Phoenix: History

Native Americans Removed to Make Way for White Settlers

The city of Phoenix stands on the site of a prehistoric settlement built by Native Americans, the Hohokam tribe, who had established a thriving culture but who vanished without a trace around 1450 A.D. Thought to be the ancestors of the Pima—"Hohokam" means "those who have gone" in Pima—the Hohokam had constructed a sophisticated system of irrigation canals, many of which are still in use today, that remain as evidence of their existence.

Permanent resettlement of the Hohokam site did not come until the late 1860s; in the interim the area shared the history of the rest of the state. Hispanic conquistadors invaded Arizona in the 1500s in search of the Seven Cities of Cibola, bringing with them cattle, horses, and new agricultural methods. They were followed by miners, traders, and farmers whose presence was tolerated by the Native Americans until the 1850s, when it became apparent that the white settlers were encroaching on their land. Battles between the settlers and the tribes brought intervention by the U.S. military and the tribes were eventually confined to reservations.

City Thrives as Trade Center; Irrigation Aids Farms, Industry

In 1864 a U.S. Army post, a supply camp for nearby Camp McDowell, was set up on the ruins of the Hohokam settlement. Then in 1867 the Hohokam's irrigation canals were rebuilt by two settlers, one of whom called the place "Phoenix." He predicted that, like the mythical phoenix bird rising from its own ashes, a great city would emerge from the ruins. Incorporated in 1881, Phoenix rapidly developed into a major trading center with the building of the railroad in 1887 and became the capital of the Arizona territory in 1889; it was named the capital of the state of Arizona in 1912.

Phoenix gained a reputation as a rowdy frontier town because of its saloons, gambling palaces, and general outlaw atmosphere. Law and order were restored by the turn of the century, however, and Phoenix entered a new phase. The railroad, bringing settlers from throughout the country, established an immigration pattern that has continued steadily without interruption; during the three decades following World War II, for instance, the population of Phoenix increased from roughly 107,000 to nearly 790,000 people.

Major technological advances during the first half of the twentieth century—the Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River, the Southern Pacific Railroad, the advent of air conditioning, and the Central Arizona Project aqueduct system—brought about agricultural and industrial development that also fueled tremendous growth. In the 1990s Phoenix went through its third major growth boom in four decades, partly a result of a large influx of people from California. The city has begun to experience the effects of urban sprawl, including serious air pollution. Entering the twenty-first century, Phoenix's landscape consists of Hispanic colonial and Indian pueblo architecture interspersed with gleaming high-rise office buildings. The economic success of the area has spurred a continuing population growth and nearly all business indicators present positive gains. The City Council has allotted $1 billion in public and private projects to enhance and maintain the community. This foresight, in conjunction with the natural appeal of the environment, prepares the city for boundless prosperity.

Historical Information: Phoenix Museum of History, 105N. 5th St., Phoenix, AZ 85004-4404; telephone (602)253-2734; email