.
Over the previous 12,000 or more years, the region had been visited by bands of Paleo-Indians, who left only spear points and mammoth bones as evidence. For 4,000 years, its rivers had been farmed, then settled by the Hohokam, followed by Piman-speaking tribes including the O'odham.
Later migrants included Apaches, Spanish, Mexicans, Yaquis and Anglos, Confederate and Union soldiers, settlers, miners, agricultural workers, Forty-Niners, Mormons, Catholic missionaries, Chinese laborers, industrialists, health-seekers, tourists, retirees and Rust Belt refugees. Some stuck; some did not.
For most of our history, there were no borders and when lines were eventually drawn on the map of North America, they were ignored and sometimes erased.
Willows on the River
Our European history began with the founding of the presidio in 1775, when Tucson became the northernmost outpost of New Spain.
It was already a populated oasis in a harsh land.
When Spanish explorer and missionary Father Eusebio Francisco Kino had come through San Xavier and San Agustín in 1697, he found "800 souls" living in 186 houses in what is now Tucson, a place of pastures, agricultural lands and "a full flow of water" in the Santa Cruz River.
Willows and cottonwoods lined the wide river and, even where the water dipped below surface between the two settlements, its sub-surface flow grew forests of giant mesquites, up to four feet in diameter and 60 feet tall, according to records compiled by geographer Julio Betancourt.
Tucson became part of the Republic of Mexico after Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821.
That changed in 1854, when the United States, having claimed vast swaths of Mexico by force and treaty, purchased the additional southern slices of what are now Arizona and New Mexico, which held a good route for a potential southern railroad.
The Mexicans were then a minority in Arizona, said historian Eric Meeks of Northern Arizona University - "maybe a thousand people of mixed heritage - mestizos from Mexico and a few Spaniards, but the vast majority of the population was indigenous. The Apache and the Navajo had managed to prevent a larger migration from Mexico to that point. The Hopis had kicked out the Spaniards and they never returned to Northern Arizona."
When the presidio's Mexican soldiers left in 1856, the Apache were still a threat, Tucson's language was Spanish, and its civic leaders were Mexican.
That continued for a time. As Thomas Sheridan writes in his 1986 book, "Los Tucsonenses," "Mexicans in Tucson became merchants, politicians, artists, and intellectuals, transforming an isolated Sonoran outpost into an oasis of middle-class Mexican society in the United States."
The most prosperous merchants in Tucson were the Mexican freight-haulers: Estevan Ochoa served as the city's mayor, a member of the Territorial Legislature and founder of the city's first school district; Mariano Samaniego was a legislator, city councilman, county supervisor and member of the state's first Board of Regents.
Many Anglo business leaders, such as Sam Hughes, and Territorial Gov. Anson P.K. Safford, married into the Mexican culture, which already included a good share of German and Irish names.
After the railroad arrived in 1880, the freight haulers went the way of the horses that pulled the streetcars.
A new wave of immigration from the East ended the easy intermarriage of presidio times and introduced patterns of segregated housing.
By 1897, more than 80 percent of the city's businesses were Anglo-owned, Sheridan writes. By 1912, the population is believed to have shifted for the first time from majority Mexican to majority Anglo. The new subdivisions that grew along the railroad line crept toward the north and east and were mostly Anglo. The Mexicans built their barrios to the south and west of downtown.
The full records of the 1910 census have been lost, but the Mexican Heritage Project compiled complete demographic information from the two decades bracketing it.
In 1900, 54.7 percent of the town's 7,531 residents were Hispanic; by 1920, with a population of 20,337, Tucson's population was only 36.8 percent Hispanic.
4,000 years of habitation
Pima County Supervisor Richard Elías can trace his family's roots in Tucson to 1776.
Elías lays no claim on being first.
The Pima-speaking Indians who farmed here and the Hohokam and others who preceded them had long ago developed canal systems to direct the persistent springs and ephemeral flows into farm fields, creating a 4,000-year record of habitation.
"They taught us how to survive here," said Elias, whose ancestor Cornelio Elías, was in the first group of presidio soldiers.
The Spanish and the Tohono O'Odham formed alliances. More than once, O'Odham warriors rode to the defense of the presidio when it was in danger of being overrun by Apaches.
Along with alliances came ethnic clashes.
By statehood, Tucson had reached the limits of the flow in the Santa Cruz River. It had been dammed for recreation and irrigation and channeled so deep that springs disappeared.
In the 1880s, Anglos, Mexicans and Chinese farmers battled in court over the dwindling supply.
Mexican laborers also fought the Chinese for railroad and mining jobs.
Indians, Anglos and Mexicans fought over land deeds.
Anglo labor unions, at statehood, campaigned to keep Mexican nationals from public jobs and restrict "alien" labor in the mines.
When he revised "Arizona: A History," for its centennial edition, Sheridan found himself paying more attention to those clashes, in light of more recent initiatives to seal the U.S.-Mexico border, enforce immigration laws by state authority and suspend the Mexican American Studies program in the Tucson Unified School District.
"Right now, we're seeing the most sustained assault on the Mexican people and the Mexican culture since statehood," Sheridan said. "This is a reflection of fear, of xenophobia and a failure to see people as people," Sheridan said.
That short-sighted view will change in Arizona's second century as demographic trends reverse, Sheridan said. Hispanics are the youngest segment of the population. Even with slowed immigration, their numbers will rise. "They're going to be a force to be reckoned with," he said.
In the 2010 census, the percentage of "Hispanic or Latino origin" was 41.6 percent within the Tucson city limits.
Arizona's contentious immigration debate was created when easier border crossings in California and Texas were restricted, sending more migrants through our state, said Meeks, the NAU historian. Border security fears following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and a national recession deepened the concern.
"Historically, that has always been a recipe for jingoism and xenophobia, and it is today," Meeks said.
"Mexicans and Mexican-Americans alike faced a high level of discrimination throughout the first half of the 20th century," Meeks said.
Mexican miners were paid less than Anglos and ignored for management positions, he said.
There were instances of segregation and voting restrictions across the Southwest. Backlashes led to mass deportations during economic hard times in the 1930s and 1950s, said Meeks, author of "Border Citizens: The Making of Indians, Mexicans, and Anglos in Arizona."
As Arizona celebrates statehood, immigration has slowed but not stopped.
"For the immigrant Latino population as a whole, it is largely a numbers gain," said Meeks. "They will be the majority in the state at some point."
Some will be recent arrivals. Others, as they are today, will be descendants of our state's first families.
On StarNet: See more historic photos online at azstarnet.com/gallery and read about the "Bad Girls of Arizona" in eBooks culled from the popular "Tales From the Morgue" series at azstarnet.com/ebooks
Read what U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater predicted might be in store for our state's 100th birthday.
TUCSON'S EUROPEAN-ERA TIMELINE
• 1540: The Coronado Expedition crosses what's now Arizona.
• 1692: Father Eusebio Francisco Kino establishes Mission San Xavier del Bac. The church there won't be completed until 1797.
• 1757: Mission San Agustín is established on the west bank of the Santa Cruz River.
• 1775: Hugo O'Conor establishes Tucson Presidio on the east bank.
• 1821: Tucson becomes part of Mexico after it wins independence from Spain.
• 1854: Tucson, along with the portions of New Mexico and Arizona, become part of the United States with the Gadsden Purchase.
• 1863: Arizona becomes a U.S. territory.
• 1867 to 1877: Tucson is the territorial capital.
• 1880: The Southern Pacific Railroad reaches Tucson on March 20.
• 1885: Territorial Legislature creates the University of Arizona; Old Main, the university's first building, opened to students in 1891.
• 1912: Arizona becomes 48th state on Feb. 14.
Source: City of Tucson website, Arizona Daily Star research
Once the state's biggest town, Tucson was eclipsed by Dams, agriculture
In 1912, with more than 13,193 residents, Tucson was an important waystop and mercantile center supplying the ranches and copper mines of the region - the largest town in Arizona.
It would soon be eclipsed by the growing towns to the north, courtesy of the completion of Roosevelt Dam in 1911, the beginning of a federal reclamation project that would eventually lay claim to the vast watershed of the Salt and Verde rivers for Phoenix and its environs.
Migration from the south intensified in the state's first decade, partly the result of a need for massive numbers of agricultural workers in the Salt River Valley, but mostly because the regime of Mexican President Porfirio Díaz displaced farmers and ranchers from their lands in Mexico. The bloody revolution that followed added to the stream of refugees.
Between 1910 and 1920, the Mexican-born population of Maricopa County increased from 3,000 to 25,000, said NAU historian Eric Meeks.
Add the uncounted immigrants and Phoenix may have been right in claiming to be larger than Tucson. The Arizona Republican newspaper, citing the region's postal fees and other economic indicators, claimed the population lead in 1912.
Tucson couldn't have cared less.
"Tucson has so many other good points that it doesn't need the added notoriety of being the largest city in the state," read a 1912 editorial in the Arizona Daily Star.
By the 1920 census, Phoenix would be a third larger than Tucson. Today, the Phoenix metropolitan area holds nearly 4.2 million people and is four times larger than Tucson.
Without a significant agricultural sector, Tucson grew more slowly.
But it had one big advantage at statehood, even though it was not yet apparent to the town's citizens.
The University of Arizona was growing to the east of town.
There were only about 300 students and nearly half were in preparatory classes, made necessary because Tucson had no high schools until Tucson High was established in 1906.
The university was served by the same streetcars that plied the downtown streets. They had traded in horses and mules for electricity just six years earlier. The "modern streetcars" would run until they gave way to buses in 1930.
By that time, the dirt streets would be paved for the automobile age.
The desert climate would invite health-seekers, tourists and settlers. Electrification allowed Tucson to mine water from the vast aquifers of the Santa Cruz River.
The university grew. An Air Force base was established. The automobile and the air conditioner encouraged larger waves of immigration from the Rust Belt to the developing Sun Belt.
Contact reporter Tom Beal at email@example.com or 573-4158.