I've been brushing up on early Arizona history so I can better appreciate the big milestone Tuesday - Arizona's 100th birthday as a state. Here are what I think are the most important events leading up to Arizona statehood.

Explorers/Missionaries/ Pathfinders

Spanish explorers and missionaries first alerted the world to Arizona. From 1540 to 1542, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado made the first systematic exploration of the Southwest, including Arizona. The first non-natives to live in Arizona were Franciscan missionaries from Santa Fe who tried to establish missions in northeastern Arizona near the Hopi mesas in 1629, but were driven out by the Hopi 50 years later.

In the 1690s, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino established missions along Southern Arizona's Santa Cruz River.

Fur traders were the first Americans in Arizona beginning in the 1820s. These mountain men became guides for the U.S. Army, crossing Arizona on the way to California during the war with Mexico that began in 1846.

Immediately after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildalgo ended the war in 1848, with the U.S gaining the part of Arizona north of the Gila River, Army engineers began surveys in Arizona for a possible transcontinental railroad. They were also trying to define the southern boundary for the Gadsden Purchase, ratified in 1854, in which the U.S. bought from Mexico the part of Arizona south of the Gila River.

After the start of the California Gold Rush in 1848, Arizona's Gila Trail became one of the main routes to the California gold fields. Thousands of 49ers also used southern trails along the Santa Cruz and San Pedro Rivers.

In 1869, Major John Wesley Powell led the first Colorado River expedition through the Grand Canyon. After a second expedition in 1873, Powell published his notes, illustrated with Thomas Moran engravings, which excited the American public about Arizona's natural beauty.


Cattle ranching started early in Arizona and became our longest-lived industry. Stock raising began in the 1690s when Father Kino brought cattle with him from Mexico to found his missions. Spanish cattle ranching began in earnest in the 1730s in the Santa Cruz Valley as demand for beef grew along with the population.

Following the end of the American Civil War in 1865, large-scale ranches developed with an influx of cattle from overgrazed pastures in Texas.


Mining got off to a slow start in Arizona, but steadily grew to become the dominant Arizona business. In 1736 the discovery of silver just below the current border with Mexico drew prospective miners northward into Southern Arizona. Copper was discovered at Ajo in 1854. Gold was found near Yuma in 1858, and in the Bradshaw Mountains and around Wickenburg in 1863.

The legendary town of Tombstone was founded in 1879 around a huge silver strike in 1877. Bisbee started on a path to become the queen of the copper camps in 1880, after the discovery of copper there in 1877.

Copper emerged as the most important mineral to the economy of Arizona in places such as Bisbee, Jerome, Clifton, Globe and Miami.

Indian Wars

Arizona's Native Americans fought long and hard to preserve their way of life. In 1751 Pima Indians revolted in south-central Arizona against repeated harsh treatment by Jesuit missionaries. In 1781 Yuma tribes rose up against Spanish soldiers for damaging their farmlands and severe disciplinary treatment.

The Apache vigorously fought Spanish, Mexican and American encroachment into their homeland for more than 300 years, until 1886, when Geronimo finally surrendered.

The greatest single tragedy occurred in 1864. Because of unsatisfactory treaty negotiations, 8,000 Navajos were rounded up by the U.S. Army and marched 450 miles in the dead of winter to a reservation in eastern New Mexico for a four-year confinement. As many as 2,000 died of cold, disease and starvation.


Regular cross-Arizona stagecoach service for mail and passengers since 1858 and the completion of the transcontinental Southern Pacific Railroad across Southern Arizona in 1881, then the Atlanta & Pacific Railroad across northern Arizona in 1883, dramatically increased the number of people and amount of freight that could be carried in Arizona.

For the first time, heavy mining equipment could be brought in, ranching expanded rapidly along the rail routes, and suddenly settlers were able to reach Arizona in large numbers.

The joining of the Arizona and New Mexico Railroad with the Sonora Railway in Nogales in 1882 opened Arizona's borderland to expanded ranching, mining and business development, plus set the stage for increased interaction between Arizona and Mexico.

People also began coming to Arizona for vacations and to enjoy its climate.


Easier access to land and the ability to furnish plentiful water transformed the Arizona desert and created new agricultural industries. The Desert Land Act of 1877 provided 640 acres to settlers who irrigated the land, stirring great interest in improving irrigation methods.

The Salt River Project began in 1903 as the nation's first water-management project of dams and canals. The completion of Roosevelt Dam in 1911 harnessed Salt River Valley water and led to the rapid expansion of citrus and cotton industries in central Arizona.


The evolution of Arizona towns from small fortresses, mining camps and farming communities to significant cities helped prepare Arizona to join the U.S.

Tubac was the first Spanish presidio (fortress) in Arizona, founded in 1752 in reaction to the Pima revolt. That presidio was moved to Tucson in 1775 in proximity to the flourishing San Xavier del Bac mission. Almost a century later, in 1868, Phoenix began as a farming community, looking for a manageable source of water.

The path to Arizona statehood was long and filled with challenges. Following the Mexican-American War, in 1850 the New Mexico territory, which at the time included Northern Arizona, was added to the U.S.

Then in 1863, Arizona, including the portion added by the Gadsden Purchase, became a separate U.S. territory. In 1906 Arizona rejected a proposal for joint (combined) statehood with New Mexico. In 1911 President William Howard Taft disapproved Arizona statehood due to a provision in the new constitution that permitted recall of judges.

Finally, on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14, 1912, with the offending provision removed, Taft signed the documents admitting Arizona as the 48th state.

A good source for much of this material is the new book by Jim Turner, "Arizona: A Celebration of the Grand Canyon State." The comprehensive book incorporates the author's years of research as outreach historian for the Arizona Historical Society. It is a delightful read, with cogent stories and humor, and contains the most diverse collection of historic photographs and supporting artwork that I have seen in one book on Arizona history.

Thanks to Mary Bingham of the Tubac Historical Society for reviewing this column. E-mail Bob Ring at ringbob1@aol.com or view his website, ringbrothershistory.com