Arizona History
Arizona Saguaro Cactus


...began when the sea covered everything and the land was an ocean floor. As the water receded and the earth's crust began to dry and settle, volcanos spouted hot lava and mountain ranges were pushed high into the air. Remaining waters became rivers and streams cutting deep canyons, and some areas became so dry, deserts were formed.

This process of land formation took millions of years, and when the earth ceased its restlessness, it left a pattern of great variety and contrast.

The southwest corner of the state became desert, with craggy, barren mountains rising abruptly from its level floor. In the southeast corner, rolling hills with sparse vegetation and the "Wonderland of Rocks" developed.

Sweeping from the eastern border and curving northward through the center of Arizona a cool, green mountain and valley wonderland was formed. Its altitudes vary from 2,000 to 8,000 feet and are sharply cut by the Mogollon Rim, a sheer cliff extending for more than 200 miles and itself rising to heights of 7,500 feet.

Here lakes and streams were formed and the greatest stand of ponderosa pine in the nation grew. Above the Rim, near Flagstaff, a part of the earth was pushed up to a height 12,670 feet to form San Francisco Peaks, the highest elevation in the state. The peaks are snow-clad much of the year.

In the northeast corner, a vast desert-like plateau emerged. Millions of years ago its edge to the south was a part of a vast forest. Through the years, it was buried beneath volcanic ash, water, sand and mud and then uncovered again to become today's Petrified Forest National Monument, with fallen trees and now turned to varied-colored stone.

Farther north, the plateau was carved into strange rock formations and canyons which now bear unusual and picturesque names such as: Ear of the Wind Arch, Spider Web Arch, Monument Valley, Totem Pole, Mitten Buttes. Today this is the home of the Navajo and Hopi Indians.

To the west of the Navajo land, the elements seem to have made a last furious fling and left the Colorado River flowing a mile deep through the rainbow hued, wondrous Grand Canyon.

Man lived in this area 20,000 years ago. Traces of early agricultural civilizations are found throughout the state. High, almost inaccessible cliff dwellings still stand in silent evidence of another prehistoric race. Even the vast irrigation system surrounding Arizona capital city, Phoenix, follows a ancient patterns of canals used to irrigate the Hohokam farmlands with water from the Gila and Salt Rivers.

From tree rings studied, we know that from 1276 to 1299 A.D. there was a great drought which ended the prehistoric civilization. When Columbus discovered America, Arizona was inhabited by ancestors of present day Indians. The written history of Arizona began when the Spaniards sent exploration parties northward from Mexico. The first was a Franciscan priest named Marcos de Niza, who entered the territory in 1539.

Other Spanish missionaries followed and established missions to bring Christianity to the Indians. Tumacacori Mission, north of Nogales, was founded by Padre Kino at the center of an Indian settlement. This mission is now a National Monument. Padre Kino also laid the foundations for San Xavier del Bac Mission on the outskirts of today's Tucson, still used for regular services by the Tohono O'Odham Indians who live nearby.

After Kino's death, Spanish development of this area came to a halt. In 1821 Mexico declared its independence from Spain and eventually went to war with the United States. This war ended in 1848, and the land north of the Gila River became United States territory. In 1853 the rest of the area was acquired by the Gadsden Purchase Purchase. Then the great westward movement of our early pioneers began, and Arizona entered the phase of its history which has provided so much story material for books and movies.

Men came West to seek their fortunes - adventurers, prospectors, farmers, businessmen, builders. To protect them against the Indians who fought fiercely to keep back this change in their land, the army also came and built its forts. Only the most brave and hardy pioneers came until the last of the Indian uprisings were finished and final peace won in 1886. Development of the state then surged forward.

Arizona Desert Back in the ages of its creation, there had been formed in Arizona land great deposits of gold, silver, copper and other minerals which were now uncovered by the prospectors. Lusty new towns sprang up near the mines.
Great fortunes were made and lost, sometimes in a single 24 hours.

While prospectors were "striking it rich," other pioneers saw their fortunes of the future in another aspect of Arizona land aspect of Arizona land. Farmers cultivated crops along rivers and streams as had the Indians before them. Others brought in cattle to roam the range land. Still others saw Arizonans an ideal place to raise sheep.

Law and order were slow to catch up with the sudden growth of the frontier. Bitter gun battles broke out between the cattlemen and sheep men, each wanting the grazing land and water rights.

With the leadership of the pioneers themselves, United States Marshals finally made a peaceful territory of Arizona, where crops, cattle and sheep, as well as mining, all became important in building the future of the state.

In 1912, its lawless, boisterous frontier days behind it, Arizona became the 48th state to join the Union and its modern advance began.

Learn more about Ancient Arizona

Learn more about Arizona Ranching and Agriculture

Learn more about the Coronado Expedition

Learn more about the Early Conquistadors

Learn more about Charles Poston and the Arizona Territory