Tucson: History

Four Governments Claim Tucson Territory

Tucson is an extremely old settlement with a rich layering of history and pre-history. Archaeological excavations have revealed adobe huts, pit houses, and irrigation systems built by the Hohokam tribe who inhabited and farmed the area nearly 2,000 years ago. The Hohokam have since vanished; in fact, their name, meaning "those who have vanished," was given to them by the Pimas, the Native Americans who occupied the site of present-day Tucson when the first white settlers arrived, and after whom Pima County is named. "Tucson" is also derived from a Pima word, "Stjukshon" or "Chuk-son," meaning "spring at the foot of a black mountain."

Since its founding Tucson has operated under four governments: Spain, Mexico, the United States, and the Confederacy. One of the first Spanish visitors was Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, a Jesuit missionary who arrived in 1687. Tucson was officially founded as a Spanish colony less than one hundred years later, in 1775, and the Spanish settlers built the Presidio of San Augistin del Tucson as protection from the Apache. Part of this walled presidio still exists today, and its nickname, "Old Pueblo," is now extended to the city as a whole.

When Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, Tucson became a Mexican town. In 1853 the United States acquired from Mexico the Gadsden Purchase, a strip of land that included Tucson. Before 1863, when Arizona gained territorial status, Tucson briefly belonged to the Confederacy, then became the capital of the Arizona Territory in 1867.

Tucson played an integral role in the romance of the Old West. The city was the scene of gunfights, brawls, and attacks by Native Americans; neighboring Tombstone was the site of the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Tucson also participated in the great gold rush when prospectors moved east from California into Arizona. The effects of this migration were lasting, since Tucson became the center of a mining industry that continued unabated into the 1970s.

Healthy Climate Attracts Settlers, Tourists

By the time it became the 48th state in 1912, Arizona was famous for the sunny climate and dry air that made it ideal as a healthful spot where people could visit and settle. In 1920 Tucson became the first city in the nation to have a municipal airport. At the same time, major highways were being built. Tourism became one of Tucson's strongest industries and remains so today. During World War II the city contributed to the war effort when the government established the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base nearby. Tucson has since emerged as a major cultural center and one of the most sophisticated cities in the Southwest.

Today's Tucson is the second largest city in Arizona with more than 840,000 people living in its metropolitan area. Public and private sectors continue to join forces to improve Tucson's standard of living and business environment. With an expanding economy based on high-technology industries, modern Tucson aggressively preserves its multicultural heritage and pioneer spirit.

Historical Information: Arizona Historical Society, Tucson Museum, 949 East Second Street, Tucson, AZ, 85719; telephone (520)628-5774