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Tucson: a brief history

Spring at the Foot of the Black Mountain:

It is a widely held belief that Tucson is the oldest continually inhabited city in the United States.

Tucson has been continuously settled for over 12,000 years. Tucson's first inhabitants roamed the area hunting mammoth and bison between 12,500 and 6,000 BC Following them were the Cochise culture, and the Hohokam, who began farming the valley in 300 AD The Native American communites thrived for centuries in this area, irrigating with water from the Santa Cruz River for growing squash, beans, maize, melons, cotton and tobacco.

European Conquest:

The European history of Tucson begins around 1539 when Mendoza, the Spanish Viceroy of Mexico, sent Fray Marcos de Niza in search of the Seven Cities of Cobola. De Niza’s successful journey led to Don Francisco Basquez Coronado's famous expedition and “discovery” of the area in 1540. The King of Spain granted the original charter of Tucson in 1552.

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    Sunsets Factoids:

    Tucson's climate varies from the 2400 foot desert basin to the 9100 foot forests of the Santa Catalina mountains.

    Tucson covers 226 square miles in land area.


    The White Dove of the Desert:

    In the early 1600's Spanish Jesuits came up from Mexico to establish missions and convert the natives to Christianity. One of these Jesuits, a missionary by the name of Father Eusebio Kino, passed through the Tucson area where he found the bustling Indian community nestled along the Santa Cruz River. They called themselves "O'odham" or "the People" in their own language and were called "Pimas" by the Spaniards.

    Kino named the Indian village "San Cosme de Tucsón" after “Stjukshon”, the name of this O’odham Village. Stjukshon means spring at the foot of the black hill or mountain (the mountain is known today as "A" Mountain).

    Father Kino, the Jesuits, together with the Tohono O’odham built the mission of San Xavier del Bac. San Xavier del Bac is a gem of the late Baroque style of New Spain. Completed in 1797, it stands in the Tohono O'odham Nation, just south of Tucson, Arizona. San Xavier is still served by Franciscans, and still serves the Native community for which it was built. The Tohono O’odham Indians call it "La Palomo del Desierto" which means "The White Dove of the Desert".

    Sunsets August 20th, 1775 is considered Tucson's birthday.

    Many natives call Tucson the "Old Pueblo" , a nickname that date’s back to the 1700's.

    Tucson has flown the Confederate, the Spanish, and the Mexican flag.


    The Presidio:

    From 1775 to 1821 Tucson was under Spanish rule and was part of the region known as Pimería Alta. In 1775 the Irish Hugo O'Conor, of the Royal Spanish army established the Presidio of San Agustín del Tucsón and laid the foundation for the modern day City of Tucson.

    The first 27 soldiers to inhabit the Presidio came from diverse ethnic backgrounds: Spaniards, Mestizos, Coyotes, Mulatto and Moriscos. While there was friction between the Indian inhabitants and the new settlers, both Pima Indians and the new settlers cooperated in cultivating and irrigating crops and protecting their settlements from Apache raids.

    In 1821 Mexico won its independence from Spain. The settlers of the Tucson Presidio were now citizens of Mexico and part of the State of Occidente. The change of power meant little to the settlers of Tucson since it provided little protection from Apache raids and the incomming US troops.

    Between 1846 and 1848, almost half of the entire northern portion of Mexico was annexed from the outcome of the US war with Mexico. The ever looming US encroachment, the insesant Apache attacks and the lure of gold in California began an exodus of Sonoran settlers and, in 1848, left Tucson as the only populated settlement in the Southern Arizona Region.

    Tucson became known as a rowdy frontier town. Shootouts took place frequently and men rarely ventured unarmed onto the streets. Outlaws and upstarts like Pancho Villa frequented Tucson saloons. Still, the town prospered.

    In 1854, the United States acquired the northern portion of Sonora under the Gadsden Purchase. The land south of the Gila River which included Tucson was now part of the United States.

    This meant the Mexican pioneer settlers of Tucson were now officially American citizens and part of the New Mexico Territory. In 1864 when Arizona became a separate territory, Tucson, the most populated and important trading center in Arizona, was denied the territorial capital because Anglo-Americans were fearful that the already powerful and influential Mexican-Americans would dominate local and territorial politics. The territorial capital was given to Prescott, AZ.

    Sunsets The first Black graduate of West Point, Lt. Henry O. Flipper, served at Ft. Huachuca, near Tucson.

    The Wong family opened the O.K. Restaurant at Church and Mesilla streets in the late 1870's. Instead of a cash register, they used a laundry basket to collect 75 cents for each meal served.

    The El Charro Restaurant family, run the oldest family-owned restaurant in America. They serve Sonoran style food and are famous for their Carne Seca dishes.


    Buffalo Soldiers:

    Some of Tucson's early African American settlers came to the Southwest as members of the 24th and 25th U.S. Infantry Regiments and 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments. These Black regiments fought against Native American warriors in the Indian Campaigns and fought under General George Pershing against Pancho Villa in Mexico.

    Because they respected the fighting ability of the Black troops, the Native Americans gave the nickname "Buffalo soldiers" to these African Americans.

    Many other African Americans leaving the southern states came to Tucson looking for new opportunities to establish roots and escape racial persecution. Some started homesteads or ranches and by the late 1800's and early 1900's, almost all barbers in the Tucson area were Black. In those days, it was more common to see a Black cowboy than a White cowboy.

    Famous Tucsonans:
    • Linda Ronstadt: singer
    • Kerri Strug: gymnast
    • Stewart K. Udall: former Secretary of the Interior
    • Linda McCartney: Photographer
    Famous Tucson Residents (current and former):
    • Sir Paul McCatney: Musician
    • Edward Abbey: Writer
    • Ted DeGrazia: Artist
    Celebrity Rumors:

    Actor Greg Kinnear travels to Tucson once a month to eat at Casa Molina. He said they serve the best Mexican food in the country, hands down. And that actor David Spade also makes frequent visits to the Old Pueblo for some Mexican food.

    The Railroad Clashes Cultures - Cultural Diversity thrives:

    The Southern Pacific Railroad brought many changes to Tucson that, to this day, are still evident. Of the influx of many new settler’s in Tucson, the African Americans, Chinese, Anglo-Americans, Mormons, and the "pioneer Jews" from Central Europe are to this day an integral part of the community.

    The building of the Railroad brought the majority of early Chinese immigrants to Tucson. The Chinese had been brought to Arizona for the hazardous task of extending the railroad through the desert. The railroad viewed the Chinese as inexpensive, reliable laborers. Their wages were $1.00 per day, 50 cents less than Anglo workers.

    Anglos and Mexicans were xenophobic; they did not understand the dress and customs of the Chinese. The Anglo and Mexican workers deeply resented the Chinese laborers adding competition to the job market, despite the difficulty and low wages of the jobs given to the Chinese.

    Eventually, the Chinese were forced to leave their railroad jobs due to racism. Some Chinese immigrants decided to remain in Tucson to make their fortune and then return to China, or of make enough money to bring their families here. They started restaurants, laundry cleaners, and farms and became for a time, Tucson's chief source of fresh produce.

    During the 1860's and 1870's, the first Anglo-American settlers lived in harmony with the majority Mexican-American community. The population of Tucson was still primarily Mexican and Mexican-American and they dominated the trade business from Mexico that supplied goods and supplies to the settlers.

    But the cordial relationship between the Mexican-American and Anglo-American community began to change in the 1880's. A major economic, social, demographic and political shift occurred in Tucson with the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The railroad brought wealthy Anglo entrepreneurs who invested and dominated in mining, ranching, retailing and agriculture. Goods and supplies from American suppliers were brought from the railroad for competition with Mexican trade.

    The railroad also brought more Anglo-American women, which resulted in the decline of intermarriages between Anglo-American men and Mexican women. The dominant Mexican-American population rapidly declined as more and more Anglo-Americans arrived. Influential Mexican families soon were excluded from Anglo-American social events.

    To counter the loss of political and economic power and rising prejudice among the Anglo-American population the Mexican-American community organized the Alianza Hispano-Americana, Club Mexicano Republicano and Club Democrático Mexicano and were successful at electing influential individuals to public office.

    Sunsets The precursor to the U of A , the Arizona Territorial University was opened in 1891 on land donated by a saloon keeper and a pair of gamblers.
    The first building, Old Main, is still in use today.


    The Old Pueblo Now:

    The Tucson metropolitan area supports over 750,000 residents and is growing by nearly 2,000 new residents each month. Tucson embodies both the progress and innovation of a metropolitan community and the friendly atmosphere of a small town.

    Blessed with the natural beauty of the Sonoran Desert, a close proximity to forest covered mountains, Mexico, the Sea of Cortez, and an average 360 sunny days a year, Tucsonans embrace an outdoorsy lifestyle. The words laid-back, casual, and friendly are generally used to describe a "typical" Tucsonan.

    Tucson is home to the University of Arizona and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The City's biggest industries include electronics and missile production. The City's dry desert air and winter sunshine make it a popular health and winter resort.

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    Sunsets Top Ratings

    Tucson is the top bird watching area in the nation according to Birder’s World Magazine.

    Bicycling magaziine rates Tucson 3rd best bicycling city in the US.

    Tucson ranks 7th as the best city for Hispanics in 2002 by Hispanic Magazine.

    Tucson is the 3rd most Creative City in the US among medium sized cities. Noted for the high amount of people working in creative and innovative fields and cultural diversity.


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